Cinnamon Stillwell

I’m the West Coast Representative for Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum that focuses on Middle East studies. I was a political columnist for SFGate.com (San Francisco Chronicle online) from 2004-2008. I've written for the American Thinker, Frontpage Magazine, Family Security Matters, Accuracy In Media, Newsbusters, Israel National News, The Jewish Policy Center, J-The Jewish News Weekly of N. CA, Intellectual Conservative and many others. More info at CinnamonStillwell.com.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Are Jews "Oppressed" by Christmas?

Amidst all the hoopla in recent years over the "War on Christmas" or, rather, the campaign to erase Christmas, and, therefore, Christianity from the public square, the idea that Jews are somehow oppressed by Christmas continues to be pushed. Indeed, much of the stated impetus for the use of the bland catchphrase, "Happy Holidays," over the dreaded utterance, "Merry Christmas," is to protect the allegedly delicate sensibilities of Jews celebrating Hanukkah in December. Muslims, Hindus, and Pagan practitioners of Winter Solstice are thrown into the mix for good measure.

But the "holiday season" in America has always been about Christmas and it wasn't until the advent of PC'ism and multi-culti mania that Jews suddenly fancied themselves victimized by the holiday.

Of course, there are Jews who feel aware of religious minority status at this time of year, but that, in and of itself, hardly constitutes oppression. Furthermore, many of us have come to embrace Christmas, and the Judeo-Christian heritage it symbolizes, as our own - as Americans and as bearers of Western civilization.

Echoing similar sentiments, blogger Yaacov ben Moshe provides a Jewish "Plea for 'Merry Christmas'" at Breath of the Beast. He begins by saying:

I am a Jew. I grew up in an observant Jewish home in which we greeted Christmas with a mixture of fascination, respect and irritation. Jackie Mason once said, “I don’t understand something about Christmas; maybe you can explain this to me? Why is it that this time of year you Christian people bring all of the trees inside the house and take all the lights and put then outside”. I have always loved that line. It captured my general feeling of bemusement about the whole
Christmas celebration. I didn’t get it.

...I am ashamed to admit it today but I was, at first, pleased when I saw, over the years, the ACLU types began pushing “Merry Christmas” out of the vocabulary of cultural discourse in favor of the more generic “Happy Holidays”.

But later in life, he comes to a realization:

I’ve grown up, though, and I’ve grown into a new perspective on this whole matter and, today, when someone wishes me a Merry Christmas, I have a new response. It’s really simple:

I stop what I am doing.
I thank them very sincerely.
I wish them a Merry Christmas in return.

Here’s why:

I have come to see quite clearly that even if there are politically-correct, multi-cultural, morally relativistic, post-modern, progressive busybodies who would like us to believe that our Christian friends' and neighbors’ spontaneous Christmas wishes are somehow injurious to us and our culture, they are nothing of the kind. A sincere, “Merry Christmas is better for you than the blandest, most guarded, “Happy Holidays”

You see, the U.S. was founded by Christians. Not just any Christians. The early colonists were both devout and independent. They were fervent Protestants whose purpose in coming here was to leave the kings, priests, state religions and archaic laws of the old world behind. They came here to build a country where every man could read scripture for himself and be his own priest, where he could be free to elect political leadership that he could follow gladly. Ultimately, that enterprise gave rise to the constitution and form of government we have today. At two hundred-years-old, it is still the one in the entire world that best honors the individual and guarantees his rights. It was these fiercely independent Protestants who set the tone for the nation in which we now live.

It is important to remember that they were deeply religious people. When Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and the rest decided that there would be no Official Religion in this country they were aiming for Freedom of Religion not Freedom from Religion. They meant the freedom to practice your religion after the dictates of your conscience.

This is why America has become the destination of choice for any one wishing to escape repression or lack of opportunity elsewhere in the world. That's why Jews have gravitated here for two hundred years. But we are in danger of forgetting how this all works and I think this whole Merry Christmas thing is a symptom of that amnesia.
And he concludes:
By saying, “Merry Christmas” in public, we are not agreeing that Jesus was the son of God, we are just acknowledging that some very good people believe it. When we say it, that does not constitute accepting Jesus as our personal savior; it does show his followers that we see them as fellow countrymen, friends and brothers-in-arms in the defense of the highest ideals of our civil society. What is the problem with that?
None that I can tell. In fact, I wrote an SFGate column on the topic myself in 2005 and, although I had different experiences growing up vis-a-vis being Jewish and viewing Christmas, I came to much the same conclusion. I've reprinted the article below.

***


The Christmas Kerfuffle
Cinnamon Stillwell
December 20, 2005


Upon leaving a San Francisco shop last week, I wished the clerk a cheery "Merry Christmas," only to be met with a surly "Happy Holidays" in return. With that simple exchange, our positions at opposite ends of the political spectrum were revealed.

The celebration of Christmas has indeed been overshadowed by politics in recent years, to the point where every greeting is pregnant with meaning. And even non-Christians are swept up in the Christmas kerfuffle.

As a member of the Jewish faith, I've never once felt intimidated, bothered or offended by Christmas. In fact, I grew up celebrating Christmas and still do to this day. Not the religious aspects, but rather the festive trappings of the holiday. I also light the menorah candles each year to mark Hanukkah. While this might earn me the disapproval of traditionalists on both sides of the fence, I confess it simply to illustrate that one holiday need not endanger another.

Yet the political battle over Christmas rages on. Conservatives are upset over what has been dubbed the "war on Christmas," while liberals accuse them of overreacting to what is essentially a non-event. But who's right?

Skeptics of the "war on Christmas" narrative often point out that the trappings of Christmas are everywhere. The commercialization of Christmas has led to an onslaught of retail madness in recent years; the evidence is all around us. But the religious underpinnings of Christmas (the birth of Jesus Christ), not to mention the actual name of the holiday itself, are at risk of disappearing from the public sphere.

All across the country, city halls, chain stores, and public squares are erecting "holiday trees" in lieu of Christmas trees. Nativity scenes are being banned in town squares, public buildings and even some malls. The singing of Christmas carols such as "Silent Night" in public schools and caroling in public parks and public housing are becoming rarities. Court cases brought by groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State have taken the clause that never appeared in the constitution to ridiculous levels -- and chipping away at Christmas is just one of the results.

The Wages of Diversity

The retail world has been the focus of much anti-Christmas activity. While profiting from the holiday, many stores seem to feel that specifying Christmas threatens the "inclusiveness" to which they seem to be pledged. A trip to Macy's, Nordstrom, Sears or just about any other department store these days will almost always result in the ubiquitous "Happy Holidays" greeting from employees as you pass through the door.

Target in particular has taken a lot of heat for allegedly eliminating the word "Christmas" from its stores. Although they deny this policy, a brief look around any Target store will prove otherwise. Whether it's the advertising, the store decorations or the favored greetings of employees, "Happy Holidays" or "Seasons Greetings" has obviously overtaken Christmas. An online petition, signed by over 500,000 shoppers, produced a promise from Target to add more Christmas to the mix as the 25th approaches, but the result remains to be seen.

PC Greetings From the White House

Even President Bush, the supposed leader of a new Christian theocracy (to hear some on the left tell it), seems to have succumbed to the forces of political correctness. The White House recently sent out its Christmas card. But as has been the custom since the Clinton presidency, it was instead a "holiday card." There was nary a mention of the word "Christmas."

The bland holiday card angered many of Bush's supporters, while doing nothing to lessen the president's reputation among liberals as some sort of new pope. So one has to wonder why the White House promulgated a form of self-censorship with little or no reward involved. That Bush is the first president to honor Hanukkah and Ramadan at the White House certainly need not preclude mention of Christmas in the White House holiday card.

The excuse given by the White House for honoring this precedent is that one must be sensitive to the other holidays occurring at the same time of year -- Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and for the few pagans out there, Winter Solstice. But they really have nothing to do with the discussion. The federal holiday that the country is celebrating on the 25th of December is Christmas, period. With the exception of Hanukkah this year, which coincidentally begins on the 25th, that particular date does not belong to any other holiday. So what's wrong with acting accordingly?

Why is it that Christmas is the only holiday that must be downplayed so that other religions feel more "included"? We don't insist on calling the Muslim holiday of Ramadan by any other name, nor do we impose such restrictions on the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah. In all fairness, we would have to label all religious and cultural occasions "holidays," not just Christmas. I wonder how long it would take for members of other religions to express their outrage? Yet when Christians fight back, as they are now with a concerted campaign to stem the anti-Christmas tide, they are ridiculed or vilified by their opponents.

This double standard when it comes to Christians can be seen in many spheres. A friend was shopping recently in one of those cute little neighborhood stores San Francisco prides itself on when she noticed that the man ringing her up was wearing a T-shirt that read, "So Many Rightwing Christians, So Few Lions." No doubt this was intended to be humorous, but the message has serious implications. Simply substitute the words "Jews," "blacks" or "gays" and the outrage would be immediate. But when it comes to Christians, such offensive rhetoric is somehow acceptable. There's even a term for it -- Christianophobia.

Often, the reason given by those who espouse this bigotry is that Christians themselves spew hatred toward other groups. But mostly what's being referred to is disapproval, not hatred. Criticism of another's lifestyle is not equivalent to hating someone or acting violently on hatred. While there will always be the few extremists, the majority of Christians espouse a peaceful approach to their fellow human beings. It would be nice if that fact were acknowledged now and then.

The Holiday With No Name

So what's at the heart of this campaign to erase Christmas? I argue that it's the creeping multiculturalism that has taken hold of our nation. Instead of a melting pot, we have a system whereby Christianity, the majority religion, is being subordinated to all the others in the interest of "equality." Accordingly, Christmas has to be diminished so that no feels left out.

But this sort of excessive pandering to "diversity" is becoming ludicrous. Have we become a nation of insecure adherents to psychobabble? Does the mere presence of Christmas really threaten non-Christians?

During such times, I'm reminded of my mother's childhood in Australia and her experiences being the sole Jewish child in what was essentially a Christian school. Far from feeling left out, she simply accepted the situation at face value. Jewish traditions were kept alive both at home and in a thriving Jewish community, so they didn't need to be shared by the entire school for her to feel secure. She was never insulted or put upon for being Jewish -- that's just how it was. The point is, simply being a member of a minority group is not tantamount to being oppressed.

Perhaps we should remember that lesson when thinking about the Christmas kerfuffle. And the next time someone wishes you a "Happy Holidays," wish them a hearty "Merry Christmas" in return.


***


Update: Here's an excerpt from a Ben Stein item (a longer version circulating via e-mail wasn't all authored by him, according to Snopes.com) on the subject:
I am a Jew, and every single one of my ancestors was Jewish. And it does not bother me even a little bit when people call those beautiful lit up, bejeweled trees Christmas trees. I don't feel threatened. I don't feel discriminated against. That's what they are: Christmas trees. It doesn't bother me a bit when people say, "Merry Christmas" to me. I don't think they are slighting me or getting ready to put me in a ghetto. In fact, I kind of like it. It shows that we are all brothers and sisters celebrating this happy time of year. It doesn't bother me at all that there is a manger scene on display at a key intersection near my beach house in Malibu. If people want a creche, it's just as fine with me as is the Menorah a few hundred yards away.

I don't like getting pushed around for being a Jew and I don't think Christians like getting pushed around for being Christians. I think people who believe in God are sick and tired of getting pushed around, period. I have no idea where the concept came from that America is an explicitly atheist country. I can't find it in the Constitution and I don't like it being shoved down my throat.

10 Comments:

Anonymous Mofak said...

Superior Christmas Post!

Thanks for calling our attention to the human intellectual brilliance that is surviving among us in spite of the politically correct media and academia constant barrages of nonsensical hyperbole against our American heritage.

Sunday, December 16, 2007 4:22:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A history lesson you clearly missed, Cinnamon:

How the Puritans (almost) stole Christmas

Following the Protestant Reformation of the 16th Century, new religious sects sprang up in England based on the strict teachings of John Calvin and John Knox. At the same the Church of England was established, giving way to a form of Protestantism that was not as strict as the other “puritan” groups. Following the rise of Oliver Cromwell and his “roundheads” in 1642, Christmas festivities, considered a “heathen practice” were outlawed, including singing Christmas carols, nativity scenes and any other obvious attempts at celebration.

Puritans arriving in Massachusetts during the 17th Century brought this same disdain for Christmas with them. While Thanksgiving was an acceptable holiday in New England, Christmas certainly was not. In 1620, Governor William Bradford forbid any of the Pilgrims to observe the holiday. Instead, he noted that they felled trees and worked on building houses. Business as usual.

Persecution of Christmas persisted through the 17th century. Caroling, games and even mince pies, considered a vulgar holiday luxury, were all outlawed. Despite its Spartan beginnings, New England did have many people who celebrated Christmas, especially as more and more settlers began arriving from Europe through the 17th and 18th Centuries. This trend is apparent in 1686 by a repeal of a 1659 law that fined people five shillings for feasting or any other perceived merriment on December 25th. Despite People’s growing acceptance of Christmas, it wasn’t made an official holiday in New England until the 1856.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007 8:38:00 PM  
Anonymous Anita said...

Hi!!!

I read your column on Jews and Christmas. And, really, I absolutely LOVE Christmas and carols and buying presents and even decorating, although it's pretty much impossible to really have a true Christmas look at the house here in California because there is absolutely no snow unless you live at Tahoe or near there (the Sierras maybe? I have never been there), but I still try. And I am at the mall literally FOR HOURS at a time, and I have to say I get greeted by all sorts of people saying, literally, every greeting imaginable. Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Happy New Year, Happy Hanukkah, Merry Chrismakkuh (yes, really), and even Happy Kwanzaa and earlier this week I got a Festivus for the Rest of Us (but, ok - that was from a friend because we LOVE LOVE LOVE Seinfeld!

OK, so, I don't really mind what people say as long as they say something at the store or whatever and say it friendly because I spend a TON of money at Nordstrom and the rest of those places, and damn it! If I am going to spend money, then greet me and greet me well. Even if you celebrate Kwanzaa or Festivus (Ha!) or even if you are a Jew and you murdered Christ (or so Mel Gibson would have you believe).

So, I am not really sure why Cinnamon wrote one of her (his?) longest columns yet on something as dumb a Christmas greetings. Since, people greet each other every single day of the year and whether they say Happy Holidays or Merry Christmas or Festivus or even if the salesperson forgets and just says "hi," is it such a big deal? And whatever, if George Bush says Happy Holidays or Merry Christmas, I am surprised he can even get the greeting out of his mouth correctly, since he screws up everything else he say, like did you hear how he gave out the wrong phone number for homeowners who are facing foreclosure and instead gave out a number for a Christian school in Texas, and then in the end the woman at the school got so many calls that she just took the phone off the hook and everyone got sent to voicemail and then got a message saying the mailbox was full, and I bet she wasn't greeting 200,000 foreclosed people with "Happy" or "Merry" anything! And if the Christians are so upset about "Happy Holidays," then shouldn't they be even more upset that a Christian school turned their phones off to people facing foreclosure?!?! That's not very Merry or Christian at all. Especially down there in Texas, and especially after their freaky messiah messed up the phone number anyway. God! He's such a dimwit!

OK, so my biggest issue with this is that all these people are SHOPPING and SPENDING MONEY and WATCHING TV and WATCHING GEORGE BUSH and SIGNING PETITIONS AGAINST TARGET, all of which has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with Christmas, which is supposed to be about ummmm....celebrating the birth of Christ. Right? And I know that we all love to buy huge SUVs for our wives and Wiis for our children and completely rack up a huge amount of debt in the name of Christ or Santa or whoever (and I tell you, I do - you should see my VISA card in January). But really, at the end of the day, if all these Christians are going to nail themselves to a cross, like the martyrs they'd like to be, and claim that "pandering to diversity" is ruining America and Christmas and all sorts of things, then my question is, if Christianity and Jesus are so damn important to you, then why are you out at a Target or Walmart of Hummer dealership thinking you're being a good Christian, when in fact, if you were a true Christian (like Christ, I mean) the wouldn't you be celebrating Him like he would want you to be - like, oh, at Church or working with Catholic Charities or some other organization HELPING THOSE LESS FORTUNATE?!?!?! I mean, I'll bet you, if you go to your Christian Church and volunteer to provide food to the needy on Christmas morning, NOT ONE SOUL will complain that you said "Merry Christmas." You can say "Merry Christmas" to your heart's content at a Christian Church while you are actually celebrating Christ and everyone will say it right back to you! Over and over again!!!

So, yes, let's please remember, shopping (while it's so much fun and is really retailers' biggest time of the year, and keeps millions of people employed and by that Reagan "trickle down economics" garbage makes everyone here in the US just oh-so-happy), shopping is not really anything more than shopping. It doesn't really have anything to do with Christ (I don't even think there were malls 2000 years ago). It has a lot to do with America and a lot to do with Santa, I suppose. But really, what it has most to do with is Target and stores like that taking a huge amount of money from everyone, and if saying "Happy Holidays" makes Target more money from the people that don't celebrate Christmas, then, come on, what's more American than doing whatever it takes to keep EVERYONE happy while they are charging the hell out of their VISA card?

Go to Church, feed the poor, donate the $700 you spent on eBay for a Wii for your spoiled kid to a charity. When you are actually doing something in the name of Christ, no one, and I mean NO ONE, will complain if you say "Merry Christmas."

OK, bye!!

FESTIVUS FOR THE REST OF US!!!!!!
OK, I couldn’t resist.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007 12:11:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

An excellent and very timely post. What a sad state things are in when all a politician like Mike Huckabee has to do is say "Merry Christmas" and people go nuts.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007 8:05:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm sick and fed up hearing about religion on the news and in particular, that yet another pupil has been excluded because they felt the need to manifest their religion by wearing some article of clothing or jewellery. Why can't they get it into their heads that school is the place where you go to learn? Schools must have rules and those rules must apply to everyone.

Sikh girl excluded from school for wearing a bangle

The latest story that caught my attention was the one about the Sikh girl who was excluded for wearing a bangle. Before that we had Muslim head scarves and the Christian crosses causing an uproar in school. Okay a bangle might not seem like a big deal, but schools can't afford to make exceptions and I think that is the point that some of these individuals are missing. If allowed one thing and not another it would only lead to confusion and presumably endless court cases. Also, religious symbols worn in school can't possibly be of any benefit to the educational experience. It only serves to alienate pupils and highlight the differences.
Symobols of religion in school, school sign

In my opinion, religion is possibly mankind's worst trait. Look at all the wars fought and the inconceivable number of people who have died in the name of religion!

People are still dying, are still poor and hungry, all because of this need to demonstrate to everyone else that your faith is the one true religion. It's a case of, "If you don't believe in my god, you must be evil." It may not start off that way and some people are more devout (read extreme) than others, but it's happening all around us regardless.

A world without religion would be fine by me. Actually, I think John Lennon's song just needs to be shortened to "Imagine there's no religion..."

Thursday, December 20, 2007 1:59:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I find this whole argument absolutely amazing. Christmas is somehow under attack because someone was so insensitive as to wish you a Happy Holiday? By even making such a ludicris argument, you are projecting your beliefs onto others. Why should you expect a stranger to greet you in a manner that has any sort of religious overtones? To do so is to automatically assume that that person is a Christian. You are, in essense, attacking people for not pandering to your religious proclivities.

While I have no problem with people wishing me a Merry Christmas, I do not believe that I should be looked down upon for not returning the greeting. I don't celebrate the holiday, and therefore have no reason to even bring it up. And if Christmas is not supposed to be about materialism, then why should retail establishments be pressured to add religious verbiage to their greetings?

Thursday, December 20, 2007 3:12:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cinnamon, you are truly insane.

Thursday, December 20, 2007 6:49:00 PM  
Blogger Jack's Shack said...

There is no war on Xmas. Get real. This so much hype and hoopla about nothing.

The biggest problem some people have is accepting that religion should be kept out of the public sphere (read gov't, public schools etc).

Let's try crying over real problems like healthcare, homelessness and terrorism.

Thursday, December 20, 2007 8:23:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cinnamon, thank you for writing such a thoughtful and insightful post. If only everyone were as eloquent as you...

Friday, December 21, 2007 5:45:00 AM  
OpenID joeblough said...

I am not a Christian. Never have been.

Christmas has been a part of my life since childhood, and I've always liked it.

Most non-Christians I know enjoy, and many even celebrate Christmas, at least in the sense of parties and presents.

I've never met anybody Jewish or Buddhist who found anything offensive about Christmas or its pulic celebration. Not a single person! They may exist, but I've never run into one.
And I've always been around a great many Jews and Buddhists.

a) I'm pretty sure the whole anonymous "Happy Holliday" thing is based on a lie.

b) You show me anybody that's offended by the idea of peace on earth and good will to man, and I'll show you one sick sob.

Saturday, December 22, 2007 9:04:00 PM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home