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Merry Christmas, happy holidays, season's greetings and anything else I may have missed

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By William Grimm

When I am home in New York City, I often join friends at some pub or other to relax and catch up with each other. Several years ago, I happened to be in the city at year-end. As a bunch of us stepped out of Patrick Conway’s on 43rd Street into a snowy night, a boy of about 15 approached me. From his black garb and long side curls, I knew he was a member of an ultra-Orthodox Jewish movement that gives guidance to non-observant Jews who might wish to return to religious observance. He had a look on his face that was half-hopeful, half-scared.

“Are you Jewish?” he asked me. (If only he knew!)

“No, I’m not, but thanks for asking. And Happy Chanukah!”

I thanked the kid because his question was rooted in a desire to help me if I needed it and wanted it. And in gratitude, I offered him my best wishes for his holiday.

He looked a bit relieved, thanked me and moved on, continuing his search for fellow Jews who might want to repent of having eaten ham and cheese on rye washed down with Smithwick’s ale.

It’s a safe bet that lad had already heard a variety of answers, including some unforgivably offensive ones. That’s probably the reason he looked first half-scared and then relieved. People can be pretty nasty at the season of holiday cheer, especially if their cheer comes from having stayed one glass too long in a pub.

The year-end holidays can be a minefield when it comes to greetings. Though most Japanese, of course, happily exchange Christmas and New Year greetings, among Tokyo’s expats, there are some who have brought the battles of their homelands with them. I think it was John Kenneth Galbraith who called this the Age of Universal Indignation. Ironically, it never seems more so than at this time of year when believers and nonbelievers alike talk of harmony and peace.

“How dare you assume I believe your religion and wish me a Merry Christmas?”

“Let’s boycott that godless store that says Season’s Greetings instead of Merry Christmas!”

This is a season of lights — menorah candles, twinkling bulbs on trees and store displays, the star over the manger, the glowing noses of revelers. Let’s take a hint from them all and lighten up.

When someone wishes me a Merry Christmas, it’s a safe bet that he or she is not planning to next douse me with baptismal water, any more than the guy who wishes me Happy Holidays plans to feed Christians to the lions in Ueno Zoo. They are wishing me well as best they can, just as that boy on 43rd Street was doing. They do not know what I may believe or disbelieve, but I do, or should, recognize their good intentions. Those good wishes are more important than the adequacy of their words to my own unobvious opinions. (Unless, of course, I’m in my priestie beastie work clothes, in which case my holiday focus is at least guessable.)

Hyper-offendable Christians and hyper-offendable others should recall that whatever our beliefs or lack of them, good manners require that we focus on others rather than on ourselves and give them the benefit of the doubt when evaluating their motives for being nice. It’s the least we can give in the season of gifting.

When I was a boy in an overwhelmingly Catholic neighborhood in the Bronx, the local optometrist was Jewish. He was my personal sage, someone who dispensed not only eyeglasses, but wisdom as well. Each year, Doc put a nativity set in his shop window, while Christian shopkeepers were generally content with wreaths, trees, garlands and Santa Claus. One year, I asked him why he did so. Doc answered that Christmas was an important celebration for his friends and patients and he wanted to acknowledge that and congratulate them on their joy.

Why assume that anyone else’s reasons for greeting me in this season are any different from Doc’s? This time of year is an important celebration for just about everyone in some form or other. Why not assume that when another greets me, the intent is the same as Doc’s: to acknowledge and share joy.

This year, let’s try to keep in mind that the proper response to any well-meant greeting is, “Thank you, and the same to you.”

In the meantime, Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, Season’s Greetings, Happy Holidays, Joyous Winter Solstice and whatever other greetings I may have missed that would make your entry to a new year pleasant.

William Grimm is a Maryknoll priest in Japan.

© Japan Today

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22 Comments
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Happy Kwanza. Feliz Navidad.

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the true meaning of xmas: santa's birthday

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Feliz Navidad! Merry Christmas! ^0^!

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Excellent commentary!

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I remember what a surreal experience it was spending Christmas in Nara , Japan nearly 30 years ago. Of course I had to work on Christmas Day - no holiday for me as I was the lone native speaker working in the Nara Prefectural Board of Education ( I was an MEF - the predecessor to today's JET program). I remember seeing a lifesize KFC Colonel Sanders dressed as Santa near the train station and some Christmas decorations in the main shopping areas. Oh yes, and obnoxious Xmas carols being blasted everywhere. It's all coming back to me...Merry Christmas, Japan!

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Merry Christmas!

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Nothing beats Santa on the crucifix dislayed in a Ginza Dpt store window many years ago.

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Great commentary! Happy holidays to all!

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The same people who get all in a twist about Christmas, would whinge if they were not invited to a Christmas party or didn't get a present.

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Happy Holidays to everyone!

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Bon Noël à tout le monde !

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Merry Christmas everyone - and to those who are offended by that greeting, I truly feel sorry for you.

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If you celebrate Christmas, may I wish you a happy one, and a Merry New Year.

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Hyper-offendable Christians and hyper-offendable others should recall that whatever our beliefs or lack of them, good manners require that we focus on others rather than on ourselves and give them the benefit of the doubt when evaluating their motives for being nice.

Very, very well put Mr. Grimm. As an atheist, I have no problem and take no offense when someone wishes me a Merry Christmas - I am neither so insecure nor bitter as to feel challenged by the Christ in Christmas. Partly this is because of Mr Grimm's sentiment above, but also because I look at Christmas as a cultural tradition, rather than a religious one. Christmas, like many other cultural traditions, has religious roots - technically the religious roots of Christmas are pagan, not Christian. For that reason and all the happy childhood memories, I actually get offended by those who push "Happy Holidays" and try to ban Christmas trees. These things are part of a shared cultural tradition and should be celebrated, and can easily be done without the religious aspects, as seen in Japan every year.

That being said, I will gladly take offense once someone starts pushing their "Christmas is all about Christ!" nonsense on me.

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That being said, I will gladly take offense once someone starts pushing their "Christmas is all about Christ!" nonsense on me.

All sounds a bit confused. Does this mean that Christmas is not about Christ's birthday? I'm not religious, but that was my understanding.

I'm happy if people observing a religion can celebrate it as they wish (within the law!). Where it all falls down is when it gets hijacked by business to boost sales. Why on earth do we buy each other gifts to celebrate Christmas? I think the Christmas spirit Mr Grimm aludes to is fast becoming a compromise due to exercises in political correctness.

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A lot of people dont understand that you will go through life and be offended many many times by things people say or do. But that doesnt necessarily mean they should change their behavior because of you being offended.

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I'm an athiest and fervently anti bible but merry christmas. if my christmas is different from yours that's because its my christmas, and I do it myyyyy waaaaayyy

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For Christians all around the world, "each year we are reminded that Christmas should not be just about giving and receiving presents. But if we really think about Christmas, it truly is all about gift giving! At Christmas we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, the greatest gift ever given, by the greatest gift-giver of all, our wonderful God and Father!"

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I like this article :)

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UnagiDon...well said! no need to say more. I hope that more people use this message instead of taking offense and in turn offending.

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An FYI, Tokyo, Japan was voted in the top tem of place to spend Christmas, according to the Lonely Planet.

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Oops, ten.

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