All throughout my childhood, wishes of “Merry Christmas” were the height of insensitivity, to be borne with savoir faire, with lèse-majesté, with benign tolerance. I was to carefully restrict myself to the generic wish, “Happy Holidays”, and hope to receive the same, and let it go at that.
My childhood was such a giddy, madcap Victorian whirlwind! So elegant, so gracious, formal yet näive, even rustic in many ways…
Importantly, in my childhood, people regularly said things automatically, without thinking about them. “Merry Christmas” was the automatic thing to say, the thoughtless phrase spoken in departure. The rest of the year, the thoughtless automatic phrase was “goodbye”.
Sometime in the early 60s, people began to think about phrases they said all the time and never thought about. “Goodbye”, being somewhat obscure, attracted specific attention. It dates from the end of the 15th Century and could have been a contraction of “may God be with you [until we meet again].” Thinking about this eventually led to the use of the exceptionally lame phrase, “have a nice day”. Perhaps in reaction to and even unconscious resentment of being manuvered out of the use of an elegant and facile two syllable phrase in favor of the tedious and meaningless four-syllable one, “goodbye” took on an additional overtone. It has become an ultimatum of dismissal, not just an acknowledgement of the end of an encounter but a command from one party that the other quit immediately and leave, whether God has approved or not.
The difference in the values of the phrases can be seen most clearly in the inversion, I feel. If the thing to wish for is a “nice” day, the worst opposite would be an “un-nice” day, one filled with ugliness, inconvenience and raggedness, as opposed to “a glorious day”, the opposite of which could easily be a day of unmitigated hell.
We were made to sing Christmas songs from Thanksgiving through to the brink of the ‘vacation’. Yeah, the constant “Jesus” refrain sometimes got on our Jewish nerves, but face it. This is a body of songs from the most famous, most respected composers of the past two thousand years. Every successful musician from Palestrina to Aguilera has at least one Christmas album. All are successful even yet, and some are eternally great.
The imagery is beyond compare. I happily sang celebrations of heavenly miracles written by geniuses. And when they made us sing drab commercial crap about “dreidels”, I knew it was just lame politics – songs written to show the goyim, “See? We can sing our own songs any time we want to.” I didn’t hate the idiots who thought they wanted to, but they embarrassed me. After all did Irving Berlin write anything about Chanukah? Even in a letter?
Religion is the politics of faith. It’s repulsive to me that there is such an angle, but that’s where real free will comes into play. I guess.
Merry Christmas. Happy New Year. Yeah.