The Merry Christmas Dilemma

Every year, I find myself in the same Christmas quandary. No, not the secular versus religious quandary: it’s bigger and less significant than that. It’s the Merry Christmas response quandary.

It goes a little something like this. I interact with a person at the grocery store, the office, or even at my house when someone delivers a package, and they greet me with a bit of Christmas cheer.

“Merry Christmas!” they say, merrily.

“You, too!” I say back, which is the easy part.

The hard part is if the conversation continues. “Are you all ready for Christmas?” “Are your kids looking forward to Christmas?” and after Christmas, for at least a couple of weeks, “So, did you have a nice Christmas?”

I usually go with a vague response such as, “Pretty much,” or “Sure” or “It was pretty quiet,” which are not lies, and usually carries the conversation to a finishing point pretty fast with most acquaintances, because then I can say, “And you?”

However, there’s the 5%. The 5% who keep the conversation going until we get to the point of no return, where I have run out of vague responses and am forced to out myself as a non-Christmas celebrator.

Which leads to the person acting humbled or embarrassed or dumbstruck and me feeling ridiculous.

I am white. I live in the rural(ish) Midwest. And I don’t celebrate Christmas. It blows people’s mind, I know that. But I don’t know how to break it to them gently.

Christmassers, this is my plea to you: at what point do you want me to tell you that I don’t celebrate Christmas? What response would make us all feel super happy wonderful?

A. “Merry Christmas!” “Thanks, but I’m Jewish.”

B. “Merry Christmas!” “You too!” “So are your kids excited about Christmas?” “No, they hate Christmas, because we don’t celebrate it and they think the world has duped them with their set of circumstances.”

C. “Merry Christmas!” “You too!” “Do you have big plans for Christmas?” “Nope.” “It’s a wonderful time of year, isn’t it?” “Sure is.” “Have you finished your shopping yet?” “I don’t really do any shopping.” “Wow, that is so refreshing to hear. You know the real meaning of the season.” “…”

D. “Merry Christmas!” …

Give me a response D. Give me your best Merry Christmas response. And in return, I will wish you a merry Christmas, a happy yule, a delightful solstice, and a safe New Year.


21 responses to “The Merry Christmas Dilemma

  1. “A” doesn’t work. A lot of people don’t understand what being Jewish has to do with not celebrating Christmas.
    “B” doesn’t work for the same reasons as “A.”
    “C” doesn’t work because your eyes will roll and that will not be received well.
    “D” – point to throat and cough. That works.

  2. So how was your holiday?

  3. In your best disabled child voice, say, “Go bless us, every one,” and then laugh, say you missed your calling, that you should have played Tiny Tim in ‘The Christmas Carol,” and go on to ask if they have seen any good plays lately. That work?

  4. How about: Happy Chanukah!!

  5. I like Tiffany’s answer but might answer “Sol Invictus” myself.

  6. I like Tiffany’s:
    them: Merry Christmas!
    you: And a Happy Chanukah to you!
    Because hopefully most people will get the point, and you don’t have to feel like you are hiding something.

    Alternatively, just assume they meant to wish you the most relevant holiday:

    them: Merry Christmas!
    you: You too!
    them: So, do you have any big plans for Christmas?
    you: Oh, we had a nice Chanukah dinner (or whatever) last week (or whenever), and the kids (something related to your holiday celebrations or even just winter… like the kids built a snowman or made snowflake crafts or something). It was very peaceful (or whatever). What do you have planned for the holidays?

    Or, you can use the all-powerful weather diversion (because people love to talk about the weather):

    them: Merry Christmas!
    you: You too!
    them: [Looks like they might say something more]
    you: Cold out, isn’t it? I always forget how cold winter is.
    them: oh, I know. I used to live in…


    Generally, people are just trying to make small talk and the holidays are usually an easy connection. If you give them the connection with the holiday you do celebrate or even just the weather, you should be able to keep the conversation going without it getting awkward. In theory. I don’t have this problem, so I don’t know for sure. If it were me you were talking to, I’d totally want to know about your Chanukah or your mother-in-law’s birthday or you getting a new puppy or about your thoughts on the windchill factor, but I don’t know what to ask and I chose stupidly. Help me cover it up, and I’ll appreciate it.

    Good luck!

    • I do know what you mean. People are trying to make polite, easy conversation, which is why I really don’t want to get into the whole difference of religion thing. I like your idea about weather! That is a good one! People around here loooove to talk about weather!

  7. I’m probably one of those people who don’t have a clue who is jewish… (a belated ‘sorry’ to anyone I have put “on the spot” like this)! I like Cindi’s “alternatively” response — it clues in us clueless people without making us feel toooo stupid for not realizing that everyone we know doesn’t celebrate christmas!

    • Just to add, I’m totally fine with people saying Merry Christmas and I understand the spirit it is said in. But on the other hand, I don’t want to get into a whole conversation about being Jewish or whatever, with people who are just making polite conversation, especially at work, where I’m supposed to be professional. It’s been kind of a tough call each time to decide what to do, and I feel like I’m just missing something obvious.

  8. I think Happy Chanukah is the perfect response. Then you’ve both wished each other something more or less pointless while remaining polite. Which is pretty much what all greetings are about anyway. Like when someone says how are you, it’s not because they would like to actually hear about all your medical issues. I think from now on I will play it safe and just say hello. 😄

    • You’re right. I just don’t want to get into the whole Chanukah thing with most people. I just want to make polite, professional chatter and move on. In a few days, I won’t have to worry about all this for another year!

  9. Well, “Bah, Humbug” (my first choice) and “a Happy Chanukah to you” were already taken so I would stick with the simplest generic response:
    Them: “Merry Christmas.”
    You: “And a Happy Holiday to you.”
    Them: “Are you all ready for Christmas?” “Are your kids looking forward to Christmas?” and after Christmas, for at least a couple of weeks, “So, did you have a nice Christmas?”
    You: “We are going to have/had a Happy Holiday and hope you do/did too.”

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