Why Do Jews Send Out "Holiday" Cards? – Kveller
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Why Do Jews Send Out “Holiday” Cards?

This is around the time of year that people want my address. I am always reluctant to give it to them, because I know why they want it. They want to send me a holiday card, which is really nice. However, they won’t be getting one from me, and that makes me feel bad.

As you may recall, I love mail. I love thank you notes. I check my mail ardently every day to see if there is anything being delivered for me that bears a human touch, as opposed to mean notifications from LabCorp or Verizon (am I the only one who thinks bills are inherently nasty little critters?). So you would think holiday cards would be right up my alley.

But they’re not.

First, let’s not beat around the Hanukkah bush anymore. These are not really “holiday” cards we’re talking about. The reason people send cards around this time of year is to say Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. And that makes sense. Christmas is an extremely important holiday for Christians. But not for me.

You can dance your way around this one, of course, by saying your card says “Happy Holidays!” or “Happy Hanukkah!” or “ Happy New Year.” Well, “Happy Holidays” means more than one holiday – and I’m assuming you’re not talking about Hanukkah and Shabbat. You’re talking about the “holiday season,” i.e. the fact that Hanukkah happens to fall around the same time of year as Christmas. But those two holidays could not be less alike, and shouldn’t be equated. Christmas is a sacred holiday for Christians. Hanukkah is a historical commemoration that is pretty minor in the scheme of things. They’re not the same at all. You want to wish your Christian friends a happy holiday? That’s nice – but why is it that Christians feel secure enough in who they are to wish me a Happy New Year in September without sending apples and honey to my house?

Okay, how about a card that says “Happy Hanukkah”? Well, maybe I’m just not a card person, but that seems weird. All those Sukkot and Simchat Torah cards you guys sent me got lost in the mail. Also, again, Hanukkah is meant to commemorate not assimilating – so why appropriate a Christian tradition to celebrate it? And a “Happy New Year” card? Eh. I’ve got much more invested – my identity, history, culture, and ethics – in 5772 than I do in 2012, which will just be something I fail to write on my checks until April.

I’m going to alienate lots of people, I’m sure, by saying this, but when I see Jewish families sending out “holiday” cards, I wonder if they’ve given enough thought as to why they’re doing it. As I’ve written before, Hannukah is not one and the same as Christmas – in fact, Hannukah’s entire purpose is to celebrate Jews who refused to appropriate other people’s traditions as their own.

So why should we, as Jews, do something that’s a Christian, albeit comparatively secular, tradition? I think we shouldn’t, any more than we should have a Christmas tree. It’s a great, sweet tradition – but it’s not ours.

So are the people who are sending these cards doing it because they believe they are just participating in the joy of the “holiday” (read: not our holiday) season? Probably – but doesn’t that go against the anti-assimilationist theme of Hanukkah? Didn’t the Maccabees go to war in the first place because they didn’t want to have to abide by other people’s traditions and culture – they just wanted to be Jewish?

Are the card-senders doing it because their friends and business colleagues are doing it? Well, that makes sense – they want to have your kids’ pictures on the refrigerators and desks of your friends and colleagues just like other people. And it’s nice to share news or pictures of your family – I’m not a hater, I’m interested! But I just dispute this as being the occasion to do so, since it’s to celebrate “the holiday season,” i.e. Christian holidays. How about doing it on Rosh Hashanah?

There are those, I’m sure, who will say that I’m just overthinking it: people who send these cards are just doing it because it’s a fun, nice thing to do.  Well, sure it is. Christmas trees and Easter egg hunts are probably fun too. But we Jews don’t do those things either.

Holiday cards around this time of year make me vaguely sad, because they say to me that we American Jews kind of, sort of want to be just like everybody else. And it makes me wonder, why isn’t it okay – more than okay – just to be ourselves?

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