Words of Faith

There’s nothing wrong with wishing someone a ‘Merry Christmas’

December 17, 2013 

The Hanukkah and Thanksgiving festivities have concluded. There are new candles being lit with Christmas nearing.

This is a time of heightened awareness of faith. The expressions of those beliefs can cause tension, or can be an opportunity for deeper conversations about beliefs in the divine, from which learning and growth can arise, both about your own religion, and that of others.

At this time, as Christmas songs fill the air, there are many greetings of “Happy Holidays” instead of a “Merry Christmas.” As the Christmas season swells to its epiphany, does one have to be so neutral? For Christians, this is the time of the birth of their savior, Jesus Christ. While not everyone may believe that he is their Messiah, there are certainly a large number of people who do! Secular shopping events aside, this a time of joy for Christians.

Multifaith families are presented with a yet another opportunity for sharing and mutual learning as family members express their faith. This also occurs within members of the same religious classification. Some Christians attend church only on Christmas or Easter, just as some Jews only attend on the High Holy Days. At the other end of the spectrum, others of both religions are more frequent and vocal in the practice of their beliefs, with personal readings, book clubs and other service in addition to formal attendance.

Faith and a belief in the divine are intensely personal, and conversations about those beliefs can be enlightening and enriching to all.

If one is lucky enough to have a family to celebrate and potentially to argue with, there can be tensions regarding the traditions chosen to celebrate the holidays. And again, does that have to be so? Differing expressions of belief at home are opportunities for sharing deeper levels of understanding of the faith from which those traditions spring. This does not lead to confused kids who are not wholly “one or the other.” Instead, it can lead to building new, personal traditions rich in meaning, even as new paths evolve from what our parents taught us.

As our children observe, question and learn from us, be sure that they will find their own beliefs. From that, will come their own ways of celebrating the holidays, based on those observations and the pathways of faith which are true to them. Learning more about the beliefs of others does not lessen our own faith. Indeed, it is this type of sharing which can lead us to more fully understand and embrace our own faith.

For many households, there was a menorah last month, and there will be a Christmas tree this month. This is not religious fence-sitting, but more a modern mashup, with many faiths celebrated and respected. So, when I am wished a Merry Christmas, do I correct the individual and explain my view that the Messiah has yet to arrive? No, I accept the greeting as I choose to believe it is intended – a happy person sharing joy and their belief in the season. It’s just as I hope that others will be happy to participate in my lighting of the Hanukkah or Shabbat candles.

This is a time to talk about faith, and give hope, in these long winter nights, of a better world where discussions of faith and belief are easily shared, with respect on every side.

Edie Yakutis works with Ritual Life at Temple Solel in Fort Mill. Contact her eyakutis@outlook.com.

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