For those may did not know, the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah is underway. It began on Sunday, November 28, and ends on Monday, December 6. I want to wish everyone a Happy Hanukkah this year because it is part of the “Holidays” in “Happy Holidays,” or at least it is supposed to be.
In our last Perspective I mentioned that we have to stop suffering fools, which brings to mind the obvious question: When did we start suffering fools? It all started with Christmas – at least that is my theory. When I was a child, no one ever uttered the phrase “Happy Holidays.” To be fair, before the age of eight I lived in Greensboro, NC, where my family is from, and there were not a lot of non-Christmas folks around. But when I was eight my family moved to Boca Raton, FL, where, as a gentile, I was a minority.
Still, even in the majority-Jewish town of Boca Raton in the 1970s we would hear and say “Merry Christmas” throughout the month of December. The city would be decorated with signs; every other one said Merry Christmas and the others said Happy Hanukkah, alternating down the street. This is why I now am curious about Hannukah being included in Happy Holidays.
It has been several years since I spent a Christmas in Boca, but the last time I did, the signs had changed. They still alternated, but now they alternated Happy Hanukkah with Happy Holidays. Somewhere along the line between my 1970s childhood and today, we decided that we could no longer say “Merry Christmas” because it was somehow offensive. Let us break this offensive phrase down to see where the true horror and meanness lies.
The first word is Merry. Merriam-Webster defines it thusly: Full of gaiety or high spirits; marked by festivity or gaiety; or giving pleasure. Obviously, we can see the insult in that. How dare you suggest that someone should be full of gaiety or high spirits. Almost sounds like you want them to be joyful…
The second word is Christmas. Merriam-Webster defines it as: A Christian feast on December 25…that commemorates the birth of Christ and is usually observed as a legal holiday. I would personally add it is an adaptation of the pagan holiday celebrating the winter solstice, and – in America anyway – an enormous advertisement for Coca Cola (Santa’s suit is red in the U.S. because of an old advertisement for Coca-Cola; he wears green most other places). It is a cultural phenomenon that blends the Christian religion, pagan tradition, the legend of St Nicholas (aka Sinterklass), and retailers’ end-of-the-year, get-this-stuff-out-of-here push. If one wants to keep it simple, it could also be defined as the 25th day of December.
So, in its simplest form, Merry Christmas means: Please be of high spirits on December 25. Well, report that guy to HR right away. How dare he wish me well on December 25! Doesn’t he understand how offensive that is? Heaven forbid we wish a non-Irish person Happy St. Patrick’s Day. I will admit I see the offense in someone Googling, “What day is Cinco de Mayo?”
I’m poking fun, but there is a serious point here: If we get offended by someone wishing us well on a day or week that is important to them even if it isn’t to us, how then are we supposed to have the actual difficult conversations needed to bridge the gaps in our society? It is just foolishness.
The good news is we are not nearly as divided, or soft, as the media would lead one to believe. How do I know? The last time I ever wished anyone a Happy Holiday was when I left my job at a big corporation and started Iron Capital. When this time of year came around in 2003, our first year of existence, I ordered Christmas cards to send to our clients and friends. I was told that I couldn’t do that because I would offend people and we would get complaints, clients would leave. We have been wishing everyone a Merry Christmas ever since and we have not received one complaint. We have received several compliments from those who notice.
We aren’t preaching or trying to convert. We wish people a Merry Christmas because that is our holiday, and we truly want everyone to be happy that day regardless of belief or background. So, this year I have no hesitation in wishing everyone a Happy Hanukkah, because it is Hanukkah. We should be aware of it so we can wish our Jewish friends well, and we truly want everyone to be happy whether they happen to celebrate it or not. “They” say we are all supposed to silo ourselves and keep our holidays and traditions only among us, but I think we need to celebrate each other. Holidays are what they are, and they have names for a reason. If we really want to show love and respect, we should call them by their proper name. At least that is my perspective.
Chuck Osborne, CFA