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How do you respond when greeted, during the Winter "holiday season" by a non-Jewish acquaintance with each of the following?

  • Happy Chanuka (in proximity to Chanuka)
  • Happy Chanuka (not in proximity to Chanuka)
  • Enjoy your holiday.
  • I hope your holiday is full of light. (I actually got this one yesterday.)
  • Happy Holidays / Season's Grettings
  • Happy New Year
  • Merry Christmas

In that vein, when composing written correspondence this time of year to a non-Jewish acquaintance, such that a seasonal greeting might be expected, what such greeting (if any) do you insert?

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I respond with "Thank you." –  Shmuel Dec 15 '11 at 22:02
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4 Answers

up vote 6 down vote accepted

I will assume that this non-Jewish acquaintance is Christian or at least that they will be celebrating Chistmas in a secular way on Dec 25 (as opposed to being Muslim, Greek Orthodox. Wicca or other)

  1. Happy Chanukah (early or in proximity to Chanukah): They have wished me well appropriately for my holiday, I wish them a Merry Christmas. (It seems you can wish people Merry Christmas anywhere from Thanksgiving to New Years and Chanukah falls in that time frame.)
  2. Happy Chanukah (if it's already a couple weeks after): I add something to indicate the Holiday has passed like "Thank you, we had a really nice time with the family a couple weeks ago, Merry Christmas to you and your family
  3. Enjoy Your Holiday: "Thanks, you too"
  4. I hope your season is full of light: never encountered this one but I suppose I would respond like above since it's generic enough "Thanks, you too".
  5. Happy Holidays / Season's Greetings: Since "Season's Greetings" is an absolutely meaningless phrase, and don't need feel the need to exclude myself from yet another phrase devoid of specific meaning, I just say again "Thanks, you too"
  6. Happy New Year: I can accept New Years as an American holiday like Thanksgiving Day... - "Thanks, you too".
  7. Merry Christmas: If it's truly an acquaintance I will say, "Thanks but I don't celebrate Christmas, but you can wish me a Happy Chanukah" (if the timing is right). "Merry Christmas to you". If it's someone I don't know... and depending on my mood I've been known to be a smartaleck (like after waiting in line in a dept. store on Dec 24 and having heard the "King of Israel" song for the 10th time) I'll just respond with "Happy Chanukah" or "Happy Kwanza" (to a white person) to send a message not to assume all your shoppers celebrate Christmas.

Is there a right answer to this question?

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4  
Is there no religious problem for a Jew to extend Christian holiday wishes? –  Isaac Moses Dec 17 '09 at 18:59
    
I suppose that would depend on whether Christianity is Avodah Zara (now asked by myself as a new question) If it's not, then there should be no problem. If it is, then I would suggest not wishing them anything related. If it's in the middle... like I suspect, then we have other mitigating factors like are they actually engaging in Avodah Zara in their Christmas observance (how many actually go to Mass) and is our wising them a Merry one really about the gift giving and a nice family meal? –  Aaron Greenberg Dec 17 '09 at 20:05
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To pick up on Aaron's last point, I think one would be hard pressed to object to the merriness of others. Regardless of any other factors and how likely they are to be engaging in any given practice, if the speaker's intent is to encourage the interlocutor's happiness and nothing else, it should be fine. If the intent is to encourage the act that may or may not cause the happiness, the other questions begin. –  WAF Dec 17 '09 at 22:08
4  
See Rabbi Herschel Shachter's shiur here: ouradio.org/ouradio/channel/C306 He talks about attending a company Christmas party. He says you can attend, pick up your bonus check, and say "Season's Greetings." A questioner in the audience was upset, "if my Christian co-worker wishes me a happy religious holiday, shouldn't I return the favor and say Merry Christmas?" Rabbi Shachter wasn't convinced this was appropriate. –  Shalom Dec 18 '09 at 14:17
    
+1 for the closing question. –  Seth J Dec 16 '11 at 14:50
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I get this: "Is your Christmas shopping done?". It's usually from a well-meaning customer who doesn't know my customs. I see no difference between this and "so what plans do you have for Friday night (or Saturday)". The question is certainly more prevalent at this time of year.

If this is a "learning moment", where I choose to use my expansion of the question, it can be a natural lead-in to a deeper understanding of each others' customs. Let's be clear though, sometimes doesn't it feel as if we are showing off with our answer? I find that as long as the question is a natural one, one with the intention of spreading joy and love, what's the harm in just saying this? "My shopping for the holiday is done, thanks. By the way, there's a really good sale at XYZ Store".

I find that people aren't asking for a big explanation as to what you do, or a lesson in spirituality. They are usually moved by the closeness that holidays bring. Their assumptions are theirs to have, not mine to correct.

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My standard answer to holiday greetings such as those mentioned is along the lines of "Thank you, to you as well", all though with the last one I tend to regret it if I forget to stop after "Thank you."

With respect to wishing someone a "Merry Christmas", it seems that many contemporary works apply Yoreh Deah 147:2 as a reason not to mention the holiday when giving a non-Jew a gift [see here for the question about giving gifts]:

http://www.torah.org/advanced/weekly-halacha/5767/miketz.html http://www.cckollel.org/parsha_encounters/5769/vayishlach.pdf

and here

It would seem to imply that giving them a greeting with the name of the holiday would be prohibited, a position supported by the long standing practice to refer to the holiday in question by a euphemism.

For what its worth, while there may be a debate about whether Christianity is avodah zarah for goyim, it is certainly avodah zarah for us and I do not believe that debate has relevance to whether we can greet someone in such a way.

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I encounter this at the hospital that I work at all the time. The nurses wish me a "merry ..." and I usually tell them that I don't celebrate that. Some of them, however, can't seem to understand that (despite the fact that we're in NYC where there are slightly more than a handful of Jews). This year after reminding the same nurse 5 times during one shift I tried a new approach. We have a whiteboard in the hallway that lists the physician on call for the day. I drew an arrow from my name and wrote "JEWISH" at the other end. Problem solved. Anyone else (i.e., who doesn't know me or is too sheltered to know about Judaism) gets a standard "you too" from me. I really try to avoid saying the names of their holidays.

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2  
I can understand (though I don't know if there's any real basis for) avoiding saying "Christmas": after all, that refers to Jesus as the christ, which, of course, he wasn't. For similar reasons, I can understand avoiding saying "St. [Whoever]'s Day": saint means "holy one". But why do you "really try to avoid saying the names of their holidays" in general? What's wrong with "Easter" or "Eid al-Fitr"? –  msh210 Jan 21 '13 at 19:44
    
There is an inyan to avoid saying the names of other holidays and deities, or of changing the name to in a way that might have a condescending meaning, etc. I forget the exact source at the moment. But regarding your examples, the former may have its source in an Indo-European goddess, whereas the latter may not be problematic in that it does not have any source in A"Z as islam is generally considered monotheism halachically. –  binyamingavriel May 5 at 2:13
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