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Nina In New York: On 'The Holidays'

A young professional's take on the trials and tribulations of everyday life in New York City.

By Nina Pajak

As I may have mentioned here before, my husband is Catholic. And so every year, we go down to his family's house in Western Pennsylvania to celebrate Christmas. It's pretty much the best thing this Jewish girl could ever have hoped for.

First of all, the presents. Oh my gosh, the presents. And the tree, and the lights, and the music and the glittery wrapping paper and the Godiva-liqueur-based cocktails and the Bailey's and the ham! Oh, the ham! I really ought to open up an account with HoneyBaked or something, or whatever it is people do to get those babies year-round. Plus there's, like, church and stuff, which is fine though extremely guilt-provoking for me considering I've been to mass more than I've been to synagogue in the last decade (that is to say, no more than once a year).

Anyway, I love Christmas like a kid whose mom forbade sugar loves pixie stix. And every year when the Pajaks have the rest of the family over on Christmas Day, I greet each one with an enthusiastic "Merry Christmas!" And they, bless their hearts, usually respond with the following:

"Merry Christm—no! I'm sorry! Happy Hanukkah!"

It's so sweet. But it's just not true (most years, anyway). Hanukkah is not the Hebrew translation for Christmas. It's not a substitute for Christmas. It's not even in the same league as Christmas! I mean come on. We get one sad, puny little shelf of undesirable crap in every store's massive Christmas display, and we all stop doing the big eight nights hoopla as soon as we grow out of being jealous of our Christian friends from school. Hanukkah is fine and nice, and I like having a reason to celebrate with my family amid all the other partying, but if we're all being honest it's just not that big a deal. Despite Mel Gibson's interest in Judah and the Maccabees, it's true that we have much more important holidays, and they happened already this year. I can't say I know as much about Kwanzaa, but I have a feeling everyone is pretty much on the same page here. We all just want to feel included in the holiday cheer, and have it mean something to us. And why shouldn't we?

So great! Pile on the holidays. Of course we should be inclusive and respect the fact that other religions celebrate and observe during the month of December. Sure! And I'm all for wishing people happy generalized holidays in the generalized holiday time period. But when a Christmas tree lighting becomes a "holiday festival," as in the case of the extremely coincidentally-named Mt. Sinai, NY, it's time to get a grip. Are we all really so sensitive that we can't acknowledge that a Christmas tree is a Christian thing? That doesn't mean the rest of us can't appreciate it without converting and memorizing the New Testament! Just ask the 40 billion people who ruined my day yesterday at the Justin Bieber lighting in Rockefeller Center. I don't think they were there to worship. Or at least, not in the traditional churchly sense.

I, for one, am tired of walking on eggshells and worrying about offending someone's delicate sensibility lest they be wished a happy holiday they don't observe. I think if everyone could relax, the spirit of inclusion would be a whole lot easier to apply. I mean, why shouldn't I have a merry Christmas and Kwanzaa and a non-Jew have a happy Hanukkah? It's better to have lots of happy everythings than one plain old happy nothing in particular.


Dear Readers: While I am rarely at a loss for words, I'm always grateful for column ideas. Please feel free to e-mail me your suggestions.

Nina Pajak is a writer and publishing professional living with her husband on the Upper West Side.

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