A friend wished me a “Very Merry Christmas,” as a closing sentiment in an e-mail, yesterday. I didn’t feel joy at his kind thoughts, I felt stung. If he’d been a stranger or an acquaintance in a supermarket, I wouldn’t have given it a second thought. I’d have smiled with a gracious thank you and returned the sentiment with a more general happy holiday response, grateful to spread joy and cheer in the cold winter season. But he knows I’m Jewish.
My level of friendship and respect for him demanded I set him straight on his error, but I struggled with how to respond. I didn’t want to embarrass him or make him feel bad, but at the same time I couldn’t deny my hurt feelings at his oversight. It also caught me off guard how much serious thought and disappointment his simple act of kindness had generated on my end. This is not the first time I’ve felt this holiday season stab in the gut from a friend; I take no issue with preprinted photos and cards containing Christmas wishes, but one time a dear friend who’d married and Evangelical Christian man had added in an extra handwritten note that flagrantly disregarded what she knew too well to be my Jewish background.
There are five possibilities I can think of for my current friend’s lack of recognition that I celebrate Hannukah, 1) he really didn’t know I was Jewish, 2) it escaped his mind, 3) he doesn’t understand or know about anything other than Christmas, 4) he couldn’t bring himself to recognize the seasonal celebration of the religion I was born into because of his own conservatism, 5) or he was deliberately needling me.
He’s way too kind of a person for it to be the last reason, so that one is off the table. I served two years with him on a nonprofit Board through past holiday seasons, so I’m fairly certain he knows I’m Jewish. My situation is on the complicated side, though. I’m married to a Catholic man, and both Hannukah and a nonreligious version of Christmas are celebrated in my household, so it’s possible he was genuinely confused. But it’s way more likely he forgot, which hurts in its own right, or he didn’t understand how much his slip would matter to me.
There’s not a lot of Jews where I live, and he was born and raised. He has told me more than once he grew up in a very socially and politically…