I can pinpoint two times when saying “Christmas” instead of “holidays” made me feel like an insensitive dolt.
The first would have been back around 1974 or 1975.
I was home from college during the year-end break. I was in a knickknacks store and came face to face with a former high school classmate. She had been a close friend of a girl I had gone out with. I liked her.
So I asked if she had had a nice Christmas. With total grace and good cheer, Barb Goldberg said it wasn’t something her family really did.
All these years later, the memory still makes me wince. What an idiot I was. I knew full well that she was Jewish. Of course, she didn’t do Christmas.
When you are 19 or 20 and think you are worldly and know it all, it’s rough to be reminded that you are actually a moron.
She couldn’t have been nicer about hurrying us past my apology.
I’m sure I thought I had learned a lesson.
But then, at about the same time of year in 1990 or 1991, I was visiting a city where I used to live. I ducked into a newsstand where I had purchased enough newspapers over the years to make a stack a mile high.
The proprietor, a soft-spoken guy named Maurice Hammett, seemed pleased to see me. I asked about his Christmas.
“It’s not my holiday,” he answered, without a trace of hard feeling in his voice.
I wanted to slap my forehead, cartoon-style. I knew he was Jewish, but had let it slip my mind.
I can’t recall what I said. But it should have been, “Mr. Hammett, in case you are wondering, I am acutely aware that I am a blockhead.”
The agenda behind the whole “Merry Christmas” vs. “Happy Holidays” thing is laughably transparent. I won’t waste your time pointing out the obvious.
But I will tell you this. We aren’t all the same. And forgetting that can be embarrassing.
Today’s Slice question: What do you wear to bed at this time of year?