While recently driving through one of those long rural stretches that blur the lines between Midwest and South, I saw a large billboard that said in cheery letters: “Happy Holidays!”
But the billboard featured an angry red cross-out, replacing the inclusive message with the strident proclamation: “ONLY MERRY CHRISTMAS HERE!” Let’s be clear: It wasn’t graffiti; it was part of the design.
The image included herein is a recreation. (Thanks, computer-magic.) I couldn’t take a picture of the actual billboard, because it was stationed beside the highway on which I was driving. Since I was driving, obviously, I couldn’t capture the image; normally, I might have stopped, but it was also nighttime, and raining with near-freezing temperatures, with snow and ice also threatened.
In other words, it was exactly the sort of December night where one might appreciate a nice, warm-and-fuzzy holiday wish, rather than a small town’s declaration that only one holiday was welcome there.
The sign bothered me.
The funny thing is, I am not bothered by religious Christmas signs in general. I actually understand the inclination to emphasize “the reason for the season.” Practicing, faith-driven Christians who want to spread the reminder of Christmas as a religious holiday make sense to me. After all, don’t Jewish people emphasize the messages and meanings behind Jewish holidays, too? Don’t rabbis and educators lament when Chanukah becomes “just about the presents”?
What bothers me is the aggressive exclusion of others. I wouldn’t have blinked at a sign that said “Keep Christ in Christmas.” That sign simply isn’t aimed at me. But a sign that slams other holidays does feel aimed at me. One that essentially shouts out down with happy holidays, Christmas is the only celebration allowed in these parts, seems hurtful and mean-spirited to me. (To say nothing of what the menorah in my trunk must have been feeling…)
What bothers me is the fear conveyed therein, and the notion of a “War on Christmas.” As one rabbi-friend commented when I posted a Facebook status about this billboard: “Isn’t the War on Christmas, like, SO last decade?” Apparently not.
What bothers me is the whole idea that it’s a seasonal zero sum game; the absurd notion that if all holidays are welcome, one in particular is threatened. Doesn’t that go against the love-thy-neighbor spirit associates with this season?
So I added something to my holiday wish list. I’m hoping for a deeper understanding that including everyone does not mean diminishing anyone. Saying “Happy Holidays” is a way of wishing someone whose practices you may not know a joyful time of year regardless of whichever holiday they will or won’t be celebrating. It is not said to replace Christmas, or Chanukah, or Kwanzaa – but to make room for them all.
So whatever holiday(s) you’re celebrating this season, may they be full of peace, and joy, and light, and with that I’ll say – to ALL - a good night.
Does this billboard bother you, too? Share your thoughts!
Golf. A sport usually reserved for the hoighty toighty, and/or generally older crowd. A sport where people ride in little carts and get out of them to whack a tiny plastic ball into a tiny plastic cup.
Of course, if you’re someone like me, a native of Florida who grew up surrounded by the sport, you just might fall in love with it at a young age. (I received my first new set of golf clubs when I became Bar Mitzvah!)
When I go golfing, I usually pull up to the parking lot, lace up my spikes, and immediately feel insignificant. Why? My little Jetta was several years older, and thousands of dollars cheaper, than the BMWs and Maseratis that occupied the spaces around me in my former locales (South Florida when I was growing up, then Southern California when I was in rabbinical school).
But then I moved to the South. The vehicles in the parking lot changed. And…
I STILL felt insignificant.
Not because of my car’s value, but now, due to its stature. The sheer size of the vehicles surrounding me was intimidating. Liberties and Tundras and Blazers, oh my!
As a rabbi who spends many weekends on the road, I try and sneak in a round of golf on a local Southern course wherever I find myself. (Full disclosure, I cannot consistently break 90.) Most recently, after a great weekend at a synagogue in Jackson, Tennessee, I had the realization that I was surrounded by trucks! It felt like every vehicle parked nearby was a Ford F-150, a Jeep Wrangler, or something even bigger.
Awestruck by this, I literally began counting cars, discovering that 13 out of 21 vehicles (a whopping 62%!!!) were trucks or SUVs. My initial reaction was “Is this the status symbol in this area? It’s not how quickly your Porsche can accelerate to 60 miles per hour, but how what pound-feet of torque your Chevy has?”
Then it occurred to me that these golfers might live a different lifestyle – the kind that requires a different vehicle. After all, my father, a plant facilities manager at a North Georgia summer camp, has not one but TWO trucks. He uses them to carry two-by-fours, potted plants, and all manner of large items returning from one of his daily (sometimes hourly) trips to the hardware store. His vehicle isn’t about status, it’s about function.
Maybe some of my ideas about golf, and golfers, need some adjusting. Plenty of people down here love the game that I enjoy so much, no matter what any of us drive. Maybe our region dictates our driving choice more than our hobbies do.
But whatever the reason, there sure are a lot of trucks around these parts, and not just at the golf course. I counted 21 trucks/SUVs out of 29 vehicles in an airport lot the other day. It’s a phenomenon – but what the phenomenon indicates is still something to wonder about…
Maybe I’ll chat about this with my fellow golfers out on the course at the Delta Jewish Golf Open this weekend.
Do you notice the vehicles around you in different settings? Ever had any revelations while “counting cars”?
Students at Temple Beth-El in Birmingham, Alabama, listen in rapt attention to The Rabbi and the 29 Witches. We love everything about this image, from the beard and hat on our Ed Fellow (hey, sometimes you have to be the rabbi AND the witches!) to the cute cuddling yarmulke buddies.
Shabbat shalom, y’all!