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Joy on this most Jewish of holidays, Christmas

Not sure who Donald Trump thinks is averse to saying “Merry Christmas.” Jews have been saying it, and getting paid to do so, for years.

If you work at a newspaper, chances are, you’ve worked on Christmas.
Neil Steinberg/Sun-Times

Merry Christmas!

Am I handing Donald Trump a victory by saying that? He seems to think so.

“They didn’t want to let you say ‘Merry Christmas,’” he told students in Florida last Saturday.

Trump doesn’t say who “they” are — liberals, Democrats, maybe Jews — but the villains were defeated, thanks to Trump, who crowed: “They’re all saying Merry Christmas again.”

I sure am. Then again, I never stopped. Exactly 15 years ago I also began a column “Merry Christmas,” reacting to the Republican victory dance celebrating reelection of George W. Bush. The logic seemed to be, with power secure, it was time to dial back all this diversity nonsense.

The genesis of the issue bears repeating. In the late 20th century, certain public institutions — schools and stores, mostly — realized at Christmas that a significant percentage of their students or customers were Jews or Muslims or other non-Christmasy sorts. Rather than hold a Christmas Concert that ignores their existence, they expanded it into a big-tent Holiday Concert.

This is perceived as an insult by certain Christians who feel they must manifest their dominance in all things at all times. Clutching at themselves, falling to the ground, writhing and weeping and emitting defiant bleats of “Merry Christmas” has become a December tradition. Nobody cries like a bully.

This proved a dilemma to people such as myself, who not only don’t mind saying “Merry Christmas” but kinda like it, as a Dickens-ish bit of winter cheer.

I could add “and Happy Hanukkah” — the fourth night is Wednesday — but Jews don’t really expect to be included. Or maybe that’s just me. I always cringed at the token Hanukkah song jammed at the end of the Holiday Concert. “I Have a Little Dreidl.” Bleh. Not exactly “Silent Night,” is it?

For the past few years, I worried “Merry Christmas” would be irredeemably ruined by Trump, weaponized from a jolly holiday greeting into a belligerent blast of political toxicity, half “Sieg Heil,” half “f--- you.” But that hasn’t happened. Yet.

Yes, I’m making assumptions. I’m hoping the steady drumbeat of anti-Semitism that Trump has been winking at, re-tweeting and all but clapping along with hasn’t settled into your bones. I hope my being Jewish doesn’t make you uncomfortable, doesn’t make you wonder why your Christmas Day festivities have to be interrupted by this Jewish person parsing your holiday practices. That’s easy; Jews always work Christmas. It’s a newspaper tradition, the Jew Crew. I took my obligatory union, use-or-lose-’em days off last week so I would be back before Christmas.

So not only do I enjoy saying “Merry Christmas,” but in this instance, I’m getting paid to do so. The truth is, we Jews have been ballyhooing Christmas for profit for a hundred years. “White Christmas.” “Let it Snow.” “Silver Bells.” “Santa Baby.” All written by Jews. The most beloved Christmas movie of all, “Die Hard”? Produced by Jews.

Don’t forget, Jesus was Jewish. And you still like Jesus, right? Or am I behind the times? Because it doesn’t always show.

To be honest — and I’m surprised you haven’t figured this out — Christmas is the perfect Jewish holiday. Think about it. There’s food — cookies, cake, candy — prepared by people other than ourselves, brought into the office for free. Music that Jews get royalties from. We’re heroes for working. Some get paid double-time.

And no obligations, for us. No church to attend or cards to send. Our kids don’t expect gifts. We don’t have to decorate our houses, we can just enjoy yours. Yes, our presence can be irritating, the fly in the ointment, ruining Christmas just by being here.

But that’s the dour view. Think of Jews as training wheels for the Scary Others. You’ve had hundreds of years to get used to familiar old us, with our wisecracking comics and our distinctive kvetching. All the while we were slyly introducing you to the strange and unsettling notion that there are other people in the world, people who might someday live near you, the way we do, engaging in lives that might involve other holidays, other beliefs and practices.

It’ll only get worse. So rather than come full circle with another “Merry Christmas,” let me leave you with a greeting that will have even more currency on Christmases to come. You might start trying to wrap your heads around it now:

Feliz Navidad!