How, I was asked, are people meant to know what you celebrate? They’re Merry Christmas Wishes not. Which is why my wish, this holiday season, is for people not to make assumptions about others, to put themselves in others’ shoes, to respect others as they wish to be respected, to respond with kindness even when they disagree, to live and let live. I heard about a guy who used to say all that stuff, and apparently his birthday is coming up. Why not honor him that way?
To say it’s off-putting to be wished a merry holiday you don’t celebrate — like someone randomly wishing you a happy birthday when the actual date is months away — is not to say you hate Christmas. It is simply to say that, to me, Julia Ioffe, it is alienating and weird, even though I know that is not intended. I respond: “Thanks. You, too.” But that feels alienating and weird, too, because now I’m pretending to celebrate Christmas. It feels like I’ve verbally tripped, as when I reply “You, too!” to the airport employee wishing me a good flight. There’s nothing evil or mean-spirited about any of it; it’s just ill-fitting and uncomfortable. And that’s when it happens once. When it happens several times a day for a month, and is amplified by the audiovisual Christmas blanketing, it’s exhausting and isolating. It makes me feel like a stranger in my own land.
When I tried to explain this on Twitter, I earned thousands of attacks: people vindictively wishing me a Merry Christmas, vicious and ad hominem condemnations accusing me of being angry, whiny, impolite, self-centered, ungrateful, sad and, in general, a bad person. (“We’ve already got a reputation for being miserable f—s,” one Jewish commenter wrote, “let’s not make it worse.”)