When The (Holiday) World Revolves Around You

In early November I attended a cocktail party. A business acquaintance mentioned she was exhausted from traveling constantly for her work, which is international. I asked if she’d be able to be home for Thanksgiving, and she said yes. I then said I hoped she could be home for Christmas, too. She said, “So I’m Jewish–” and someone interrupted before we could finish the conversation. She didn’t seem offended, but I was embarrassed that by default I’d asked about the holiday I grew up celebrating.

This year’s Christmas Tree at Macy’s (Marshall Field’s)

I could say the reason I automatically asked about Christmas is that I don’t celebrate it as a religious holiday, having left the Catholic Church decades ago and no longer being a theist. So, to me, it’s not about religion. It’s a time to celebrate friends and family. It also brightens the winter months. I keep my lights and decorations up for a long time (I’ve been known to take my tree down on Valentine’s Day), to help me cope with the cold and darkness of Chicago winters.

I could also say that I’m aware of differences in religious and holiday practices and am usually much better about recognizing them. For my personal holiday cards, when I am organized enough to send them (stay tuned for whether that happens this year), I choose winter scenes and Seasons Greetings-type messages because it’s simpler than buying different sets of cards for friends who celebrate Christmas, Hanukah, other holidays, or no holidays. On a business level, Seasons Greetings cards have always been my choice. When I was at my busiest as a lawyer, I sent about a hundred to two hundred cards to colleagues around the world, and it would have been impractical and intrusive to call each and ask their religious affiliation, or lack of, and their personal holiday practices before sending each card. (For this reason, I don’t buy that Donald Trump, a business person based in New York City, which has 1.1 million people who are Jewish, actually thinks making every businessperson say “Merry Christmas” rather than “Happy Holidays” is a wise idea.)

Another reason I could offer for my default being Christmas is that I grew up in an area where, as I’ve written before, religious diversity meant some people were some type of Christian other than Catholic, and then I could say my writing and my business life show that I am well aware of the many religious differences in the world.

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But the reality is, I asked about Christmas because, when it comes to holidays, the world revolves around me. When I go to Macy’s department store on State Street (the former Marshall Field’s for those of you who, like me, haven’t adjusted to the change) in December and eat in the famed Walnut Room, I sit below a gigantic and beautiful Christmas tree. Every year on my birthday, which is in December, I walk through City Hall to see the Christmas trees, and I browse the Christkindle Market in the Daley Center and usually buy a Christmas ornament or two. This year for the first time I’ve taken a winter vacation somewhere warm. The resort I’m at features no less than three Christmas trees in its extended outdoor lobby. Not only that, but despite having worked on every other holiday of the year at some point or another, and having worked in retail, manufacturing, law, and other businesses, I’ve never been asked to work on Christmas. All my coworkers have always wished me Merry Christmas. Yet despite having worked with lawyers who are Jewish for over 15 years, I cannot tell you on any given year on what day Hanukkah begins, nor when Yom Kippur is. And I don’t know the names of the holidays in most other religions. They are just “other” to me.

I love Christmas. The decorations make me smile. I have wonderful memories of when my nieces and nephews were little and I’d stay overnight at my parents’ house and help wrap presents and put out cookies for Santa. None of my friends who did not grow up celebrating Christmas have ever complained about the prevalence of Christmas trees and decorations all over the stores and city plazas, nor been upset if I don’t know which holidays they celebrate or on what day. Nor would I be upset if they did not wish me Merry Christmas or send me a holiday card. All the same, in the future, I hope to do a better job of recognizing everyone’s holidays and choices and being more aware of the privilege I have that the traditions I grew up with are those that are recognized everywhere I go. Not everyone gets that same recognition.

What about you? How do you feel about holiday traditions?

Lisa M. Lilly is the author of the occult thrillers The Awakening and The Unbelievers, Books 1 and 2 in the Awakening series. A short film of the title story of her collection The Tower Formerly Known as Sears and Two Other Tales of Urban Horror was recently produced under the title Willis Tower. If you’d like to be notified of new releases and read reviews of M.O.S.T. (Mystery, Occult, Suspense, Thriller) books and movies, click here to join her email list and receive free a short horror story, Ninevah, published exclusively to M.O.S.T. subscribers.