Hanukkah is here, which means Christmas is just around the next, more popular corner. As a Jew for 27 years now, I’ve learned to cast aside self-pity over having the less fun holiday so as to make room for some creativity — an asset I’ll need when coming up with tactful responses to the ever-prevalent holiday season question, “So what are you doing for Christmas this year?”
While I’ve perfected the perky “back at ya” response that works for Christmas-specific greetings beginning with “merry,” actual questions about holiday plans require a more nuanced reply. “I don’t celebrate Christmas” often provokes frowns and looks of discomfort. No one wants to make anyone else uncomfortable during the season of cheer, except for the many people who make assumptions about how you’re going to spend it!
To avoid involuntary grimaces and perpetuate good tidings, here are some canned responses you non-Christmas celebrators can use when people ask how you plan to honor Jesus’s birthday.
1. “I’ll be spending some time with my family.”
This response is clever because it reveals enough to make your questioner feel warm and fuzzy inside about your holiday plans without revealing to them that those plans consist of eating Chinese takeout and going to the movies. It doesn’t matter that you and your clan won’t be opening presents around a tree, because if people assume you’re celebrating Christmas, then they’ll assume that’s what family time means!
2. “This year I’ve decided to take a trip during my vacation!”
How exciting! Using your week off from work to do something out of the ordinary and travel — what fun! No one will be bummed by the fact that you’re not singing carols and drinking eggnog if they know you’re doing something so culturally fulfilling. Traveling to new places is festive regardless of the time of year.
3. “My family actually got together to celebrate last week — it just made more sense with our schedules. We had a really lovely time.”
Maybe it made more sense with your schedules because that’s the week your family’s winter holiday of choice (or, rather, tradition) actually took place. But as long as you were celebrating the winter holiday people who put Christmas on a pedestal think you were celebrating, there’s no way you’re going to wipe the smile off their faces with this sneaky reply.
4. “Ugh, I’m allergic to pine trees, so every year I find a new, unique way to spend my break.”
This one may be a partial lie (unless you really are allergic to pine trees), but it’s a white lie, and white lies are good! According to the Cambridge English Dictionary, they’re told “in order to be polite or to stop someone from being upset by the truth,” which is what this list is all about.
You’ll still probably be doing something unique this break, since about 92 percent of Americans celebrate Christmas, says the Pew Research Center. So the act of lying comatose in front of your TV without with a Christmas tree in the room means you’re likely doing something that most people in the US aren’t.
5. “What are you doing for Christmas?!”
Said with the right amount of enthusiasm and the right number of exposed front teeth, you can make your questioner forget that they ever even asked about your Christmas plans. This distraction technique works best with the sorts of people who only ever ask questions as an excuse to talk about themselves, so choose wisely where you deploy this response. Plus, answering a question with another question is a deeply Jewish tradition you’ll be honoring.
6 .“I actually don’t have plans — you don’t have an extra seat at your Christmas dinner table, do you? Oh gosh, I’m so sorry, I can’t believe I asked…”
A bashful request for company at this time of year will make even the most culturally unaware swoon if they have an ounce of Christmas spirit. You’ll be sure to get a sympathy invite, and lo and behold, next time someone asks you about your Christmas plans, you’ll have something actually Christmas-y to tell them about! (Wait until you arrive at your host’s place with a bottle of Manischewitz to tell them that you’re Jewish.)
7. “I’ll be cleaning up my Hanukkah decorations from last week!”
Cleaning — boo, but decorations? Yay! This will tell people who may have been concerned that you don’t have a major holiday celebration coming up not to worry, because you’ve already majorly celebrated a holiday, so much so that you’re still cleaning up from it. This is a great segue into how hard you partied over candles and latkes so no one feels like you haven’t experienced enough holiday spirit.
8. “I’ll be celebrating life, love, and all that I’m thankful for this year.”
After saying this, put on a serene smile, bow your head, and calmly walk away. Don’t look back to check whether there’s a single tear running down the cheek of the person who asked you about your Christmas plans. It will definitely be there.
9. “Omg I’m going to be doing so much, first I’m going to go holiday shopping with my best friend Bethany because we always do our holiday shopping together, we’re not sure if we’re going to start at Macy’s or an online store this year — because everybody shops online now right and it’s cheaper? — then I’m going to go skating with my partner in Prospect Park — Rockefeller gets way too crowded this time of year — and then my aunt is coming to town —”
At this point, the person who asked will probably cut you off in a way that’s just as polite as making sure you have plans for a holiday you might not celebrate.
10. “I’ll probably be chilling at home, maybe go to a movie and eat some Chinese food. I’m Jewish, so I celebrated Hanukkah — a holiday that’s not a super big deal but was made into one because it usually takes place around Christmas — last week. Thanks for asking! What are your plans?”
This is probably what you should actually say.
Disclaimer: After all this, I must admit: I actually will be celebrating Christmas this year. I’m traveling to Los Angeles, where my friend’s German mother has a longstanding tradition of cooking and serving a Christmas goose. Happy birthday, Jesus!!