This is the time of the year when certain Jews (thinking of you, Julia Ioffe) like to complain about feeling left out of the general merriment.
Me, I went to Target a couple of days ago, to return the defective skateboard I’d given my son for Hanukkah. Having driven in circles looking for parking, I don’t feel left out at all.
I guess I’m just not the type who wants to be with everyone else at all times. Sure, sharing traditions gives people a feeling of unity and a common sense of purpose. That’s one of the things that I like about our civic and secular celebrations like Fourth of July, Halloween, and Thanksgiving. Religion and ethnic lineage, however, are more private matters, and I don’t feel the need to share mine with the whole country. We have our own beautiful holidays that give me an opportunity to teach my kids to take pride in our differences.
Granted, we’d already shamelessly appropriated pretty much all that there to appropriae about Christmas. We wrap our houses in white and blue lights, something quite appropriate for our festival of lights. We exchange presents, a custom that has nothing to do with the Maccabees, to be sure. Still, I like the idea of celebrating American prosperity with gift giving, so our family adopted that tradition.
Some of us even put up Hanukkah bushes. I have to draw the line there for multiple reasons, not the least among them basic laziness.
Additionally, although my family had New Year trees in the Soviet Union, that was then, and it’s wrong for Jews in America to go that route. In America, Christmas trees are an important Christian tradition.
I’m not shedding any tears because I don’t have to wait in line with everyone else, or because I need to fly across the country when everyone else does, and catch a nasty bug which I will then pass on to every toddler in my entire extended family (true story). I have my own days of hardcore shopping. It’s both less time consuming, and a more social way of doing it. This spring, for instance, two days before Passover, I was at Safeway on my largest grocery shopping trip of the year. There was just one customer ahead of me at the register, but I miscalculated: she had a cartfull of food. Among it were eggs, parsley, beats, matzo meal, and several different meats, one of them, judging by the shape of the package, likely a chicken, and another — a brisket. We looked at each other and smiled, an instant connection.
There was traffic jam in the grocery store isles today, but I didn’t see anyone exited to to find another Christian preparing to cook a big dinner. Sorry, but Safeway looks like a madhouse right now. I prefer to have my holidays on my own schedule.
I know you guys are all shopping for last minute presents, too, and for the clothes to wear for the parties. I’ll wait for better deals after Christmas. And when you have to wear clothes as marketed, I get to perfect the art of creative cultural appropriation. Last year, I found a pleated green velvet skirt that was practically screaming ‘tis the season! I hear the East Coast does it differently, but California is fairly pretty color specific, with Christians and cultural Christians doing green, white, and red, and Jews — blue and white for the Holidays. Yet when I looked at that skirt, I saw the lush spring color, so I paired it with a charcoal lace top, also a Christmas season appropriation, to rock the Passover Seder. It worked!
Necessity is the mother of invention, they say. So, if my Christian neighbors buy beautiful things sold at the store for the season, I have to get inventive to wear their garment, my way. Pat me on the back.
Not being where everyone else is works for more high-minded pursuits, too. Although San Francisco Ballet’s Nutcracker runs through the month of December, it is for some reason important to most of the audience to see the performance before the 24th of December. The final week’s shows are offered at a discounted price, and that’s when I take my family to see it. To us, watching The Nutcracker is not sub-religious ritual, but appreciation of classical ballet that can watch it any time of the year, as many non-Christians do world over. We don’t have to pay the premium on Tchaikovsky.
If Christmas songs and movies are truly good, they are good for everyone, not just Christians. They tell us something about human experience that transcends the religious and cultural framework within which it was created. Baby It’s Cold Outside and A Christmas Story belong to all humanity, not just American Christians.
On the other hand, I get to blame you for Sir McCartney’s Wonderful Christmastime. I have a lot of problems with that.
Christmas has been more or less re-branded as the Holidays in most American cities. Department store clerks are trained to wish us Happy Holidays, and the merchandise like gift wrap or dinnerware bares related inscriptions, with perhaps wider variety of colors. Although this is usually done in the name of exclusivity, the main beneficiaries of the new consumerist approach are cultural Christians who want to feel worldly and have more choices. Jewish consumers are still a small minority, so we don’t have a lot of sway.
Since we went through the trouble of putting it up, we are more than happy to leave our Hanukkah decor on through the end of the month, but our holiday technically ended weeks ago. It’s pretty obvious to everyone that the Holidays in question are just Christmas. In fact, the two salutations are used more or less interchangeably, even by people who know that I am Jewish. I’m not complaining, I’m just making an observation. Most people are too busy, and too excited to pay attention to such things — or to even know when is Hanukkah this year. I looked it up mid-November.
The types who complain most about the exclusivity of the Holidays are often the same ones who find the faults with the holidays we do have in common, like the aforementioned Thanksgiving and Independence Day. I don’t know if they feel the need to create clickbait for every occasion, or sincerely want to replace American civic and religious traditions with something of their own invention. Either way, their zeal is misplaced.
Having said all that, for the last fifteen years I’ve been spending Christmas Day with my Catholic in-laws, a beneficiary of their hospitality and generosity. However, I didn’t marry my husband to have something to do on the 25th of December. And before I started visiting them, I just had a quiet day to myself, staying in bed past noon, reading a book. Who complains about an extra day off?DONATE
Donations tax deductible
to the full extent allowed by law.