Why I Like Being Jewish on Christmas
I don’t feel left out at all.
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?
Donations tax deductible
to the full extent allowed by law.
It is traditional.
The fact that the “Santa Tracker” was above the cut line should give those holding non-essential jobs that were shut down some food for thought.
Oops! Wrong thread. Sorry.
The military staff are on duty, anyway; the equipment had better be functional 24/7. These are quite critical missions of US Defense and should be above the cut. Also, the phone banks receiving the calls from all over the world are staffed by volunteers. There is almost no additional cost to running the Santa tracker.
Oh, and by the way, the military IS already funded, and is not subject to the shutdown.
Thanks for the update, I had no idea that our military worked 24/7. Yes, that is sarcasm.
Merry Extra Day Off, Katya. Healthy Happy 2019.
So far, I have wished Merry Christmas to a Hindu family, and visiting tourists from China. It’s all good.
True, but there is an authentic gift-giving tradition, though much more limited than the Christmas one. Children and their teachers are given Chanukah gelt. (Cash, please; accept no substitutes, no matter how chocolatey.)
You obviously don’t shop where I do. The pre-Passover jam is only exceeded by the one immediately after Passover, when everyone is restocking on all the foods that they got rid of a week earlier.
And New Year, so that’s at least two. Plus Twelfthnight, Three Kings Day, or whatever else you want to call it, which until less than 200 years ago was much more important than the 25th. And since there are other holidays at this time of year as well, it makes sense to include them too; it costs nothing extra and people who get offended at it are just more snowflakes, just like the ones on the left, though I suppose they are at least seasonal. What I mean is that getting offended at “Holidays” is just as silly as getting offended at “Christmas” (or “Xmas”, for that matter, since the X is a standard and very traditional abbreviation for “Christ”).
You mean like “Kwanzaa”? (I was astonished when my cousin told me one of her employees genuinely celebrates it, as if it were a real holiday. I had thought everyone knew it was shtick like Festivus; next I’ll hear someone genuinely celebrates that too, and thinks it’s an ancient tradition.)
Oddly enough, there are genuine Jewish traditions for Xmas. Not Chinese-food-and-a-movie, but authentic traditions going back to the middle ages. For centuries yeshivas have shut the books on “Nittel night” (which comes from Natale) and played games or pursued other activities instead. On the origins of this observance and more, see this academic theory.
In my experience, the only Jews who complain about Xmas are the ones for whom not celebrating it is almost the only vestige of their Jewishness. Their religion seems to consist of nothing but being “Not-Christians” and venerating the Holocaust. What did they do before WW2? It’s those culturally-disconnected Jews who sing:
It’s hard to be a Jew on Christmas
My friends won’t let me join them in their games
And I can’t sing Christmas songs
or decorate a Christmas tree
Or put water out for Rudolph
’cause there’s something wrong with me
My people don’t believe in Jesus Christ’s divinity
I’m a Jew, a lonely Jew
Chanukah is nice, but why is it
that Santa passes over my house every year
and instead of Christmas ham I have to eat kosher latkees
and instead of Silent Night I’m singing [email protected]#$%^&*()
and what the #$%^ is up with all these #$%^ing candles
tell me please
I’m a Jew, a lonely Jew
I’d be merry, but I’m Hebrew
“So was JC, so you’re in good company” – best line ever.
Nice article, but I thought you’d say something more profound, such as “I like that the story of Jesus being born in Bethlehem reminds everyone that Jesus was Jewish!”
I am a Jew and have no problem celebrating the birth of a nice Jewish boy.