Sunday, December 31, 2006
This time of year, articles pop up bemoaning the growing lack of religion in Christmas. "Keep Christ in Christmas" is the rallying cry of many Christians who hate how commercial Christmas has become. Even Charlie Brown thinks commercialism has gone too far (but he's always complaining, isn't he?). But it's that lack of Christ in Christmas which is drawing a ton of notice less for its effect on Christians, but for its effect on a growing number of Jews.
I've posted in the past about Jews celebrating Christmas or celebrating what has become the holiday season as opposed to any religious holiday. Last week, the Sunday New York Times (12/24/06) posted two different columns about this; one woman remembers her family trying to absorb the trappings of the Christmas holiday and another about a woman being so enamored with the materialism that she can't wait to incorporate it. (You may need a New York Times Internet subscription to access these articles)
Articles like these always angered me, not so much for the way Jews are assimilating themselves so easily, but for the way Jews have rationalized how okay it is. Growing up in a secular society I've accepted how strong the Christmas trappings can be, especially when Channukah moves around. Just recently, Hanukkah came and went before Christmas shopping was even done. So as a kid, it was always tough being around all of my non-Jewish friends who expected me to get 8 presents when the final days were pretty lame. And they all got their major loot all at one time. But for me, I liked the difference. I was always very jealous but I had something that set me apart from everyone else (besides my big nose and my funny hair). I continued that feeling into college, where the closest thing I could find resembling a Chanukah decoration was some dusty wrapping paper. But as pretty as the lights around campus were, I didn't join in. I wasn't protesting. I was just celebrating my holiday the way I was supposed to celebrate it.
It's true that Christmas loses more and more of it's religious significance every year. There are many reasons for this but one of them is not stores saying "happy holidays" instead of "merry Christmas." That little chestnut from last year was one of the more ridiculous things I had ever heard. The so-called "war on Christmas" Bill O'Reilly and his minions decried was nothing more than an attempt to recognize that while Christianity is a strong majority in the United States, there are other cultures with other traditions. So rather than ignore this fact, it was very nice to hear something that encompassed everything instead of just one thing. I was never offended by hearing "merry Christmas" and I got the intent of the message, I never saw anything wrong with the message that included everyone.
The reality is that there is no Christmas anymore; not to millions of Americans, anyway. The New York Times articles deal with Jewish families embracing all the trappings of the holiday season, despite the fact that the lights are Christmas lights and the trees are Christmas trees. Their argument is that they symbolize the holiday season more than Christmas alone. And while that rationalization used to infuriate me as an excuse from the lazy, I suddenly understand where they're coming from. I still don't agree with them but I get it. What does Channukkah offer the observant Jew? Some candles, some lights if you have an electric menorah. But music? Nothing really great and mostly in Hebrew. Nothing that will ever be included on a radio station's playlist. Christmas has become so mainstream as to lose its religious significance while Hannukah remains the same old thing.
Jews want to assimilate into American society. That's fine. But does that have to mean celebrating the majority's holidays as well? When will these Jewish families who have Christmas trees and make gingerbread houses start coloring Easter eggs, hiding them at the Passover seder instead of the afikoman? Can't we enjoy the lights and the traditions of our neighbors without having to copy them?
Is being a Jew really that bad?
Here's what I suggest: since most people seem to look upon this time of the year as the "holiday season", then let's start a new holiday. It'll last for 6 weeks, from Thanksgiving to New Year's Day. It'll encompass all of the major holidays like Christmas and Channukah. It'll include Kwaanza and Festivus. Maybe we'll extend it into January to include Three Kings Day. I mean the Muslims have Ramadan, which last for a month (?). There's a 10-day period of reflection between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. The concept of a large block of time to celebrate something isn't foreign. So let's get Hallmark involved in printing up some cards and let's get ready to celebrate Seasons of Joy (or whatever) 2007. Everyone can still celebrate their own religious holiday but marketers get to sell different colored lights and different decorations. As long as we're out there picking and choosing bits of everyone's holiday but still saying we're just enjoying the fun of the season, let's call the season something else.
Maybe then everyone will stop complaining.