I’m a Jew on Christmas (and all those days after…)

27 Dec

Hello my intermittent companions/readers!

The holiday season is still making its final hurrahs and while many are thinking about gifts to return and the ongoing onslaught of emotional baggage, I’m thinking about this whole holiday culture.

The winter holiday season is a time many associate with familial traditions but more and more the mainstream conversation is circling the divide of the religious and the secular. Year after year, we argue about the “reason” for the “season” and whether or not saying “Happy Holidays” is somehow betraying your hatred for all things Christmas or just trying to include everyone in a generic statement of positivity. Having said that, let me place myself within this context before I go on.

I identify myself as Jewish and Agnostic (while verging on Atheist) and yes, that means I’m coming from an already complicated an ill-defined starting point. However, I grew up simply as a Jewish kid in a household that was only ever casually religious. And, as we all know, it’s often the way we grew up the more accurately sums up what we think the holidays should be. This means that the winter holiday, for me, was/is Hanukkah (or Chanukah, or Hanukah, or this website gives you sixteen different ways). I celebrated by lighting candles, opening presents for eight nights, eating fried food, and wondering why we didn’t have a Christmas tree or Santa but not really caring why.

Of course, as I got older I was taught to care by my friends. Why don’t you have a Christmas tree? Why don’t you celebrate Christmas? A simple explanation that whole CHRIST part of Christmas was really a Christian thing worked for awhile but then I grew up and suddenly even that got more complicated.

At some point, I entered the realm of discourse of adults that believed that Christmas exists on two different levels: the Church’s religious Christmas and the average American’s secular holiday tradition. The CHRIST part of Christmas had become relatively meaningless to most people (hence the prevalence in some areas of “Jesus is the Reason for the Season” advertisements) and so I was prompted to ask, why wasn’t it meaningless to me? Why wasn’t I comfortable participating in Christmas and all of the secular aspects of it because religion seems to be less and less of a Christmas calling card.

It’s really hit me hard this year. For the first time since I was a small child, I’ve asked myself: why don’t we have a tree? Do I want one? If the aspect of Judaism that I most relate to is the cultural and historical community that I come from, how does it’s religious traditions have any more/less ownership of me than the others? I mean, let’s get real, Hanukkah isn’t really a major holiday for the Jews. However, thanks to the gift-giving zeitgeist that is contemporary secular Christmas, it has become the Jewish holiday-cousin of Christmas.

Afterall, Christmas itself isn’t even really Christian. It seems every year a couple of emails go around to remind us that.

So, even that which divides was born as an amalgamation that was an attempt to unite. 

Which I guess is what was bothering me to begin with. In year’s past there American culture has gone out of its way to make sure to honor everyone during the holidays. The de-emphasis of Jesus and the re-emphasis peace and brotherhood as an effort to unite during the holidays was always refreshing and welcome. 

But this holiday season, my TV shows disappointed. Even Glee, which has episodes that forefronted their Jewish and Atheist character’s different beliefs, ended with those same characters cooing over a telling of the Jesus story (again, the capital R “Reason” for the season). Frankly, it was disappointing.

Christmas has come and gone, gifts have been given, and many of us have headed back to work. We’re edging up on the New Year and I’m left feeling just as ambivalent as before.

Because here’s the real thing that bothers me. Christmas, and any other holiday, is only what you make of it. This year, no matter how much I wanted to celebrate any holiday no matter what it was, my family was hit by tragic circumstances (a family member is still in the hospital). In addition to that, my fiance got one day off from work and we won’t be able to visit family for a few months yet. 

This is reality. And maybe this is why people fight over what the holidays mean, because like anything else in life they are constantly changing. But for whatever reason, this is the time of year where we tell ourselves it’s okay to take a break on yourself, to think of hope, to spread love.

When it comes down to it, I don’t care why you choose to do it. If it’s because you feel compelled by the story of the birth of a savior, the story of a magically burning lamp, the story of a people and its principles, or if it’s purely because it’s cold outside; if you choose to focus on peace and spread love, you are choosing to bring people together. And that’s enough for me.

So, for all that 2012 will hold for us, I hope it holds more reasons to focus on those aspects of life that bring us together instead of those that will force us apart. Because no matter what religion or philosophy I believe in, I believe that there is a goodness in people that can work wonders.

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