A Jew in the Time of Christmas

January 1, 2015

I am a Jew, living in America just after Christmas. The end-of-year holiday season has presented issues for decades. It’s high-time I share my thoughts.

As a child we had no tree. In school the teachers focused heavily on making those of us who were Jewish—two in my second grade class, including me, and we’re friends to this day—feel comfortable.

Twenty years later a Jewish attorney and his wife hosted a Christmas party year after year. A place to go!

Now, Ms. J and I have a tree and a menorah. The tree is a fake, from Target. It’s a 10-footer, which makes it proportional with our 12-foot ceilings. My amortized cost over eight or nine years is below $15.00 per year, inclusive of the storage containers. That said, I do miss the “buying a tree” scene.

The menorah is clay. (If anyone knows how to get wax off clay, I’m listening.) We light candles every night. Mostly. Truth be told, if Hanukkah falls early in December and our daughter is not yet home from school, we slip a bit.

(As an aside, Hanukkah is not a significant Jewish holiday. For details about how it became a big deal in the United States read or listen to Tracing Hanukkah’s U.S. Roots … To Cincinnati? from National Public Radio.)

This piece came together for me when I heard about Passenger Tossed after Flipping out Over Staff’s ‘Merry Christmas’. Guy gets angry about Merry Christmas greetings, he won’t calm down, and soon after, he’s not flying. No names or religious affiliations reported, so there’s no evident religious angle.

I love—and I mean it when I use that verb—Christmas! People are smiling and happy, and if something causes that, good on it! That it’s not my holiday matters almost not at all, for—at least for me—it has become a time full of “tidings of comfort and joy.”

I do wish the commercialism was dialed down a bit. However, I think it’s happening, whatever the reason(s) may be. Here, from about a year ago in the Wall Street Journal, is Stores Confront New World of Reduced Shopper Traffic by Shelly Banjo and Drew Fitzgerald. Their theory? Internet sales have reduced impulse buying. True, but I think the wealth gap, the recession, and the crap we’re offered play a big role too.

So what about the Jewish angle. Time, and being married to a non-Jewish woman, has surely mellowed me about being a non-Christian in America in December. I’m sure my memories from childhood—the sense of exclusion—have also been affected (lessened) by time. I do worry about how Jewish children feel, but I also know the Jewish experience in America is richer than it was when I was young, at least for those who choose to affiliate. And, frankly, getting worked up over the fact that Christmas is embedded in America only takes away from the holiday experience. I suspect having Hanukkah as the Jewish alternative works for youngsters, though I think it diminishes Judaism a bit. Alas, for me at least, it’s not an issue worth lots of attention.

Finally, there is the matter of Chinese food and Jews. Watch then Harvard Law School Dean (now Justice) Elena Kagan and some U.S. Senators yucking it up in You know, like a good Jew, I was probably in a Chinese restaurant for validation. And for a better understanding of the underpinnings, read Why American Jews Eat Chinese Food on Christmas by Adam Chandler for The Atlantic on December 23. (Frankly, watching Senators revel in their own lame humor makes me crazy, and I’m not a huge Kagan fan, so if time is limited, read the Chandler article.)

And in our home? Chinese was the bill of fare on Christmas Eve 2014, homemade. Orange chicken and fried rice. The chicken—I’m not a bird fan—was “better than the restaurants,” according to our daughter, and I reacquainted myself with the pleasure of cold fried rice for breakfast.

Comments are always welcomed. That’s goes double on this post, and thanks for indulging me.




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