Ah yes, it’s that “time of year” again!
I’ve already seen blogs talking about presents, decorations, peppermint bark, santa, etc.
But for me, this “time of year” is bittersweet.
You see, I’m a true Jew. As a kid , I secretly wanted to be a little of any other major religion. I’d ask,
“Dad, is there ANYONE in our family that might be Christian?”
(no pause) “No”
“I would hope, but no!”
So yea, I’m a pure Jew. During Christmas, every time I utter the words “Merry Christmas” I feel like a phony. The truth? I grew up hating Christmas: the songs, the TV specials, the reindeer and sleighs, not to mention huge stockings bursting with toys delivered by a scary, fat man with a beard. True to my sarcastic and intellectual, form, I rationalized. I scoffed at the commercialization, I noted how Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer has nothing to do with Jesus, and, I piously observed, if religion is about lying to your kids about reward and punishment, then I was proud to have no part of it. Go me.
You cannot compare Christmas and Chanukah. The story of Jesus born in a manger to a virgin is a guaranteed ratings win over a forgotten tribe, even with the long-lasting oil miracle thrown in as a B-story. If there’s a miracle, it’s that anyone converts to Judaism when it means giving up chocolate Easter bunnies and eating bitter herbs! Christian holidays have been “Disneyfied,” escalating in proportion and visibility.
My cooking students (all under 10 mind you!) dont comprehend me not celebrating christmas. They stare at you in disbelief. Everyone keeps Christmas, they plead. It is the topic of every television program, the display in every store window. What do you mean. Does that make us Jews the Grinch? maybe Scrooge?
“And even if you’re not going to celebrate Christmas”, they say, “you can celebrate Chanukkah!” (which in their minds is just Jewish Christmas). “After all, isn’t Chanukkah about peace on Earth, good will towards men, and of course PRESENTS??? And for EIGHT DAYS!!!”
Nope, here comes the buzz kill
Chanukkah is not about any of these things. Chanukkah is about a struggle for Jews to maintain their distinctiveness in a culture that tried to force us to do things the way everybody else did. Sound familiar? In ancient Greece and in America today, it is the same struggle. I feel we lose a little bit in that struggle every time a Jew celebrates Chanukkah as Jewish Christmas, every time we use dreidels as ornaments on a Chanukkah bush.
Dont get me wrong if you are a Jew and have you bush or a white and blue wreath. Hell, Jews wrote some of the most popular Christmas songs and Ms. Yentil herself, Barbara Streisand, came out with a Christmas album.
But now as an adult, I’m content.
I’m not sure when things were recast for me, but I’d like to think that Adam Sandler got me out of my funk, getting me to see there is, in fact, a bright side to celebrating the holiday of lights. I had time off and didn’t have to go to church. I am content to walk down my street and enjoy the trees in other people’s windows – but I do not need one in my own. So lets count my “Jew” perks of the season shall we:
- Nobody will ever knit me a red wool sweater with reindeer on it.
- I’m not spending most of January standing on long lines, without receipts yet, to return a fondue set
- There’s none of that lying to our kids about Santa Claus or pretending the toys are made by elves, not by children in China.
- We’re not traveling during black-out periods to see family. Because of the quirky timing of Chanukah, we can actually use frequent flyer miles
- We don’t have to climb a ladder and hang tinsel on a tree with most of it ending up clinging to our clothes
- I dont feel guilty about “the tree”. I don’t even have to say it, it’s so obvious. A living tree has been killed. For what? For less than thirty days of enjoyment. For putting gifts under. Then decorate it. Then throw it away. I am obviously not pro-killing trees for decoration. Tree farms? Still a bad idea. Then there are the fake trees. Made of plastic and entirely non-biodegradable. I get it, its pretty, and tradition, but still…
- And if this were the only perk, it would be enough. We get jelly doughnuts for dessert, not a Christmas fruitcake with dried maraschino cherries on top.
How do you feel about “the holidays”? Do you go all out? Do you hate me now? Remember, sarcasm in my first language.
Dad Update: My dad is still in the hospital and he is no longer hooked to an IVs! He showered by himself today! However, his memory is still not great and we don’t know when he will be released. In the meantime, I’m visiting him and took time off work to help him out. I will keep you guys updated. And thanks SO much for your support! Means a lot!