The 72 days of Christmas

            “I wish I was  still at my school in London” has become a familiar refrain around here.  The first time Zachary said it, I was surprised.  He does not remember most of those children, and some were rather cruel to him.  His teacher was wonderful, but so is his teacher here.  Why would he want to be there?

            “They celebrate gooder holidays.”

            Setting aside for a moment that he knows perfectly well that the superlative of “good” is “better,” his statement is simply untrue.  He went to a church preschool in London and attends a synagogue one here.  At his church preschool, they only celebrated Christmas and Easter.  Here, there seems to be a Jewish holiday every other week, not counting the weekly Shabbat celebrations.

            Yet, somehow he has gotten it into his head that Christmas is better than any Jewish holiday, which is a little mystifying.  All his friends are from the school, which is to say Jewish.  He does not spend time in malls.  He does not watch commercials.  Other than a few lights around the neighborhood, nothing in his field of vision has shifted.

            His brother has no idea that Christmas is afoot, but he sure likes the lights.  He likes to go out for walks in the early evening, exclaiming over icicle lights and luminous reindeer, speaking in both English and Spanish, mind you.  He is so impressed he forgets to pretend that he does not know Spanish.

            All of this is to say that, for a Jewish household, we’ve had our fill of Christmas already.  It’s not our freakin’ holiday and it does nothing for me or my husband.  While I am interested to learn about the ways that Christmas is meaningful to you and your family, it is not meaningful to me. I truly want to hear about the religious aspects of this holiday because I respect its significance in so many lives, but I really do not need to know every detail of how you shop, bake, and decorate, unless it is particularly moving as a family event for you.

            I ask those of you who celebrate Christmas to remember this: It is not a secular holiday.  It is not an American holiday.  It is a Christian holiday, a beautiful and special time.  But for me it is just another day, a rather annoying one on which everything is closed.  Do not try to mask it with “Season’s Greetings” and “Happy Holidays.”  My faith only has a very minor holiday at this time of year, so if you really want to honor my faith, you’ll need to check in with me in September.

            Go.  Celebrate with your church and your family.  That is as it should be.  But also remember, please, that not everyone spends five weeks obsessing about your major holidays.  Please, now and again, talk to me about something other than Christmas.  Since I’m hearing plenty about it from my kids.

25 responses to “The 72 days of Christmas

  1. Speaking from the front-lines of the War on Christmas™, I couldn’t agree more. As an atheist, I couldn’t care less about Christmas as a holiday. I enjoy the decorations, I put up a tree and I enjoy the family time, but it’s a 100% completely secular holiday for me. The fact that Christmas lasts 2 full months drives me up a wall. I loathe 90% of Christmas music, and I avoid shopping anywhere other than online if at all possible during the months of November and December.

    Other than as mentioned above, the only real joy I get out of Christmas is watching the yearly frothing at the mouth by Bill O’Really. I had NO idea that I was actually an enemy combatant until he started bloviating about the War on Christmas™. Now I feel like I have purpose at this time of year. Every time some schmuck decides to buy into this idiocy I make sure to tell them that I find it offensive when they try to push their religion on me. This usually surprises the hell out of them because they never expect anyone to *actually* be offended by it all. Deep down they know the War is a sham.

  2. Speaking from the front-lines of the War on Christmas™, I couldn’t agree more. As an atheist, I couldn’t care less about Christmas as a holiday. I enjoy the decorations, I put up a tree and I enjoy the family time, but it’s a 100% completely secular holiday for me. The fact that Christmas lasts 2 full months drives me up a wall. I loathe 90% of Christmas music, and I avoid shopping anywhere other than online if at all possible during the months of November and December.

    Other than as mentioned above, the only real joy I get out of Christmas is watching the yearly frothing at the mouth by Bill O’Really. I had NO idea that I was actually an enemy combatant until he started bloviating about the War on Christmas™. Now I feel like I have purpose at this time of year. Every time some schmuck decides to buy into this idiocy I make sure to tell them that I find it offensive when they try to push their religion on me. This usually surprises the hell out of them because they never expect anyone to *actually* be offended by it all. Deep down they know the War is a sham.

  3. So with you on this one! More than you know!

    ~*

  4. Not sure how much of an offender I am? I am by choice agnosticishlyatheist (is that a pessimistic agnostic or a vaguely optimistic atheist?) so Christmas is secular to me – it’s family time and a time for generosity and peace and other good things. I loathe that it starts in October in shops, I hate the debate about X-mas or Holiday (BOTH of which have religious significance you moron, Bill – come on, X is an established, very old symbol for the name Christ in Christian writing and holiday COMES from holy-day… get edumacated first and then do your ranting… whoops, sorry about that!) and would prefer to have a couple of nice, quiet days with my family. But, of course, I do talk about it because I do like the music (Tallis scholars thanks, not Neil Diamond – no fluff on anyone who likes Neil mind you) and the smells and the idea behind the whole thing. I like the anticipation (when I can remove it from the enforced capitalistic pressure to SPEND SPEND SPEND) and the way we can do slow, careful things together to make or bake gifts. But, as I said, I’m not religious. So should I not celebrate this day? It’s part of my culture – part of the way I was raised. I put up a tree as my parents did, but I also help them set out the lumaniarias every year, which is not a standard protestant-American sort of thing. I don’t read Luke, but I do read Dickens. My children put out their shoes on the night of the 5th although only one of them was born in Germany. Because I don’t celebrate Christ (who seemed to be a decent sort of chap from the long-after-he-died bios written of him in the New Testament) do I have no claim to this day? Is my claim less than that of people who attend church? I have rituals I perform, rituals with no basis in God but rooted in memories and family history – rituals that are just as assaulted by the overly merchandised, overly commercialized three months of Shopmas as someone else’s theistic practices – we both hold them sacred to some extent, don’t we?

    Phew – sorry, I’m thinking with my keyboard. I suppose part of what I’m saying is that I sympathize with all of us – with the religious Christian who finds that a day which they believe should be Christ centered – church centered – has been drowned in a wave of plastic reindeer and twinkling lights. I sympathize with all of the non-Christians who have no relief from the cacophony of jingles and branding that seem to force an exclusion.

    Honest question – it’s hard not to wish someone a peaceful holiday at this time of year. It’s a heartfelt wish – a genuine hope that regardless of who you are, you have at least a few days where there is quiet and hope. Is there a way to phrase that that doesn’t offend or exclude or assume?

  5. Oh, crap. I think the Christmas cards I picked this year say “Seasons Greetings.”

  6. Yup, I think Megan pretty much covered it. I feel like the holiday problem is rooted in our cracked-out consumerism, and the way that spirals like ivy, choking out everything meaningful and personally important.

    That being said, I kind of love Christmas. At least my version of it. But I probably won’t talk about it on my blog. So we’re still all good, right?

  7. Yup, I think Megan pretty much covered it. I feel like the holiday problem is rooted in our cracked-out consumerism, and the way that spirals like ivy, choking out everything meaningful and personally important.

    That being said, I kind of love Christmas. At least my version of it. But I probably won’t talk about it on my blog. Or elsewhere.

    Especially now as we have CANADA to talk about!

    So we’re still all good, right?

    (and my cards are from unicef this year; also? I think I’m buying honorary mosquito net gifts. Go me.)

  8. Dude. Your commenting thing is kinda f*ed up. Guess it doesn’t like Xmas either. 🙂

  9. Testing comments…

  10. I’m in the minority here, of course. But I will take you up on the challenge. I will write about the religious significance of Christmas for me, if you will write a little more about Hanukkah (I’m not even sure that I spelled it correctly – that’s how little I know). I would like to know more about your traditions and the religious significance for you as well.

  11. Now I feel bad that I sent you that cartoon yesterday! (Not really.)

  12. I’m an atheist who secretly gets warm fuzzies during Christmas time. I can’t explain it other than Christmas was always a huge deal to my mom and every year we did the family thing of decorating the tree just after Thanksgiving and the freakin’ Christmas music was on practically 24/7 in the house, etc. So when I hear certain carols or smell pine needles I get all nostalgic. I hate about 99% of the aspects of Christmas, mostly tied to the consumption, debt and waste. But I do love the time with family. I haven’t bought presents for years. I make them, if I give them at all. We are having serious issues with our families b/c we don’t want Monkey warped by all of this materialistic b/s. BTW, have you seen “What Would Jesus Buy”?? GREAT documentary!

  13. I can’t even imagine how annoying the Christmas season is to non-Christians. It is everywhere and the celebration starts earlier and earlier every year. It must drive you crazy!!! Even I go on overload sometimes and I love Christmas.

  14. Wanna talk about the 12 degree icy weather? 😉

    I get it, coming from a background of both, I fully get it. I can recite Shabbat and Hanukkah prayers just as easily as I can sing Christmas songs…although I don’t sing Christmas songs.

  15. ironic. my daughters tell me they miss going to school at the temple. they miss the weekly shabbat. as you mentioned to me a while back i do not miss all the days off in september and october.

    like a previous commenter, i’d like to learn more about how your holidays are important to you and any history behind them you find relevant.

    i celebreate xmas because it’s a tradition for our family, just as most do. the holiness of it was likely lost on me because my parents did not believe and neither do i. however, i find it’s a good time each year to be together, remind yourselves of how lucky you are to have each other, remind yourself how lucky we are in general because others are not as lucky. my “holiday” cards say “peace on earth.” to me that sums up what i’d like to say year round, but of course i do it this time of year just as so many others do…why? because i get wrapped up in the excitement of it all too. it’s fun. it’s nice. i hope my children have nice memories of this time of year. just as i know that you hope your kids will have nice memories of time with family at passover or rosh hashannah, along with understanding hte significance of that holiday.

  16. I get this. I do, but what can I say? I am married to an elf, and one who happens to be in divinity school on his way to becoming an Episcopal priest. He’s got the holiday well covered on both the religious and secular sides.

    However, he and I are totally down on consumerism and insane marketing, esp. to kids–UGH, at any time of the year.

    And meanwhile, my sons’ newest song obsession: “Eight days and nights. Eight days and nights….”

  17. seriously. Im trying to whip us into a HANUKKAH HYSTERIA around herre just to try and balance/keep up 🙂

    and im only semikidding.

    this year Ive vowed to be sososo thankful I am jewish and kinda on the sidelines of the mayhem.

    we shall see how that goes….

  18. Interesting that even the atheists disagree with you. I agree that Christmas began as (and should be) a Christian holiday, but it’s become so engrained in this culture, it’s a little more than just religious. There are many of us on the Christian side that would like to see it become more akin to your vision: faith-based. Possibly some atheists might like to see the same thing happen. We seem to all be in agreement that we would like to see it less consumerized. That’s a start.

  19. I get your point. (I am still sending you the annual card with the boys in the Red Sox gear 🙂 )

    Oddly enough, after our older one opened his gifts last year, he sighed, and then declares, “Huh. I think that I’d like to be Jewish next year.” 🙂

  20. clearly everyone (or nearly everyone) wishes things weren’t so comercialized….. and I am no exception. I HATE how early it all starts and how the music seems shoved down our throats long before the holiday rolls around (but I also feel the SAME frustration over the crazy long election cycle and I LOVE politics, but I cant stand all the ads, all the garbage said and all the MONEY burned to get oneself elected in this country but i know, I am off topic)……..my point is this, no matter how much i hate the weeks leading up to it, something magical happens. Families get together, there is laughter…… children sing in the church choir and we enjoy a fantastic Christmas Eve Mass……….. I cannot help but feel a little peace and much love in my heart.

    I will not apologize for wishing others a happy holiday, because even if they are not celebrating, why begrudge any good wish that comes your way? Kindness no matter how its wrapped should always be appreciated—IMHO.

  21. I, being Jewish, get so annoyed at every single checkout person wishing me a “Merry Christmas.” Do I say “Happy Hanukkah” to random people? No, only to my Jewish friends and family. I don’t presume that everyone is like me.
    My mother-in-law (not Jewish) insists Christmas is not a religious holiday and we should have a tree even though we are raising our daughter as a Jew. Yes it is a religious holiday and since I have my own religious holidays to share and enjoy with my family I don’t need to celebrate someone else’s.
    A teacher friend of mine, who celebrates Christmas was upset when her new school wouldn’t let anyone put up Christmas decorations. She so wanted to hang up her Santa Claus and things. I think people who celebrate Christmas don’t understand that it is not a way of life for everyone.

  22. I once had a friend who really wanted me to have a Christmas tree. I am Jewish. I could not, for the life of me, understand why? SHe just felt that I should have one… it’s pretty, etc… But I said — doesn’t it have meaning for you? Why would you want me to have it? Then I realized how secular Christmas has become. For some.
    My kids have started saying: “Everybody celebrates Christmas and we don’t!” I’ve told them that it’s not true. They don’t all celebrate it in India. In China. In Israel. That there is a whole other world out there where Christmas is NOT that big. And how Easter is actually a much more *important* holiday in terms of religious significance…

  23. And Oh – if you know that somebody celebrates Christmas (like is wearing a Santa pin, or something…) I feel like it’s ok to say Merry Christmas – and if you know they celebrate Hanukkah (wearing a kipa, say…) it’s ok to say “Happy Hanukkah”. Otherwise, Happy Holidays is fine. But why not acknowledge what a person *does* celebrate? (I’m done hogging your comment space now!)

  24. While (or perhaps because) I don’t celebrate Christmas, I love hearing and reading about and seeing every aspect of it, religious or consumerist. But that’s just me.