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Some Thoughts on Being Jewish in a Christian Society in General and on Christmas in Particular - Mo's Journal
October 16th, 2007
12:29 pm

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Some Thoughts on Being Jewish in a Christian Society in General and on Christmas in Particular
I read some of the stuff on anti-Semitism that’s been floating in meta lately. Although it’s in my Ten Things I Assume You Know About Me, I’ll repeat now that I’m a Jew, that I’m very Jewishly identified and involved in Jewish community but I am not an Orthodox Jew and do not feel an obligation to restrict my activities on Jewish holidays in a way that would leave me not knowing about LJ posts that occur on Jewish holidays. Which is not to say that I always keep up with LJ or that I wouldn’t miss things because of being busy with the holiday (I don’t and I do), but that I don’t have any sense that I cannot read LJ on Sukkot or even on Shabbat for that matter. Different strokes for different folks.


So, with the caveat that the original issue did not apply to me, I’ll say that my general thoughts are:
- There’s a lot of anti-Semitism out there

- Non-Jews not being aware of Jewish holidays isn’t anti-Semitism

- Whether some event should or should not occur on a Jewish holiday is a judgment call, but I think the judgment should include questions of how many people are affected by it, is there a workaround, how important the event is, etc.

- People in small minorities know we’re in the minority thankyouverymuch

- Members of minority religions tend to know a lot more about the majority religion than vice versa

- In mixed groups, it behooves members of the majority to remember that they aren’t the only people there. It is more polite and more inclusive to think about what you're saying and doing and not say or do things that tend to deny our existence.



Okay, let’s talk about Christmas. And yes, I realize it’s early, but this has brought up some thoughts for me and I hope they’re helpful or at least interesting to some.


- Christmas is not a universal holiday. It is a Christian holiday that is also celebrated secularly by some, but it is a Christian holiday. In a country that has both a Christian majority (75% according to the 2001 American Religious Identification Survey identify as Christian) and an Establishment Clause I think it is very good for Christians and otherwise Christmas-celebrating people to realize and recognize that not everyone celebrates Christmas.

- Consequently, if you’re asking in a mixed group, don’t say "What is everyone doing for Christmas?", "I know we're all dealing with trying to figure out how much to spend on Christmas gifts" etc. We aren’t all celebrating this. There’s nothing wrong with asking for info/input from those who are but do acknowledge that the rest of us exist, too.

- It's nice to acknowledge other people's holidays. I generally wish a Merry Christmas to people I know celebrate Christmas. LJ is chock full every year of Christmas wishes yet it’s a rare event when someone not Jewish – even someone who has a lot of Jews on his/her flist acknowledges major Jewish holidays (minisinoo is one of the rare people who does). That kind of acknowlegement does tend to happen around Hanukah, but it's much nicer to pay attention to the holidays others are saying are important to them than to give a nod to one that you find easy to subsume into your own celebration.

- Hanukah is not the Jewish Christmas. It is a very minor holiday (see more info here ) and you have not made your Christmas party at work or school “inclusive” by adding Hanukah to it.

- We aren’t Grinches, spoilsports and Scrooges for not celebrating your holiday. It’s just not ours. I often have people (irl not just on the internets) assume I celebrate Christmas and express surprise, dismay, and even anger when I say I don't. The latter has intensified since the children were born, since the anger seems to be located in the belief that I am "depriving" them of Christmas. I respond politely to anyone who wishes me a Merry Christmas ("I don't celebrate Christmas, but if you do I sure hope you have a great holiday!") and even respond politely, albeit firmly, to those who tell me I ought to. I respond politely to people who assume I'm heterosexual, too ("No, actually, my ex-partner is a woman, so I don't have an ex-husband. Yes, the kids spend half the time with her"). I think it's much better, though, when people don't make such assumptions and take the time to find out to whom they are speaking.

- I realize that people will keep making assumptions and I see part of my role in that dance as politely correcting their assumptions in the hope that they will think a little more next time. I could just say "Thank you, you too" when people wish me a Merry Christmas, and I recognize that some think that is the polite thing to do. I think it's better for all if I don't, even if it occasionally makes some folks a little uncomfortable to think there are people not just like them. If they respond by wishing me a Happy Hanukah, I will thank them if it's indeed Hanukah. If Hanukah was two weeks ago, I will politely inform them of that fact.

- There's a big distinction between public and private celebration, imo. I don't think celebration of a Christian holiday is appropriate in a public school in a country with an Establishment Clause. I get pretty frustrated when saying that is met with comments about it's too bad Jews are so sensitive or that there’s a War on Christmas. I feel like this discussion, which can be held at a pretty high level, gets distorted and misrepresented a lot.

- I think part of the problem is that for a lot of people an important element of the fun of celebrating Christmas is the idea that everyone is celebrating with you, and that’s why people are often insistent on having the whole month of December devoted to Christmas in school and work, with Secret Santas and decorations and all. But most Christians and otherwise Christmas-celebrating people in the U.S. get the holiday off to celebrate, and most schools are closed for a week or two around the holiday and this really is enough time to have a good long celebration in the private sphere. Is Christmas Cheer such a fragile thing that merely acknowledging there are some of us who don’t celebrate the holiday shatters it?

- I have found that the Santa myth can be very hard on kids whose parents are telling them the truth and have generally seen little to no sympathy from the parents who make it hard on them. And when I say the truth, I'm not talking about the "Yes, Virginia" version. I mean that I have let my children know that their friends' parents are buying presents and marking them from Santa and telling their children Santa delivered them. Why have I done that? Because I’m not going to lie to my kids and tell them that a mythical person brought presents for their friends just to support someone else's deception.

- I think there is huge pressure not to reveal that the parents are the ones giving the presents, not to "spoil the magic" for Santa believers. The stereotype of the "mean kid" who spoils the innocent child's fun is very present, I think. IRL, though, to avoid being thought of as that mean kid a child has to learn to sidestep questions like "Why don't you get presents from Santa? Were you bad?" and to do so with grace at the age of 3 or 4 or 5. That's a lot to ask and I would ask that those who expect it of other people's preschoolers give some thought as to whether their kids had such advanced social skills at such a young age.

I have told my kids from a pretty young age that they absolutely cannot tell children who believe in Santa that he doesn't exist and they have always managed to comply, but not without a few tense moments each year. I am so glad they are well beyond the age where their peers believe now. I think those who raise their children to believe the Santa myth should give some thought to the burden they put on small children before they condemn a four-year-old who doesn’t effectively sidestep. I also would caution those who are raising their kids with the Santa myth, and particularly with the part that says Santa gives presents to "all the good children" in the world that they are teaching their children that those who don't celebrate Christmas are not good children.

- I do think many of the Christian and otherwise Christmas-celebrating people on lj and other internet communities list could learn a lot from how the Jews on this and other online venues talk about Jewish celebration and ritual and holidays. IME very time they come up, they are prefaced with comments like "For those of you who celebrate Rosh Hashanah," and then followed by "what are you doing?" or "I hope you have a happy holiday" or whatever.



Maybe we can talk about Halloween next:-). FWIW, I'm pro.

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[User Picture]
From:talktooloose
Date:October 16th, 2007 04:58 pm (UTC)
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In the spirit of yesterday's "I have no time, please pick me..."

I don't want to read this debate, please give me the url.

(BTW, I would like to answer your questions about my interests and hope to do so.)
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From:mofic
Date:October 16th, 2007 05:26 pm (UTC)
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There have been a lot of posts. It started with this one: http://mamadeb.livejournal.com/760740.html

I feel bad that such a firestorm came from what seems to me like a pretty lightweight, cranky post. I think we all get to be cranky and not everything has to be profound and my impression from reading what follows in her journal is that she didn't know what hit her. I don't think there's anything wrong with announcing Yuletide signups on a Jewish holiday and I don't think there's anything wrong with being a bit cranky if that happens and you feel left out. I do think the discussion that came out of this was worth having, but you'd have to look at a bunch of posts in assorted journals to get a sense of it.
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From:hitchhiker
Date:October 16th, 2007 09:00 pm (UTC)
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- Hanukah is not the Jewish Christmas. It is a very minor holiday (see more info here ) and you have not made your Christmas party at work or school “inclusive” by adding Hanukah to it.

yes! that one *really* bothers me.
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From:mofic
Date:October 17th, 2007 02:48 pm (UTC)
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Me, too.

Hey, what happened to Minstrels? Have you guys stopped altogether? I miss it.
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From:notmonica
Date:October 16th, 2007 09:39 pm (UTC)
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As most of your FYI post do, this one has me thinking:
80%-What? Really, you're kidding me, right?
15% Oh! Good point!
5% Hmmm, I didn't know that-must do better in the future.

So in that vein:
-How hard is it to say "Happy Holidays"? It's direct and (largely) inclusionary. To my knowledge there are few religions that don't celebrate something around the winter solstice (Jehovah's Witness leaps to mind although I'm sure there's others).

-Would you do your "Purim Mom" thing on LJ next spring?

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From:wneleh
Date:October 16th, 2007 10:53 pm (UTC)
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"Happy Holidays" is just code for "Merry Christmas," though, isn't it? Esp. when Hanukkah has been over for a week or two? I'll respond "Oh, you too," to "Happy Holidays," but don't wish it widely or randomly for a number of reasons.

- - - - - - -

I read the merryish pov of things yesterday, and the mamadeb message today. I'd have no clue how they could have blown up if I hadn't done so myself too many times.

- Helen
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From:rae_1985
Date:October 16th, 2007 09:42 pm (UTC)
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I'm a religion minor, and my focus has been on religions of The Books, mostly Christian and Jewish, but some Islam. I'm also a non practicing Catholic (mostly political/personal reasons) that identifies strongly as a Catholic. That all being said, I find it very disturbing that more people don't know about our country's top 3 religions. I didn't know anything about Muslims, and very VERY little about Jews before college. The little I knew about Jewish holidays was from a substitute in elementary school who was Jewish. She always told us about Hanukah, the historical significance, and the rituals. That being said, she told us during Christmas season, so that she could slip it into the curriculum unnoticed.

There were very obvious religious things that I had no understanding of as a high school graduate, like the fact that the Old Testament is actually from the Jews, and as such our religious histories are tied closely together. I have a feeling that as a Jew, a student would still know about the bible stories and Jesus from the New Testament, at least the basic obvious stuff. On the one hand I understand that the majority of people in this country are Christian, but on the other hand I realize that does not give us a pass to ignore everyone else. I have the same debate with myself about "Merry Christmas" vs. "Happy Holidays" in public and political settings.

As a college student actively seeking knowledge of religions, it is still hard to get past the Christianity of our country, and learn about other religious holidays/rituals. A lot of profs assume that we know everything about Christianity, so they use Christian things as examples. I'm in my last two classes for my minor, and I can safely say I at least know the basics about Jewish and Islamic history, laws, and rituals. And I have a very high respect for religions. Growing up with the family I did, that's a great battle won. Lets just say that if I ever dated a) a black guy, my grandfathers wouldn't speak to me, b) a Jewish guy, my grandmother and aunt's wouldn't speak to me, or c) if I was gay, my entire family would disown me. My tolerance of people different from the norm has definitely NOT come from my family.

I look at my college classes as a way to make me understand there is more than Christianity being practiced. It gave me an open slate to learn about other religions as I could. I'm still Catholic, and without actively practicing other religions I don't think I will ever have as great an understanding of the hows and whys, but at least I have the whats.

This all being said, anything you want to tell us about different Jewish holidays or rituals will be greatly appreciated. Or just about being Jewish in a predominantly Christian country. I never thought about the burden Santa put on non Christmas kids. It never occurred to me, and I'm ashamed to admit I was always angry to hear about kids 'spilling the beans about Santa'. Some kids do it to be mean I'm sure, but others do it without realizing what's going on. Things like that are really important to understand in our society. I stumbled into my religion minor because I took so many classes that interested me, so I'm always looking for a greater understanding of the religions around me.
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From:wneleh
Date:October 16th, 2007 11:19 pm (UTC)
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There were very obvious religious things that I had no understanding of as a high school graduate, like the fact that the Old Testament is actually from the Jews, and as such our religious histories are tied closely together.

Did you go to CCD classes? I grew up United Methodist and we learned a decent amount about Judaism in Sunday School. A lot of it was wrong (or very limited, or very broad-stroke), but at the level of the origin of the Hebrew Scriptues (what we call the OT - I'm not sure it's a more acceptible term to Jews, but it gets away from the Old/New thing) - yeah, we got that.

I'm ashamed to admit I was always angry to hear about kids 'spilling the beans about Santa'.

As a Christian, it's always been pretty important to keep Santa out of Christmas, both growing up in a moderately conservative church in MD and now in my very liberal church in Massachusetts. It always surprises me to hear that people who actually celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday include Santa in any other than a wink-wink, nudge-nudge way, or encourage full-press lying to chldren. But obviously my experiences aren't typical. Makes me scared to go west of Worcester, it does.

- Helen
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From:rae_1985
Date:October 17th, 2007 01:44 am (UTC)
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If anything, they struggled to separate FROM Jewish holidays

You see a lot of this around that time period. They did the same thing with when to have the day of rest. It was specifically made different from the Jewish day. I'm taking a class on Christian Religious Traditions, which is completely about history and why/when things started being done. I'm really enjoying it.
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From:cherrypin_up
Date:October 17th, 2007 01:59 am (UTC)
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I hope that you don't find me offensive. I wish happy holidays from Halloween through New Years, simply because I love the feeling of celebration that surrounds such widely celebrated (and yes, overly commercialized) times. Some people celebrate different things but during that time just about every religion celebrates something. I admit that I celebrate all of it secularly, nothing I do is related to religion. I was raised in a very extreme "Christian" church that didn't even allow celebration of your birthday. We were allowed large family dinners for Thanksgiving and Easter and that was it. I understand and support those people that I know in their own beliefs and celebrations, but I have had enough with religion for my own family so I don't take the time out to study when someone might be celebrating or not celebrating. You know? I'm not trying to sound nasty, in case that's how I'm coming across. Just bluntly, if you don't tell me (usually repeatedly due to my poor memory) that you are or aren't doing something, I might just forget and offend you. Not you, you - the general "you".

And just a little thing, Christmas didn't come from the Christians but was a Pagan holiday full of overindulgence and lawlessness. The Christians wanted to win the Romans over so they kept their holiday just under a different name. Maybe not the lawlessness but I think overindulgence is definitely still a major factor in Christmas, whether it be in food, drink or spending. I see no Christ in the Christmas tree and stockings. But if someone chooses not to celebrate it, I am happy to support them in their decision.

The only friend I have here is Jewish and we've just had a very minor form of this conversation, where her children want to celebrate Christmas. We know it's all because of the tv shows and the kids at school and probably the teachers as well, which is sad. Their family celebrates differently so they're not as recognized. If the class got together for a different Jewish holiday and *did* something - made cookies or cut out paper shapes and told stories, that might be nice for them. I don't know where I'm going with this. I'm going to bed now, perhaps I can speak, or type, coherently tomorrow. : )

Oh, but what have we got against Halloween? I know what most people do, but I'm curious.
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From:mofic
Date:October 17th, 2007 01:52 pm (UTC)
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Christmas here and now is indeed a Christian holiday, albeit one celebrated by many non-Christians secularly.

I don't have anything against Halloween - as I said, I'm pro.
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From:libgirl
Date:October 17th, 2007 02:56 am (UTC)
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You know, I do try to be sensitive to cultural difference in terms of religion and Holidays. Most of my students are Indian and I do try to wish them a happy day when I know it's a celebratory day for them. That said, I get complacent and I know it.

I wouldn't say that my family is Christian and I personally follow a Native American path, but we have internalized many of the secularized Christian traditions. One thing I remember in High School was people asking me what I was giving up for Lent. At that time I didn't event really know what Lent was or why I should be giving something up.

We do give gifts at Christmas, but we don't really do Easter much at all anymore. When we did, it was for the Easter bunny, not for religious reasons. Both of my parents were raised Christian and I think most of what we celebrated was a result of their upbringing and a latent expectation that was the way that was how we were supposed to be raised. We weren't actually raised Christian however, I have never attended a church service with either of my parents unless it was in conjunction with a wedding or funeral.

As far as that goes, on days when I have Lodge, I also have people asking if I can just skip or go next time. While it is true that I can miss Lodge or go next time, it's not like church. We have ceremony once a month. If I miss it, then I may go two or three months between ceremonies.

The same thing with Sun Dance. When I told my friends I was asked by my Elders to prepare to go to Sun Dance as soon as possible (in a support role, not in a dancing role) they were largely clueless about how much of an honour that was and is.

Ethnocentrism is an interesting thing. :/
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From:kestrelsparhawk
Date:October 17th, 2007 03:49 am (UTC)
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Thanks for carrying one, and with perfect clarity! I raised it on my lj because I felt I needed to say something, but don't think I was especially coherent, particularly since I had clicked on many of the conceivable links and was totally overwhelmed.

Awhile back, I mentioned to a list that my nieces and brother were constantly emailing me Christian materials of the "puppy in the road" sort, and that I loved them but after telling them each several times that I am not Christian, am not going to convert to being Christian, and don't relate to the "sweet stories" about G-d and J*s*s, I needed some non-Christian or better yet anti-Christian (in the sense of neutralizing) spam to send them back.

Long sentence to say -- is it okay if I cut and paste your comments and the address and send it to my nieces? Because that would be just what I was looking for.
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From:mofic
Date:October 17th, 2007 02:10 pm (UTC)
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You're welcome to pass it on, but I think it might be hard for them to understand. Part of the specific problem between Christians and Jews is that Christianity is a religion that proselytizes and Judaism is a religion that doesn't and Jews largely don't want to be proselytized to. And part of the problem with your nieces, I dare say, is youth and not having the experience or the maturity to understand that you've put a lot of time and effort and thought into the religious decisions you've made.
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From:alixtii
Date:October 17th, 2007 04:42 pm (UTC)
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Can we talk about Halloween? It seems to be a spectrum from secular to religious, ranging from say Flag Day to the Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception, and Christmas falls closer to the Immaculate Conception than Flag Day but I really have no clue where Halloween falls. It's closer to Flag Day than Christmas, I think, although I'm not sure by how much.
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From:mofic
Date:October 17th, 2007 05:00 pm (UTC)
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Hi, do I know you? I think you have a good concept there, with your secular-to-religious spectrum. I think that Halloween is a holiday with both Christian and pagan roots, but at this point in the space/time continuum it's completely secular. Look at it this way - we're not getting messages from large and powerful religious groups to "Remember the Reason for the Season" or condemning the lack of religious focus. That ship sailed a long time ago.

Here and now, Halloween is about costumes and kids and treats and (not too) scary stuff. Now, it's absolutely true that some don't celebrate for religious reasons but that doesn't make it religious. By analogy, observant Jews and Muslims don't eat bacon cheeseburgers, but that fact does not make a bacon cheeseburger a religious object. Or to look at it another way, if Orthodox Jews don't celebrate Halloween because they view it as Christian and Conservative Christians don't celebrate Halloween because they view it as pagan, that's pretty good evidence that it's secular :-).

I have Halloween decorations all over my house, btw, and do every year. And it's a very fun holiday in my neighborhood. We don't have residential trick-or-treating but all the merchants on our main drag give out treats and have staff in costumes and you just see everyone all dressed up and having a great time and there's a parade...

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From:kattahj
Date:October 18th, 2007 07:50 pm (UTC)
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Re: the Santa myth (the rest is interesting too, but that's the only thing where I have anything to say), I was raised not to believe in Santa (i.e. jultomten, the Swedish equivalent), because my mother was very firm that she was not going to lie to us, ever. Part of the reason was that she's religious and figured that, "If I tell them that Santa exists and they find out he doesn't, what's that going to tell them about God?" Part was that she'd been horribly disappointed as a child when she realized Santa wasn't real.

I never had a problem with this as a child. Our family had reversed the tradition so that we kids dressed up as Santas and brought gifts to our parents (and each other). It was huge fun; I've always liked playing dress up. By the time I started paying attention to how other people celebrated, none of the other kids I knew believed in Santa either.

Now, however, I'm working at a school, and while I would imagine most kids either don't celebrate Christmas at all or only very little (since a majority are Muslim), they still have Santas showing up in December, and there's still pressure from my colleagues to tell the kids Santa is real. My mom's reasons still stand, and I don't believe in lying to children (it feels to me more serious a lie than saying that a staff member with a day off is "invisible today", which I've agreed to do), but I don't feel comfortable bursting a bubble someone else is working to create either. Usually, when a staff member asks me to verify that Santa is real, I reply, "I'm not getting involved in this," which isn't perfect - I'm sure the kids can interpret it just fine as a "no" - but I haven't thought of anything better.


Oh, I just realized, re: Halloween: It's a very young tradition in Sweden (All Hallow's Eve has mostly been about putting lights on graves and remembering your dead), and really unnecessary since the kids already dress up as witches and go begging for candy around Easter. I've spent a whole lot of years rather anti the whole thing, since there were several instances of little kids egging houses and older kids getting drunk and knocking tombstones over, but I've relented lately, because kids love ghosts and having a whole holiday dedicated to ghosts isn't really I can deprive them of.

Well. As long as they don't egg houses and knock tombstones over, anyway. *g*
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From:kattahj
Date:October 18th, 2007 07:51 pm (UTC)
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*isn't really anything I can deprive them of.

Learn how to write, Katta!
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From:mofic
Date:October 19th, 2007 02:09 am (UTC)
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I think people who *do* celebrate Christmas get sick of the hype and the overfocus on it at least as much as those of us who don't.
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From:silently_hyper
Date:October 18th, 2007 10:19 pm (UTC)
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This is probably the best post I've read on this whole debacle. Thank you so much for writing what I've always found hard to explain about my attitudes toward Christmas and the Christmas season.
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From:mofic
Date:October 19th, 2007 02:08 am (UTC)
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I'm glad you enjoyed it! What does ATP stand for? Atomic _____ Power?
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From:ringthebells
Date:October 19th, 2007 03:08 am (UTC)
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It's nice to acknowledge other people's holidays. I generally wish a Merry Christmas to people I know celebrate Christmas. LJ is chock full every year of Christmas wishes yet it’s a rare event when someone not Jewish – even someone who has a lot of Jews on his/her flist acknowledges major Jewish holidays (minisinoo is one of the rare people who does). That kind of acknowlegement does tend to happen around Hanukah, but it's much nicer to pay attention to the holidays others are saying are important to them than to give a nod to one that you find easy to subsume into your own celebration.

I've been thinking a lot about this point, and I decided I really needed to respond—because we are on each others' flists, and I do tend to post "Merry Christmas!" on the 25th of December, and I don't post about Jewish holidays, and I feel like it would be kind of rude of me, after this post, to keep doing that without giving you some sort of explanation at least.

So, like I said, you got me thinking. (That's a good thing!) And my conclusion is that my holiday-greeting habits on LJ are, when you get right down to it, kind of backwards. I don't put "happy special occasion!" wishes in my journal based on what I know other people are celebrating, but rather based on what I'm celebrating. Thus, in my journal I'll wish everyone a "merry Christmas" even though I am perfectly aware that not everyone celebrates it, a "happy Canada Day!" despite the fact that like half my flist is American or British, and even a "happy Moving Day!" despite the fact that barely anyone outside of Montreal will even know what I'm talking about. (That last is pretty tongue-in-cheek, but still. I've posted about it!) My entry from earlier today is not really a case in point, since it came about from me thinking about this stuff and getting curious about holidays in general and then accidentally stumbling on the fact that today is apparently a Canadian day of observance which I'd never heard of but which I thought was worth mentioning, once I knew about it ... but anyway, that is the kind of post I make.

I guess my unspoken message is, "Hey, here's what I'm celebrating! So, tell me, what are you celebrating?" Or, you know, observing, because not every special occasion is a celebration; I've posted about December 6th before; I know you and many others post about September 11th, and so on.

It would be nice of me, I guess, to post "happy X-day!" messages in my journal that actually apply to other people besides me. (Er, "X" in the preceding example being meant in the mathematical sense of standing in for an unknown, and not meant to have anything to do with X-mas.) But, dammit, I'm just not that thoughtful. I forget my own spouse's birthday. (Seriously, the other day we had the following exchange. Me: Okay, to fill out this form I need your social insurance number. Him: All right, the card's in my wallet. Me: ... And your birth date. Him: *just looking at me* Me: Oh, just give me your wallet, I'll get it off your driver's license.) Also, if I were to start trying to fit in everybody's religious and/or cultural special days, I worry that I'd end up starting every entry with a holiday greeting—and still, inevitably, leaving things out. I mean, just with the Christian and the Jewish holy days it's not so bad, but I wouldn't feel right at that point excluding everybody else.

Incidentally, this all applies only to my Livejournal—it's totally different in real life! For my close friends, I know what they're celebrating (since they tell me) so I can wish them "happy whatever!" appropriately, and for anyone who I don't know that well I stick with what I know they're celebrating—when school finishes in December I don't say "happy holidays!" but rather "have a great vacation!" because hey, at least I know everyone's having a vacation! (Everyone at school, that is. My apologies to those of you in the rest of the working world.)
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From:kattahj
Date:October 19th, 2007 05:23 am (UTC)
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I don't put "happy special occasion!" wishes in my journal based on what I know other people are celebrating, but rather based on what I'm celebrating.

Same here. The issue did come up for me now with Eid - I knew very well that it was Eid, I wrote fics for the occasion, but the idea of actually wishing people on my flist a happy Eid made me feel as if I was co-opting the religion. I suppose it'd be easier with Jewish religions since I actually know that several people on my flist celebrate those, but I'd still feel like I was butting in where I didn't belong. Especially since I wouldn't know how to phrase things - I kind of figure you wouldn't wish someone a "happy" Yom Kippur, for instance.

Meanwhile, I'll quite cheerfully wish my flist a happy Valborg, Lucia or Midsummer, even though I'm well aware a vast majority won't celebrate it. Maybe I've got things backwards, I don't know. But I kind of like seeing people make greetings on their own holidays, since it means I get an overview of who celebrates what.
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From:kita0610
Date:October 19th, 2007 03:49 am (UTC)
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Very nice.

Thanks for this!
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From:mofic
Date:October 19th, 2007 11:26 am (UTC)
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Thanks for reading!
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From:ringthebells
Date:October 19th, 2007 06:31 am (UTC)

part the first, because I'm too long-winded for an LJ comment

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Okay, this next bit is where it gets kind of emotional, and I'm going to try to sort out my response and hope I don't make a complete mess of things.

Christmas is not a universal holiday. It is a Christian holiday that is also celebrated secularly by some, but it is a Christian holiday. In a country that has both a Christian majority (75% according to the 2001 American Religious Identification Survey identify as Christian) and an Establishment Clause I think it is very good for Christians and otherwise Christmas-celebrating people to realize and recognize that not everyone celebrates Christmas.

So, this is all true. Clearly. (Well, as for the bit about the Establishment Clause I had to look it up on Wikipedia because I had no idea what it was—interesting!) But here's the thing. The idea that Christmas is necessarily a Christian holiday really bothers me. I mean, I get approximately the same feelings when you say it here as when I pass one of those "Jesus is the reason for the season" signs in December: kinda defensive, and deeply rebellious.

Which reminds me of an LJ icon my friend was using last December that I thought was wonderful, actually ... *quick pause to snag it and upload to photobucket for demonstration purposes*

Axial Tilt is the Reason for the Season

Awww, science! But anyway. I'm going to try to explain my perspective here, because understanding each other is good. We've already kind of discussed this whole Christmas thing in the Hanukah post you linked to above, actually, but that was a couple of years ago and there are things I hadn't thought through so much then, and other things I'd thought of but just didn't say.

So, first of all, I'm not Christian. I was, however, raised Christian. I went to church, followed the religious and cultural practices, and sincerely tried to believe what I was supposed to believe, until I was about sixteen. I realize that this means my worldview is largely shaped by Christianity (especially since, as you've noted, it's also the majority religion of the society in which I was raised). But the thing is you can't be an atheist Christian. When I came out as an atheist, I stopped being Christian.

I want to stress this, because it's really important to me. I am emphatically not Christian. Coming out to my mother as an atheist was the second most painful conversation I ever had with her. (The most painful, of course, being when I told her I was a lesbian—and there were actually very similar levels of tears and recriminations involved—and, um, now I'm married to a man. How embarrassing!)

I have actively excised Christian rituals from my life. When Dave and I got married, it was in a completely civil ceremony; we were married by a Justice of the Peace in a historic fortress (it was a nice stone building, and available for rent), and we wrote the script ourselves so that there would be no accidental mention of God. When our baby's born, we certainly won't be getting him baptized. When I die, hopefully a long time in the future, I expect the funeral and the disposal of my body to happen entirely without religious intervention. (I mention these three things because marriage, babies, and death are the life events that tend to bring incompletely-lapsed Christians back to the church.)

But I celebrate Christmas. [And here I break into a second comment, for length.]
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From:ringthebells
Date:October 19th, 2007 06:32 am (UTC)

part the second

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Santa, reindeer, candy canes, stockings, presents wrapped in bright paper under a fir tree which has been improbably brought into the house and covered with hand-made decorations—my Christmas includes all that stuff. The distinction between the actual Christian elements of Christmas and all the pagan and/or commercial and/or random traditions that are also associated with it has been made plenty of times, including higher up in this thread. I just want to say that that distinction is really, really important to me.

Like I said, I grew up Christian. We had a tree and a crêche. On Christmas eve we went to church for bible readings and songs about Jesus; on Christmas morning we opened presents under the tree and joked about Santa. The Christian and secular elements were both there and I knew the difference between them. When I stopped being Christian, my Christmas changed: no more crêche, no more Jesus. (Okay, I'm not completely hardcore, I can totally still get suckered into singing religious Christmas carols if I happen to fall in with a crowd that's singing them—but for my Christmas party last year I carefully put together a song book myself that had no God or Jesus in it. It was all reindeer and snowmen and guys in funny red suits.)

The Christmas that I celebrate now draws consciously on its pagan roots; my husband is pagan, and sometimes celebrates Yule in addition to Christmas. We're very aware of the solstice, and the festival-of-lights aspect of it all; the end of December is frikkin' cold and dark where we live.

And yes, I still call it Christmas, and I know where the word comes from (Christ-mass), and I celebrate on the 25th of December, the date chosen by some Christian authorities at some point for reasons of their own. Maybe I'm delusional in claiming I'm not celebrating the Christian holiday. Maybe I should follow the lead of the FSU and change the date slightly, and the name (which worked out so well for them!). But, awkward as it is sharing the name and the date, I really do think there is a strong secular celebration of Christmas to draw on—Christmas as a cultural celebration, rather than a religious one.

I love celebrating Christmas. I love the silly decorations, the presents, the parties, the shmoopy Christmas specials on TV, the general vibe of peace and love. I know that not everyone celebrates it; I know that not everyone who celebrates it as part of their culture even likes it. But for me, it makes me really happy, right down to tingling butterflies in my stomach on the morning of the 25th of December (even now!). And I'm really glad that it exists as a secular holiday because otherwise, I couldn't celebrate it.

See above: you can't be an atheist Christian. I really miss celebrating a lot of the other Christian holy days; they were my religion growing up, but also my culture. Ritual is important, and I've lost a whole lot of it now. I mean, I guess I could go to a Christian church and go through the forms of worship on Palm Sunday or Good Friday or whatever—but there's no real cultural expression of those holy days outside of their religious expression, and if I went and participated in a religious ceremony now, I'd be deceiving the people around me. I'm not okay with that.

Right, so, wow, has this ever been long and rambling. I'm sorry. I hope I've made some kind of sense. The thing I'm trying to work up to here is that the insistence that Christmas is only a Christian holiday is, actually, kind of hurtful to me. It denies the validity of my own non-Christian celebration of Christmas; it sends me the message that my celebration is not authentic.

Maybe we could say that Christmas is both a Christian holiday and a secular one, which is nevertheless culturally-specific and certainly not celebrated by everyone?
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From:naath
Date:October 19th, 2007 10:32 am (UTC)

Re: part the second

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you can't be an atheist Christian

But you can be a Christian atheist. Like most (well a strict majority of people ticked the Christian box on the census) people in the UK I was raised Christian - which means that I'm a Christian atheist; I get all nostalgic about Christmas celebrations and I could tell you what Good Friday is for. If I were a Jewish atheist presumably I'd be able to tell you what Hanukah is about and why devout Jews don't want to come to work on Jewish holidays...

I know atheists who started out as different faiths - and in large part they still celebrate the holidays of the faith of their parents (or parents' parents or etc.) because those holidays become culturally important as well as religiously important. So whilst you (and I) don't believe in G*d and aren't really celebrating the birth of Christ; we *are* celebrating a Christian holiday that is part of our Christian culture. I did try for a while to celebrate *only* secular holidays (like New Year) but I missed turkey dinner and chocolate eggs - if I hadn't been raised with those things I probably wouldn't want them so much.

(also I'm a Catholic atheist - a distinction mostly important in Northern Ireland where the Catholic/Protestant distinction is politically important and it might even turn out that people will ask whether one is a Catholic Jew or a Protestant Jew...)
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From:naath
Date:October 19th, 2007 10:25 am (UTC)
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As far as I'm aware there is generally *someone* celebrating *something* for most of Oct/Nov/Dec - from Eid al Fitr, Divali, Hanukah, Samhain, Yule, Christmas, New Year (in the secular calendar), Guy Fawkes (in England). Admittedly I have assumed this to be the case because of the obnoxious number of fireworks set off by people for (at least some of) these holidays (I, personally, hate fireworks - not that I think anyone should stop using them for my benefit).

On the other hand I'm possessed of a diary that has marked in it the holidays of all major faiths and the secular holidays of English speaking countries - so if I were moved to wish anyone a happy anything I could look it up and check. And then I could say "Happy wotsit-day to people who celebrate wotsit-day" and probably "and a happy Tuesday to everyone who doesn't".
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From:daybright
Date:October 19th, 2007 04:14 pm (UTC)
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Hi,you don´t know me, I came in through metafandom.
This is a very interesting post and has opened my eyes, thank you.
I live in and grew up in a country where 95% of the population is Christian and almost all of them of the same denomination. So religious diversity is always fascinating to me.
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From:mofic
Date:October 19th, 2007 04:49 pm (UTC)
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Pleased to meet you! I'm glad you enjoyed the post.


I live in and grew up in a country where 95% of the population is Christian and almost all of them of the same denomination.

That's true of a lot of places, I'm sure! What country do you live in?
From:lanjelin
Date:October 19th, 2007 08:39 pm (UTC)
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Hi, I wandered in from metafandom. :)

I've been following this debate in different lj's for these past few days, and it's been an interesting and baffling experience. Mostly because it's been incredibly U.S. centric. I'm not complaining, mind, just saying that the repetitions of "in a country where..." and "in this country..." makes me raise my eyebrows. Here's an instance where even the U.S. minorities are in majority!

In my country some of the old christian holidays are still celebrated, but the majority of the population do it out of tradition, not faith. (A couple of our holidays, like Valborg and Midsummer are even older.) I'm not sure how it works in the U.S. but here those days are official days off (though a lot of places are open anyway; we're just paid more, heh), and that contributes to making them part of the Swedish culture.

I'm not sure what I think of all this, but to me it sounds a bit unreasonable to expect a country to change its holidays, no matter where they came from. It's not just religion, it's part of that country's heritage, just like being a Jew is a lot more than the religious bit (I didn't even know that before this debate!). For some countries, like mine, it's pretty much all tradition/heritage and no religion nowadays!

I find it even more unreasonable to expect it on the internet. There are too many different cultures here that taking all of them into account would be impossible. Wasn't the start of the signups on the Eid-al-fitr weekend, for example?

I know the U.S. is a very religious country, while Sweden has become almost completely secular, and that makes it even harder for me to relate. In fact, it's illegal to register to what religion, philosophy, "race" or politics someone belongs, and we don't talk about religion except with very close friends. It's considered extremely personal.

Of course, I think adding to the culture is the right way to go, not taking things away. I know there's a movement in Sweden to make the Muslim holidays official. There are somewhere between 100 000 and 500 000 muslims in Sweden (yeah it's a big margin, but since it's illegal to register religious beliefs...), and we're only about 9 million in total, so why not?

Anyway, I really hope I haven't been offensive. I know little of U.S. society, and even less of the Jewish society in the U.S.. I know exactly one person who's even remotely religious in any way, and we're not close enough to talk about it yet.

Also, as my fellow Swede above said, we're not generally very strict about what our children believe, and since Father christmas/Santa/Jultomten is generally played by our fathers/mothers/cousins (yeah, our christmases have always been fun if nothing else, heh), most children already know.

It's the same with faith in general; all my friends (whom I've talked about it with) says the same: they've all been told that nobody knows for sure, and that we should decide for ourselves. Schools treat all religions the same, and we're required to know the basics of the five largest in the world before we finish the obligatory first nine years (yeah, no homeschooling allowed, and you have to go).

Sorry about the length. If I have been offensive, I'm sorry; I'm not the minority in my country, and despite joking about being one on the 'net, it's hardly the same. I know I can't understand what it's really like.
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From:mofic
Date:October 19th, 2007 08:52 pm (UTC)
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I think you misunderstand me a bit. I say things like "in this country" because I'm limiting my remarks to the country I live in. I'm not suggesting that other countries should behave the same - I'm saying the kind of behavior I see and describe is inappropriate here and why I think it is.

I have no idea where you got the idea that I was expecting any country to "change its holidays." And I'm not sure what you mean by "The US is a very religious country" so I don't know whether to agree or disagree with that :-). I will say that it is a country with a commitment - a constitutional commitment, even - to not having an established religion, and it's in that context that I object to the view that Christmas - a Christian holiday - should be celebrated by all Americans or should be celebrated in USAmerican public schools.

In any event I do take your point that LJ is not exclusively USAmerican and am glad of that fact.
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From:crowie
Date:October 21st, 2007 08:20 am (UTC)
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Here from metafandom.

I get what you're saying. Christmas is a complicated thing and how people react to it and how they celebrate it or not celebrate varies hugely. It's also a big amorphous thing that you can't get away from in the western world in mid winter. You're also right in that it's different being an atheist or an agnostic that was raised Christian vs. actually having another religion with its own holidays and traditions when it comes to reacting to Christmas

I'm not American or from the UK (although I'm living now in the UK) and my experience of Christmas differs quite a bit to what I've seen here and in movies. It's so different that I actually travel back home every Christmas now to be with my family and can't imagine staying in the UK for the holidays.

We have Santas, although there's thirteen of them and they start arriving one by one from the mountains thirteen days before Christmas, they're trickster trolls that steal and trick people and they're called Yulelads rather than Santa. Their mother is a big troll and eats naughty children. They also have a huge big black cat that eats people that don't get any new clothes before Christmas.. These yulelads have been americanized now (which some people resent) and often wear red but they usually show up in multiples at yule dances (when a bunch of children gather to eat cake and candies and then dance around a christmas tree while singing carols) and are still tricksters so it's not all lost yet.

People also have bonfires on New Years and myths about the elves moving house then so a portion tends to dress up as elves and pass through in a parade to act it out in a somewhat ritualistic way.

That's some slightly off kilter Christianity there if it were all Christian traditions.

Also Christmas starts at 6pm on the 24th and is celebrated on the evening of the 24th of December. There's usually a ritualistic load up the car and travel to your friends earlier in the day to exchange the gifts that get then put underneath the Christmas tree and opened up after dinner.

There's another thing too. Where I grew up winter is depressing. It gets very cold dark and windy. It's daylight only for a handful of hours and even then the sun never gets high in the sky and the way I experience it there's *need* to do something positive in the mid winter to try and keep hope that the sun will be returning. A holiday that's all about banding together against the cold and the dark and trying to create safe warm spaces and put some extra light in the world. It's actually often referred to as the Holiday of Lights, I don't know if there's a similar term used in English.

The further south you go the almost biological impulse to do *something* to try and get through yet another winter is much much less and the impact is completely different.

I've often wondered what it's like for who don't celebrate Christmas back home and why they don't. The only one I know who doesn't do it big time is a middle aged man who's living on his own and has no clear family to be with so he volunteers to work during the holidays to get some of his co-workers off the hook so that they can be with their families. That's the drawback. Since the way it's set up in my country it's such a hugely family oriented celebration. It's ALL about your family and spending time with them and valuing them so we have increased suicides and depression that time of year, both from the dark and the cold and the long winter but also because you feel intensely alone if you don't have that family to celebrate with and that's why I'm stuck using up a good portion of my vacation days for Christmas every year because I can't cope with even the idea of spending those days away from my core and extended family.

Anyway I've probably rambled more than enough on the way I see the mid winter celebrations but I wanted to add another POV into the mix. The way I see it there's a purpose to a holiday set at that time of year that's bigger than a religion. Atleast when you're living in a hostile cold climate.

It's easy to forget though just how different everyone experiences the whole lot so thank you for that, it's great food for thought and I need to ponder on it a whole bunch more, but everything needs to start somewhere.
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From:mofic
Date:October 21st, 2007 07:54 pm (UTC)
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This was all very interesting to me. Thanks for sharing. What country are you from?
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From:sarken
Date:October 22nd, 2007 12:35 am (UTC)
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Hi, from metafandom, coming in late because I was away all weekend, etc.

I hope you don't mind someone else bringing up the "happy holidays" thing. I just wanted to say I never realized it was offensive -- I thought it was just a way to cover everything from Thanksgiving through to New Year's Day. So, thank you for teaching me something. I'll stop saying it.
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From:mofic
Date:October 22nd, 2007 03:41 pm (UTC)
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You know, I wouldn't say that it's offensive. As I said elsewhere, it's an improvement on saying "Merry Christmas" to all and sundry - I just don't think it's that much of an improvement or all that inclusive.

Thanks for reading.
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From:candrawest
Date:October 28th, 2007 11:50 pm (UTC)
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I agree wholeheartedly. Christmas is about the only time I envy Americans, honestly. Jo (she says that with high school coming up she doesn't want to be Josie anymore, I did much the same at the same age) and I don't celebrate Christmas being atheists, and we have no choice except staying home on Christmas day. There is next to nothing open here, not even Chinese restaurants or movie theatres. About the only things open on Christmas in Australia are hospitals, hotels, and service stations. It never fails to sadden me that in a country where Christians are probably a minority, we are still expected to celebrate a Christian holiday nationally. And unfortunately, it's even worse for Jews and Muslims than is is for me.

Oh, and here here about Santa. Though my reasons were selfish: I spent *my* money on those gifts, I spent *my* time buying them, and I used *my* love for and knowledge of my daughter to choose them. Why on earth should some mythical creature get credit for that?
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