Mo (mofic) wrote,

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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