A few years ago, Canadian-Israeli journalist Melanie Takefman wrote a piece for the Times of Israel about growing up with “tree envy.” Takefman had no interest in the religious elements of Christmas – no Jesus and Mary in the manger for her – but she loved “everything about Christmas: the lights, the corny movies, festive toy catalogues and the good cheer – no matter how contrived.”
I recently watched a terrible movie called Switchmas, which is about an American Jewish boy who’s obsessed with the secular aspects of Christmas and somehow switches places with a non-Jewish boy so he can finally celebrate the holiday of his dreams. The premise was a good one, but even Elliott Gould couldn’t save the dreadful script. More than anything, the movie reinforced my long-held lack of anything resembling Christmas envy.
On Twitter, I’ve noticed that many young North American Jews have moved in the opposite direction: they have Christmas fatigue. This is not the mythical “war on Christmas,” but simply the sentiment that the Christmas season is a bit overbearing – too long, too all-consuming, too in your face. These people tire of hearing Mariah Carey’s All I Want For Christmas (Is You) in every store they enter for two months.
This resonates with me. While I’ve been known to hum Christmas carols (both those written by Jews and Christians), I certainly find the surplus of Santa imagery a bit excessive. Though I’ve never seen the original Grinch cartoon, I occasionally relish the role of Scrooge and mutter “bah humbug” at Christmas trees I see in early November. Nevertheless, I find myself at a happy middle ground on this issue: I do not envy Christians their Christmas celebrations, nor am I offended by them.
Honestly, I’m more bothered by evangelical Christians on street corners telling me year-round to find Jesus, than I am by my neighbour’s Christmas lights in the winter. My neighbour’s Christmas lights aren’t telling me they are better than I am. They aren’t urging me towards some false notion of self-improvement. Yes, there are Christian symbols of Christmas. But they are easily ignored in a sea of secularism. Meanwhile, the Christian foundation of American society can be felt on a daily basis.
Christmas can alienate members of minority religions. I am sympathetic to those who feel that way, but I try to take a different perspective by embracing the alienation. First, it is a communal alienation that Jews can weather together, or with those of other faiths. Second, I like being a member of a minority religion and appreciate when that minority status is affirmed in benign ways. I’m proud to live in the house without a Christmas tree and Christmas lights. I’m happy that Santa passes over my home, whether I’ve been naughty, nice or just neurotic.
Of course, some interfaith families celebrate Chrismukkah without any neurosis at all. And for most of the year, the majority of North American Jews live lives resembling those of their gentile peers. We suffer no legal or economic penalties for being Jewish. In fact, our Jewishness is often ignored, freeing us to ignore it ourselves. But Christmas is a time when I feel special, and not just because of my sacred Jewish Christmas rituals – eating Chinese food and going to the movies.
Now that I have Christian relatives, I enjoy going to their Christmas parties and participating in their secular traditions, outside my own home. And I enjoy celebrating Hanukkah, with its lights and its latkes. But more than anything, I enjoy not celebrating Christmas. I enjoy being an outsider in this minor, harmless way. I like being told that I’m not like everybody else. So come December, I’m happy to wish Christians a “Merry Christmas.” It reminds me that I am different and makes me feel Jewish, which warms my heart during the cold Christmas season.