My former boss Marc Tracy, award-winning dean of The Scroll and friend of the Telegraph, thinks Jews should steer their sleighs clear of Christmas.
“As far as celebrating Christmas religiously, or singing carols on that day with your family, or even, yes, having a tree in the home, well—and I hate to condescend or feel like I can tell you what to do despite the fact that I don’t even know you—if you’re Jewish you really shouldn’t be doing it.”
Now at the risk of punching above my weight, he’s absolutely wrong, because nobody can appreciate Christmas like the Jews. [[READMORE]]
I could talk about the superficial: singing carols is fun and there are no good Chanukah songs, the turkey is great (especially since most likely you’re not the one cooking it) and trees smell nice and nobody knows why they’re there. On the other hand, there really isn’t anything like walking down a city street on Erev Christmas without man, woman or mouse stirring.
Marc’s problem isn’t really any of these things, of course. Nor is it his enduring love of mooshoo pancakes. He wants us to meditate upon our otherness and the ways that you might compromise it in the Diaspora.
“Christmas is a wonderful time of year because it reminds you of the blandishments of your identity, and indeed that identity is wildly flexible. But that flexibility and those blandishments depend on some limit, without which nobody has anything. That limit matters. And celebrating Christmas is beyond that limit.”
The thing is that while Jewish otherness in general should always be meditated upon, opting out of Christmas does the opposite. It might celebrate our differences from Christians and the majority, but it also lumps us in with quite a few other peoples—atheists, Muslim, Hindus, Sikhs, the lazy, scrooges—who are also opting out.
But we’re not all opting out for the same reason and those reasons should be important in maintaining otherness.
Instead, meditate on Jewish otherness by celebrating the gifts of Jewish interpretation and re-invention. Marc’s argument presumes that when Jews celebrate Christmas, they are the ones suffering blandishment, being flexible in their identies, bowing to the larger culture. It can easily be the other way around.
When someone goes all wicked son on you, tell them about the pines of the pale. Tell them of the Jewish written songs about the ones we used to know and the nasally-scorned making good.
You can even tell them about this impoverished Jewish couple forced to leave their home by an authoritarian government to be counted (as Jews are so often counted) who on the way have this kid. He’s got the deck stacked against him, but he’s going to take some Jewish thought (admittedly without citing his sources), reinterpret it (like I am, right now) and go argue with other Jews. And once again a Jew will change the world.
Of course, that isn’t for everyone, and that’s fine. But I bought my first Christmas tree this year, a tiny affair. I told my roommate that it was for him, but since I’ve been listening to "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" all week, he knows what’s up. I also bought my first menorah—that is, one I didn’t steal from home. It is also pretty small, but hefty and I’m pretty sure I could bean a Syrian with it. They look nice together, and I have no current plans to use the latter to set fire to the former. At least, not literally, and not until the holiday is over.
That’s something to celebrate. So Happy Chanukah, Merry Christmas.
And God bless us, every one.
P.S. But don’t go to church. That is totally ridiculous.