Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Every year about now there's a discussion in the US about how insensitive it is to talk about Christmas, since not all Americans are Christians. I've always found this discussion silly. True, Hannuka is the same season - but Hannuka is a very minor holiday on the Jewish calender. And there's this Kwanzaa thing, that apparently comes from Africa, but I'll bet, without knowing the facts mind you, that if someone does the research they'll find that Kwanzaa is even less central to the identity of most Africans than Hannuka is for Jews. Christmas, on the other hand, is a very important holiday for Christians, right up there with Easter, and that's why its' traditionally important in America, which after all is and always has been deeply influenced by things Christian.

I even have the sneaking suspicion that the new fad of pretending it's season of holidays rather than the season of Christmas, may be emanating from those parts of the American public that would be eager to set aside the Christian elements of their own identity. But I can't prove that.

One of the many impressive things about the US is that American Christians have gone further than any previous group of Christians in ridding their religion of its major antisemitic baggage. That's good, and it's a reason many Jews feel so comfortable in America and love their country. But it's still a Christian society in many ways, and if people wish to mark a major Christian holiday, why kvetch?

Jeffry Goldberg has a post up about this. I differ from him in that I prefer not to live in a society that's mostly Christian, but I expect that if I did live there my sentiments would be exactly the same as his; even as things are I mostly agree with him. (Due disclosure: I often agree with him).


Anonymous said...


Like Martin Buber says, "faith is irrational." But it comes from the heart. He was always suspicious of "intellectuals." He said that wasn't faith at all. That was just brain-washing.

As to Christmas, a holiday I grew up where I expected to see lights. And, the beautiful store fronts all along Fifth Avenue; but NO TREE, ever, inside the house!

My mom would tell the sad stories of trees that caused home fires. And, death.

(My birthday falls on Christmas. When Christians would say "poor dear," I said, Oh, no! I get gifts on Christmas Day.)

Turns out, REAL gifts. Until I grew older, and met groups of people who said "they wrapped up sox in boxes" ... and otherwise just gave "decorated boxes" as gifts; where when you'd open a big carton, you'd find many rolls of toilet paper! Which, yes, were once sold to people as a way to be "practical." I didn't think much of what gift giving meant.

It seems that, yes, a lot of gift giving is isolated out. So that you can only get your favorite toys on one day of the year. What a waste. Better to give kids "honors" ... which show them that you appreciate them working hard at their tasks; than to depend on Christmas.

Which became? The wonderful sales AFTER Christmas.

Ah, yes. My parents were in retail. And, they loved getting the business! So anything that drives sales, is a good thing.

I recently just finished reading MALCOLM GLADWELL's OUTLIER. And, in it he tells (among his wonderful stories), about the Jewish immigrants to the lower East Side, of Manhattan. And, how one man, from one pushcart; applied himself to finding "something" he could easily sell; that wouldn't be like any other merchandise carried by other peddlers.

He talks about the "sewing trade" ... when sewing machines were new. (And, available.) And, how the majority of women knew how to sew. And, IT WAS A TIME CONSUMING CHORE.

This particlar man, in this particular story, notices a little girl playing outside, with a beautiful apron on. And, this becomes his focus. He and his wife, on his whim, make 40 aprons for children. He does this "overnight." Between him and his wife, following the pattern he developed, from what he saw. And, he went down to the Lower East side with these garments. And, they sold out within a few hours.

You might not take "buying and selling" all that seriously. But it was one of the bootstraps, used by MY OWN grandfather! And, it made possible INDEPENDENCE. Which is one of Malcolm Gladwell's points.

Functioning economies has lots of hands. And, when you can become an independent provider to your family; you can instill in your own young, the need for HARD WORK, to reach REWARDS.

How did we ever enter into Amazon dictating holiday spirit? Whether they gloam onto language, or not. I don't see them changing people's tastes. BEYOND what they've already done. Which is make shopping in bookstores a thing of the past. They've made inroads with computer databases.

Maybe, there's a lesson there? Not only doesn't a holiday's name matter, but to a database, time, itself flies out the window. (As long as you have functioning ways of delivering your products to market.)

As to Hannukah, what is missed is that the EXTEMISTS were crossing swords with those who were far from being this extreme. What miracle? The lunatics ended up providing Herod with his crown. And, Rome with her unhappy subjects. You needed, a bit later, to turn the 2nd Temple into a fortress? (What was Herod doing, anyway, fixing the place up? Because there were rumors flying that Rome wanted to tuck one of its own god/goddesses into the place.

And, before it was lost, there were other Jews who followed the thought that "we were at the end of time." Turns out not to be true.

But the 2nd Temple went down only after it was turned into a fortress. Only after the eaves were used to start fires, so that advancing Roman troops could be burned to death. But the winds came. And, the winds changed. The fires were out of control.

Most interesting is that there were Greek speaking Jews living outside of Judea, who followed the news. From Alexandria, in Egypt. Carthage, perhaps, too. And, into Irak. So that today there's the recorded history of Josephus.

Do you have to be a scholar to know this stuff? Being Jewish has always allowed you to ask questions.

MSWallack said...

I think that you miss the point. It is important to remember that in the US we have a constitutional separation between church and state. That forms the basis for the alleged "war on Christmas" (which is, of course, nothing of the sort). It is also important to recognize that the phrase "Happy Holidays" that many of us prefer is designed to be inclusionary rather than exclusionary. "Happy Holidays" includes Christmas and Hannukah (and Kwanza, too, I suppose), but it also includes Thanksgiving and New Year's Day which are national holidays celebrated by all regardless of religious affiliation (or lack thereof).

I don't begrudge anybody the right to enjoy their own particular holiday; nor am I offended by a private business that chooses to say "Merry Christmas" instead of "Happy Holidays". But I do have a problem when my government seeks to endorse a particular religious viewpoint, or tries to teach my children a particular religious viewpoint in the public schools (I had to have a discussion with my elementary school-aged kids' principal earlier this week). And I am more likely to give my holiday purchase dollars to a business that recognizes diversity instead of one that shuns it.

Also, while the right in America may want you to believe that America is a "Christian society" there are many of us who work hard to keep that constitutional separation of church and state in place and to keep America a diverse society made up of numerous religious (and areligious) traditions and beliefs.

So, no, I don't want anybody to set aside Christmas or their own Christian identity. How and what they worship is up to them. But I do prefer an inclusionary society that recognizes and values diversity.

Anonymous said...


Irving Berlin, a JEWISH songwriter, penned: I'M DREAMING OF A WHITE CHRISTMAS.

The whole PC gunk has created the problem. Since it's a way of locking out historical facts; and much beauty in art & music, to demand something "secular."

Why would anyone "take offense" and hearing "Merry Christmas?" Whatever happened to common courtesies?

We're in a pretty sorry state if people fail to see how once Hollywood created FOR THE MARKET, wonderful films that still get air time. For instance: Jimmy Stewart's movie. (You can fill in the name, because it's mostly known.) And, since it shows up on TV, you have the choice of NOT putting on your TV.

Did you know, in WW2, fighting would stop on Christmas Day?

Oh, and Patton told a chaplain that he "needed a prayer for good weather" at some point when he was on the offense, in Europe.

Is this too icky for some people?

Well, once, not so long ago, the big taboo was sex. Times change.

As to religions, many benefitted from the dialogues you got in philosphy; as each and every noted philospher took a different viewpoint. You couldn't have had the Enlightenment without this.

As to Hollywood, that's still strictly a FOR PROFIT business. Has nothing to do with governments. And, yet, through films you can touch hearts. Just in case you were wondering what people saw when they joined others in darkened theaters.

As to "Christian" it was once the "ballpark of the Pope." Till Martin Luther, at 40, decided celebacy was for the birds. And, not only dramatically changed Christianity; actually broadened the subject to include many varieties.

How nice it would be, for instance, to realize that In America a woman can study to be a rabbi. Through a Jewish affiliation. She can choose to be orthodox, conservative, or reform. But only in Israel, she wouldn't be recognized as a person of faith.

Separation fo Church & State, as it was adopted by our Founding Fathers, came because Europe was war-torn over factions fighting for supremacy.

The other thing that our Founding Fathers realized; and the ancient Greeks, for instance, did not; is that democracy could swell LARGE. Where the Greeks thought it was definitely limited.

Nope. We grew it to encompass more than 50 States. Because we can include Puerto Rico, and Guam, to name just two more. Under one umbrella. Diverse doesn't mean you belong to all. It means you belong to a group; which has the same free access in the market place as every other group.

Academia? Be-fogged by fraternities; to be aare that going after someone else's discipline doesn't do a thing for your own.

Teachers, meanwhile, that hear from assorted parents, learn to take this all in (rolling eyeballs, notwithstanding), hoping the kids they teach derive some benefits to being taught.

I know I mentioned Malcolm Gladwell's new book, THE OUTLIERS. In it, he taught me something new. It seems the "do-gooders" attacked too much education. They thought kids needed time for play. And, their loads should be reduced.

Gladwell introduces this topic. Education isn't as good as it can be! Because middle class and weathy parents still see to it that their kids are exposed to reading books, for instance, during the summer months.

Gladwell says it's those advantages that separate out what kids can do in schools. And, it puts a wedge between those who have. And, those who have not.

You've got a good reason kids get off during the summer? Minority kids are hurt the most.