Sunday, 27 November 2005

28… 27... 26... 25...

The countdown to Christmas has started in earnest. I can’t stand it. Every year I get so stressed by it all – and I don’t even have a huge family to cater for or a gigantic circle of friends to buy presents for. I can’t help it; I get caught up in the hysteria and end up feeling like a nervous wreck.

This year I have decided not to take part in it at all. All right, go on, call me a Scrooge and a Grinch. I don’t care. I want to retain some of my sanity.

Christmas is a Christian festival and I am not a Christian. Do you celebrate Hanukkah if you’re not a Jew? I don’t think so. Give me one good reason why I should celebrate Christmas?

We never celebrated it when I was a child. I went to school in a district of Paris mostly populated by Jews and we were taught about nos ancêtres les Gaulois and we used to draw Christmas trees and sing chants de Noël. Fine. If you live in an overtly Christian country (the separation of Church and State is written into the French Constitution, but it's still a Catholic country and it was very much so then, even more than now) you have to conform – when you’re at school or at work. But that’s as far as it should go; what you do in the privacy of your home and within your family is up to you. I remember being asked to write about “How I spent Christmas” one time too many, when I was about nine years old. My Jewish friends’ essays were works of fiction. Mine was a true reflection of what had taken place in my home around that time and was entitled “How I spent Hanukkah” instead. My little rédaction was read out in class and praised for its originality. But, then, I've always lacked imagination.

My parents would have felt they were betraying their origins if they’d brought a Christmas tree into our home. They came from Eastern Europe, where traditionally Christmas and Easter weren't complete without the Christian populace starting pogroms and attacking the Jews in their shtetls. Why should I celebrate a festival that has such unsavoury connotations for me and my coreligionists?

Of course, the true meaning of Christmas has got more and more lost over the years so, to a lot of people, it has just become an excuse for eating and drinking too much, and getting into debt. Unbridled consumerism and greediness now reflect the true spirit of Christmas. I don't want to take part in that either.

Who knows, maybe I just need a little break and will be singing carols with everyone else next year. (I wouldn’t hold my breath, though, if I were you.)

In the meantime, I want to slap the whole cynical “Christmas industry”.


  1. Hey, I'm not a Jew, and I celebrate Hanukkah! Of course, I'm weird. Plus, my friend throws the best latke parties, so how could I say no?

    Of course, I do find it odd that Judaism seems to be the one religion that you can't leave. "I'm Jewish," say my friends, even if they don't believe in God, haven't gone to a temple in years, and wouldn't think twice about eating a slice of ham.

    One of my pals married a Jewish woman who's so anti-Christmas that she refuses even to celebrate Hanukkah, since she gripes that Jews only elevated Hanukkah to a major holiday so they could have something to do while the goyim were decorating their trees.

    I find her logic bizarre, since Christians only decided to celebrate Christmas because they wanted to co-opt the more exciting pagan holidays surrounding the winter solstice.

    But sure, opt out of Christmas this year! I've wanted to do that many a year. I think Grinching out is a healthy reaction to the Christmas crap that we get assaulted with all the time.

    I live in an extremely Catholic neighborhood, so I'm waiting for the plastic light-up creches to pop up all over. Our next door neighbor has installed a life size mechanical Santa in the front yard. It waves and plays Christmas music. I am on the ground floor. I can hear it all night long. So far this year they've kept the music off. If they turn it on, so help me, I'm going to kill Santa.

  2. The idea of every kid of whatever religion having to muse on Christmas actually fills me with horror. It seems such a subtle but cruel thing to inflict upon a child, sending a not-so-subliminal message that one way is more "right" than another. Of course, I am awfully precious about my own disbelief, so I get cranky at the thought of others being inflicted with belief. And yet I love Christmas. It's got nothing to do with Christianity for me. It's just an extended holiday for me to celebrate in an exaggerated way all the things I am most grateful for.

    I don't celebrate Hanukkah, but I like to acknowledge it for my Jewish friends. And I do put up some Hanukkah decorations at this time of year, since I have some really purty ones, and I have no attachments to any religion anyhow. It's one of the many perks of being mostly shallow, I guess. Maybe this is the big appeal for me: the decorating options.

    I won't call you a Scrooge. There's no good reason to celebrate if you don't have any personal attachments to the holiday. Do people really get upity about your lack of enthusiasm for Christmas? That seems weird of them. Plus, Scrooge actively hated others celebrating, which it doesn't sound like you do. You only seem to be disinterested personally, which is totally different thing.

    I do love Christmas trees and wreaths. Insofar as I know, the practice of decorating the home, specifically the outside, by hanging pine/fir boughs was initiated by German pagans to ward away malicious spirits. And then in the Victorian era in England they picked up the practice and it fell into this longstanding vogue. I like to think my Christmas tree explicity celebrates heathenism rather than an arbitrary birth date for Jesus.

  3. T, I find it quite extraordinary that you would want to celebrate a religious festival that has no resonance for you. You get invited to your friend’s for Hanukkah; you don’t actually light candles yourself, do you? I would go for the latkes too, if someone asked me. LOL!

    I don’t believe in God, I haven’t been to synagogue in years and I used to eat ham (before I stopped eating meat) and I still say “I’m Jewish” because Judaism is not a religion; it’s a mental state. I’m sure I sound very dogmatic when I say that studying with a rabbi for years cannot make you a Jew. You will know about the religious side, about Jewish rituals, etc., but you will never know how it “feels” to be Jewish. It’s in the blood; it cannot be learned.

    What your friend’s wife says sounds rather bizarre to me: Hanukkah was always an important festival. Of course it always was the equivalent of Christmas to us children. It all comes from the same need to cheer up this gloomy period of the year anyway, doesn’t it?

    My father, who, as I said, would have disowned me if I’d brought in anything remotely connected with Christmas when I was a child, had to grit his teeth and give in on our first Christmas in Nice. For the sake of the business, he had to decorate our shop with tinsel and put a small tree in the window. Later, like your neighbour, he acquired a small mechanical Santa that smoked a pipe and made some jolly laughing sounds. It used to make me cringe so much, but kids loved it.

    Hope your neighbours keep the music down. :-)

    You have put your finger on it, K: the message was without a doubt that being Christian and celebrating Christmas was the “right” way. I truly think religion – all religion – should stay out of the classroom (and elsewhere, actually). If parents want to send their children to religious schools, that’s up to them, but public schools should be free from any indoctrination. Here in the UK, kids now celebrate everything – Diwali, Ramadan, everything. It’s a wonder they have time for lessons at all. Does it promote better understanding between the races? It remains to be seen.

    I don’t know what Hanukkah decorations are: we used to just light the candles; that’s all. That’s what I still do, nothing else.

    People tend to get rather aggressive when I tell them I don’t like Christmas. It's as if I’m insulting them in some way. They insist there must be something wrong with me. I don’t mind if they have fun; I just want them to let me be.

    Decorated trees are very pretty, but I feel sorry for them later, when they’ve been discarded in the streets. It’s a pathetic sight.

  4. ok, J, then it's settled? You'll be here for latkes? Do you want applesauce or sour cream or both? ♥ xoxo

  5. Mmmm... sour cream! Yes, please, M! Thanks for the invite. :-) zockso

  6. Studying with a rabbi most certainly did not make me a Jew, so you're absolutely correct on that point. I did light candles during my year of studying Judaism, but now I just visit my pals when they light theirs and appreciate the candles all over New York. I told you, I'm weird. Anyway, the holiday has as much resonance for me as the alien Christmas of my in-laws, who do Christmas COMPLETELY WRONG. I feel, in fact, celebrating with them, that there is no such thing as Christmas.

    I do find what you say about being Jewish as a state of mind and something in the blood to be pretty interesting. The rabbi told me it was in the soul; the question was, did I have a Jewish soul? I decided I didn't have any kind of soul; if I had one, it might be Jewish, but I didn't, so it's not. He would have taken great offense at your statement that Judaism is not a religion, but I doubt you're the kind of person who cares what a rabbi says. :)

  7. Tania, I saw a programme on TV about a Jewish group in New York who are atheist but accept and train converts - converts to atheist Jewishness! They study the history and the values, and the art and literature, and the religious events, but are not expected to believe in God. Perhaps that's the place for you?

    I have a Christian 'soul' without believing in God. By this I mean Christian morals are inculcated in me, Christian art moves me, the poetic spritual struggles of John Donne make sense to me - but I am an atheist and I believe and indeed am cheered by the belief that death is the end for me. So for someone to remain Jewish while being atheist makes sense for me too.

    Count me in with the latkes and sour cream. And the only bit of Christmas I really want to keep is pretty coloured lights all over the city. London needs cheering up in winter, as you said, Bela.

    Off topic somewhat, the outrage of people when you say you don't enjoy Christmas is pretty similar to the outrage of mothers when you say you don't want and never will want children. It's as if you are attacking their decision somehow. They call you selfish - and yet the world is overpopulated and doesn't need any more little people provided as a public service. I just don't understand it - if I said to an accountant, 'Oh, I could never be an accountant!' - which happens quite a lot in my life, strangely - they don't take it as a personal attack on them but as a simple statement about me, which it is.

  8. T, I probably didn’t express myself very well: when I said Judaism wasn’t a religion, I meant it wasn't just a religion. Of course it’s a religion, and I do care what rabbis say. In fact, I like my Judaism traditional or not at all. I want the whole caboodle: the women in a separate enclosure, etc. (like I would want the mass in Latin if I were a Catholic). Paradoxical of me, I know. Having a Jewish soul isn’t enough; you need to have been brought up by Jewish parents telling stories about the years they spent trying to escape from the Gestapo, to have seen pictures of the camps for the first time when you were three years old - that is, at the same time as your parents and their friends - and seen a whole room cry and lament as they saw concrete evidence of what had happened to their loved ones. That’s what made people of my generation Jewish, I think. I don’t know what it is for younger Jews who don’t have the same background, but I don’t think it’s just believing in the same God.

    Lulu, since I believe one is ‘born’ Jewish I don’t think joining such a group would do any good: it would still only teach a non-Jew the ‘external signs’ of Jewishness, but I could be a member. I’m already a Jewish atheist (or secular Jew).

    I have remained a Jew ‘even though’ Christian morals were drummed into me too (of course they’re very similar to ours) and I can appreciate Christian art and understand John Donne.

  9. You rightly aim your slap at the *Christmas industry*. Or ChrisKwanzHanuMasukah, as my son calls it - it's just another way to encourage wanton consumerism. The original festivals - nothing wrong with those. Who can begrudge a little mid-winter feasting to drive away gloomy, what if the days continue to get shorter and shorter and it gets colder and colder until the sun goes out? What if the corn never comes up again? Let's all gather in the darkness, light some candles and sing some songs, have a bit to eat and drink, and hug our loved ones close. And pray that the damned heat comes on.

  10. Perhaps we could all instead turn to A Festivus for the rest of us?" It's pretty hard to beat a holiday inspired by a Sam Beckett play, heh.

  11. D, from what I read in the papers a lot of people agree with me and dream of a simpler life in general, a life devoid of such constraints and driven by "envy" and the need to conform, but it doesn't seem to be possible in a large city. So they will continue to chase their tail for several weeks every year - and resent having to do it.

    "A Festivus for the rest of us"! I love that, K. I'd never heard of it, but I've just read the Wikipedia article about it. It's hilarious. :-)

  12. My God, what a lot of very lengthy comments - you've clearly hit a nerve.

    Um, I was only going to say that I hate bloody Christmas too...

  13. Lengthy but interesting, I'm sure you'd agree, spinsterella. I think a lot of people hate Christmas too but feel they can't say it aloud. There are always so many articles about "How to survive Xmas" around this time; there would be no need for them if everyone really had a good time every year.

  14. Ah, Christmas for a Christian (even a merrily lapsed one) is often a time of hope utterly demolished by actuality. I have unbent about the holiday a lot myself, but there is certainly a huge amount to dislike. This year I am getting extremely tired of the "war on Christmas" meme being perpetuated by the likes of Bill O'Reilly. The idea being that if someone says "Happy Holidays" to you, that means they HATE CHRISTIANITY. Because Christians in the U.S. are, you know, oppressed. I am not the only one who looks at a statement about how "why can't we have a public Nativity scene just because SOME PEOPLE will get offended" and thinks "Code words. Cute."

    That was a digression. I meant to say that up until about 1997, when I quit going home for Christmas every year, I hated the holiday too. My big money-spinning publishing idea was a "Bad Christmas" anthology of stories about Christmases gone horribly awry. Pride of place was to go to the horrifying & heartbreaking Christmas dinner in "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man." Joyce may have been Catholic but I think he'd have agreed with a lot of your post, Bela.

  15. I can see that this period brings out all sorts of feelings in everyone and not necessarily the best.

    Articles about how to survive Christmas are always followed by millions of others about how dreadful Christmas was for that particular writer - and still it goes on. Is it just masochism?

    I love that Joyce book (we studied it at college) - must read it again.


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