It's the same in any lingo

בַּת-בָּבֶל, הַשְּׁדוּדָה: אַשְׁרֵי שֶׁיְשַׁלֶּם-לָךְ-- אֶת-גְּמוּלֵךְ, שֶׁגָּמַלְתּ לָנוּ
אַשְׁרֵי שֶׁיֹּאחֵז וְנִפֵּץ אֶת-עֹלָלַיִךְ-- אֶל-הַסָּלַע

How can one be compelled to accept slavery? I simply refuse to do the master's bidding. He may torture me, break my bones to atoms and even kill me. He will then have my dead body, not my obedience. Ultimately, therefore, it is I who am the victor and not he, for he has failed in getting me to do what he wanted done. ~ Mahatma Gandhi
If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am not for others, what am I? If not now, when? ~ Rav Hillel, Pirke Avot

This Red Sea Pedestrian Stands against Judeophobes

This Red Sea Pedestrian Stands against Judeophobes
Wear It With Pride

28 November 2008

A Red Sea Pedestrian's Christmas Appeal

Black Friday is over. Did you join in the Red Hour? Did you mangle anyone for the last "Club Me Dead Elmo?" (I will be bashing that little red usurper any chance I get; Grover was doing just fine all by himself thank you very much). 

As a Jew I have a love/hate relationship with Christmas. As a kid in public school we had a tree in every classroom that we would decorate (I actually became a pretty decent tree trimmer as a result, much to the amazement of my goyishe friends). Every year our elementary school principal would dress up as Santa. We would all have to stand in line to sit on his lap and tell him what we wanted for Christmas, and every year I would tell him, "I'm Jewish, I don't celebrate Christmas." That was until 6th grade when, in my new found cynacism and chutzpah, I told him, "What I want for Christmas is my public school principal to stop dressing as Santa and making us all sit on his lap."

I loved the lights. We had a particularly rockin' display down the road from our house that we would drive to and look at every year, along with a lot of other people. I loved going to friends' houses, the smell of pine, the consumption of eggnog, and of course the 10 days off.

There were certain things that baffled me though. When we would sing Silent Night I had no idea what the Holy Infantso or the Roundyonvirgin were. I also felt kinda bad for my Christian friends. As a kid in Hebrew school we were taught that God was everywhere and knew all you were doing, which I was fine with as long as God wasn't going to tell my parents about it. But Christians, well...I thought they were thrice screwed. Not only did they have God watching them, but Jesus and Santa as well.

We'd sing, "He sees you when you're sleeping/he knows when you're awake/he knows if you've been bad or good so be good for goodness sake." Between all that, and the threat of going to Hell, that's a lot of pressure. Of course, I grew up with a Jewish mother so who am I to talk?

As a kid Christmas was a cool time of year. After Thanksgiving the lights would go up, the Kiddie-City and Sears catalogues had already been in the house, fueling my dreams for the 8 nights of Chanukah. But now I have a problem with Christmas.

It's not the peace on earth good will toward everybody stuff I have a problem with, it's the marketing. Why does Hallmark have to kick off the Christmas shopping season a week before Labor Day with the unveiling of their new ornament? Why? Why is the mall down the road putting the giant fake tree up before Halloween? WHY? Why, long before Thanksgiving, are the stores playing Christmas music? WHY WHY WHY???


We had a social contract. No Christmas anything until Black Friday. It starts earlier and earlier which is, quite frankly, ruining the Christmas season for me. On the local news they showed people camped out, starting at 7:00 AM on Thanksgiving to get into Best Buy. And then there are the songs. Christmas has some great songs, some even written by Jews, like "White Christmas." But after 2-3 months of buildup, and the ominpresence of Christmas music everywhere I go, if I hear "White Christmas" one more time somone's chestnuts are going to be roasting on an open fire. It's overkill.

It's like my mother around Passover. Every year my mom, more than a week before the holiday begins, starts getting the house ready; washing the kitchen down, moving the Passover dishes upstairs (all bread and related products must be removed from the home before the holiday starts under Jewish law), etc. Every year I ask her the same question: Why is it that in order to celebrate a holiday that marks the hasty departure of the Israelites from Egypt, so hasty that there was no time to let the bread rise which is why we have to eat matza for 8 days (which, if you don't have stewed fruit on hand, will block your kishkes like the Hoover Dam), do you start getting ready for the holiday nearly two weeks before?!? That's crazy talk.

So I have a request. Whatever consortium that's out there controlling the worldwide phenomenon known as Christmas, can we please return to the way things used to be? The month between Thanksgiving and Christmas is all yours. Go nuts. But August? That's ridiculous. And about the lights. A lot of work goes into some of those displays, and I really like them. Do me a favor. It still gets dark early all winter. Leave the lights up. At least until the daylight is sticking around a little longer. It's nice.

And one more thing. It is a sacred Jewish tradition that on Christmas Day, while everyone is home trolling the ancient Yuletide carol, that we go out for Chinese food and movies. Over the last 5 years or so I have seen an increasing tendency for non-Jews to be partaking of this ancient Hebrew tradition that goes at least as far back as the release of the original Jazz Singer. Please, just give us this one day to not have to wait for a table, or in line for movie tickets. That's not asking too much is it?

There is one thing that hasn't changed in all these years. It's the hush of Christmas eve. It's like the entire world takes a breath. I like to walk the streets of my town and take in the quiet, look at the lights, and if we're lucky, enjoy the snow falling. I have also been known to run down the streets yelling, "Merry Christmas Bedford Falls!" in the middle of the night at the top of my lungs, but it's been a long time since I've done that.

So enjoy the season, don't make yourself crazy, and remember that family is what you make it. So if yours makes you crazy, pick up a pair of those Bose noise cancelling headphones. I hear they're awesome!


Logistics Monster said...

Shtuey - I just love these posts - it's like a little window into another world! Keep making us smile!

Oh - and that Xmas thing? I celebrate Yule, so I know where you are coming from...

american girl in italy said...

You know...that is part of the reason why I don't like the de-christmas-ing of christmas. I am not religious but i love chritmas. And, I feel like the conversion to *Holiday*, while it is more inclusive of those who are not Christian or celebrate Christmas, it removes all meaning of the holiday.

Taking the religion out of it makes it just a holiday about shopping and greed. Again, I am not religious. But, I still have gone to midnight mass here in Italy, and I love the pretty Chrstimas carols, and all the good cheer and warmth and history.

And I can totally understand, like your story growing up, the santa clause thing. Personally, I think it would be more informative if teachers spoke about all holidays and discussed what each kid did in their homes - if they celebrated or not, and what they did. Making it educational and acceptable to be different. Learn new things, and embrace differences.

But this complete white wash of anything meaningful just leads to idiots trampling each other to death to get the latest Wii. (and what happened to actually going outside and PLAYING!

(which is my personal reason why i believe the bible was give people answers and meaning, and laws. lots of the stories are modified versions from greek mythology and other older religions... do i believe Mary was a 14 virgin? No, I think she was a 14 year old who found herself pregnant and did what most 14 year olds would do - lie to their parents.) But, that's just me.... (I hope i don't go to hell for that! ahaha)

But, I still love the holiday. And, whatever your beliefs, there should be more to the season then just WalMart and blue light specials! At least family and friends and tradition (whatever that is)and selflessness.

Shtuey said...

AGII, exactly. There shouldn't be a watering down of Christmas practice. People had the foolish notion that if you took Christ out of Chirstmas you would be more respectful of those who don't celebrate Christmas. When in fact, the real respect comes when we get to see everyone's traditions honored.

It used to chap my ass when people would say, "Merry Christmas" to me. Yes, on one level it's annoying that people just assume we're all celebrating Christmas. But really, these well meaning people are just trying to express their hope that you will have good things for the season, not convert us.

What really makes me nuts is the marketing. The great big mall goes full on Christmas with the center point being Santa's workshop where he and Mrs. Claus sit for weeks having their pictures taken. IT's a hammer blow. The most touching Christmas display in our neighborhood was put up by neighbors of ours. It was an old school nativity scene with an illuminated star above it; very tasteful. It was a reminder that at least some people remembered what their holiday was about.

Anonymous said...

A security guard was trampled to death at my local Walmart yesterday. The poor fellow was unlocking the doors and the crowd broke through, killing him in their rush to get a $388 big screen plasma TV that was advertised as being in limited supply.
Out of curiosity, I looked at the Walmart website 16 hours after the tragedy occurred. The TV was available online for $388, with free delivery-to-local-store / customer pick-up.
What kind of last Thanksgiving did that poor young man have? He had to be at Walmart before 4 AM the next day. What kind of people step over a dying man to save money on a TV?
When are we going to stop this madness?

lililam said...

Hi, Shtuey. That last entry is hard to follow- what a dreadfully devastating horror.
I just wanted to share some of my Christmas memories. I was a product of a Jewish immigrant and a first generation German Lutheran. The celebration of Christmas was some weird hybrid of maintaining marital civility combined with an attempt to fit in as an American, which was really hard for my dad, as he never could shake his thick accent. It was a testament of his love for us that he bothered to hang lights outside and put up a tree and actually wrap presents, preferring to wrap tiny gifts in huge awkward boxes, just to confuse and annoy us. We lived in a perpetual world of confusion, as both of our parents avoided foisting their respective faiths or non-faiths on us, so we had no idea what the whole season was about, but it was magical and fun and full of generosity of spirit, which I hope it continues to have in some basic way. Happy days, Shtuey!

petunia politik said...

Hey Shtuey,

As a jewess, I got to sit on Santa's lap, get presents for Christmas *and* Chanukah, watch the WPIX Yule Log, enjoy black and white Christmas movies, and go to Macy's on 34th street though I never experienced a miracle. I freaking luv Christmas. I do agree that I used to get p.o.'ed as well when the immediate world wished me a Merry Christmas, but then again, why not? Religion is the great divider and we experience the realization of that with every terrorist attack (though politics is involved in those, too).
Bring on the lights, get me to St. Patrick's Cathedral, cue Bing Crosby, but don't forget I have 8 presents coming to me, too:)
Merry Chanukah!