Letters / On “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year”
I thought something was missing from your conversation “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” One of the more important reasons I am not crazy about Christmas as a Jew is that it reveals how our society is not actually pluralistic, how it passes off a Christian religious and cultural practice as simply an American season of giving—thrusting its trappings into all of our faces and leaving room for little else.
When my children were small, I once took them into our local grocery store and asked where the Jewish items were for Hanukkah. A clerk told me to go down to the end of one of the aisles, toward the back of the store. With my kids in tow, I went to speak to the manager, telling him that I was insulted that the Jewish items were not given pride of place, the way the Christian items were for Christmas. He apologized and the very next day there was a whole beautiful display right in front of the checkout stand.
I appreciated the change, but too often my fellow Americans do not recognize that Christmas does not belong to everyone, not to Jews, nor Muslims, nor Hindus, nor any other religious group. And we, non-Christian Americans, do not belong at the back of the aisle, hidden away.
San Rafael, California
As a boomer-aged Jew who grew up in New York City and raised a child with a non-Jewish spouse, I enjoyed the lively conversation about Christmas, the big winter holiday that isn’t ours. But I found it odd that no one mentioned that Jewish children—and perhaps also non-Jews—might think of Hanukkah as “Jewish Christmas,” and that no one spoke about the development of Hanukkah practices in response to Christmas traditions. During my secular Jewish childhood, there was certainly more than a little anxiety about when to give gifts for Hanukkah, what to give, and whether the presents meant anything at all. Is this no longer a tension?
In my own mixed household, we’ve concocted a way of going about the season, at least aesthetically, that makes sense for us: No to tree, yes to candle lighting, but also yes to a few twinkling lights outside because we like lights. We have our own chanukiah-lighting song, and on Christmas we listen to John Prine’s “Jesus, The Missing Years.” Generally, we’ve been all over the map on gift-giving over the years, with a little attendant uncertainty and anxiety. I tend to stumble through the season attempting good will toward all and, embarrassingly, never getting the second candle-lighting blessing right. At some point between gift excesses with the in-laws (I button my lip and do my part), we all find time for a restorative walk on the beach and Chinese food. Come January, I breathe a sigh of relief.