M'Norah Mo' Problems

M'Norah Mo' Problems: Identity Crisis But Only Sort Of? I think.

I want you guys to know, I think Christmas is awesome. In fact, since I come from a family that bailed on most (ok all) of its Jewish tradition upholding, we celebrate Christmas. Not because of that business with the manger and the star and the mystery of whatever myrrh is. Mostly because I grew up in an Eastern European country, where four decades after the Holocaust, if you weren’t invested in your Jewish heritage, you were more than fine not advertising it. Mostly, though, I think my parents wanted to protect my brother and I from feeling uncomfortable and different in school, and liked the idea of seeing us get all excited over presents. And we did. We still do. It’s great.

However. I’ve also taken on a lot of Jewish traditions, because for some reason still unknown to me, I felt compelled to, and feel much more comfortable and content with my life when it involves Shabbat and general Jewtasticness. Hence, even though we have Christmas in my family, I still feel strongly Jewish and don’t really identify with Christmas. So when the fifth random stranger in a given day gives me a giant smile and wishes me a Merry Christmas, I really don’t know what to do. Sometimes I wish them a happy Channukah with an equally giant smile, and they look confused and awkward. Sometimes I just smile awkwardly and walk away.

The thing is, Christmas is more of a family holiday than a religious one, for a lot of people. At least the ones I’ve spoken to. I don’t have any official data on this. And Channukah is a pretty light holiday where Jewish ones are concerned. I feel uncomfortable when people think it’s our version of Christmas, partly because let’s be honest, we were kind of here first. There would be no Christianity without Judaism. So the idea that our holiday would be derivative of a Christian one makes me feel uncomfortable. I feel like that sounds mean, and I don’t mean it to be. All I’m saying is that we roll how we roll, not how others roll. And we don’t roll on Shabbos.

Let’s face it. All this really comes down to is two things: consumerism and family. And as much as I want to be snarky and tell people that I’m Jewish, and that wishing me a Merry Christmas is presumptuous and rude, I can’t. Because they mean well! I’m cynical and could give Daria a run for her money sometimes, but really, give me some latkes and a new pair of socks and I’m happy. Snarkiness would only accomplish bad PR for Hanukkah, and that doesn’t seem right.

So what do I do? Maybe I can start wishing everyone I see a Happy Hannukah. Or maybe, since this isn’t one of our major holidays, I can just start wishing random strangers a sweet new year each time Rosh Hashanah rolls around. Mostly, though, I think I’m going to spin a lot of dreidel, get wealthy on gelt, and just have an amazing week of Hannukahlicious festivities. It’s less than a week away! And at the risk of being braggy, it will still be going, even after Christmas is over.


Photo Source: My friend Leah posted it on my facebook and it was too awesome not to use.

  • http://www.facebook.com/liz.haebe Liz Haebe

    It is strange how most people just assume everyone celebrates Christmas! America is a melting pot and it should never be assumed that everyone is the same. We aren’t! Have a great Hannukah and eat some delicious latkes for me!

    • http://www.juliagazdag.com Julia Gazdag

      I agree! Like I said, I have nothing against Christmas, but if I point out that I find it presumptuous to wish me a merry one, people think I’m being a Scrooge!

  • http://www.facebook.com/lisrmiller Elisabeth Miller

    My mother is not Jewish (we were raised in a Reform synagogue but when I got to college, I was really drawn to the Conservative movement and had to get dunked in the mikvah), so we celebrated Christmas as a family holiday. I was never a confused kid – Christmas was caroling and Grandma coming over, but I was Jewish. I have found it harder, now that I’m older, to celebrate Christmas with my mother. It reminds her so much of her childhood, but as it’s not MY holiday, it’s a bit uncomfortable. This year, however, I’m embracing the warmth and generosity that I remember from being little as well as the music (Bing Crosby singing Christmas carols is pretty fantastic). I say “Happy Holidays” to people if I don’t know them. But it IS hard to avoid all the consumerism built up around Christmas.

    • http://www.juliagazdag.com Julia Gazdag

      Yeah, I think it gets harder when you grow up because there is so much emotional connection to holidays, but you’ve also accumulated knowledge of what cultural implications of each are and all that. In the end, the best thing to do is just enjoy it and the fact that everyone is nice to each other for a few weeks, but there’s still that nagging thought in the back of my head of “but why do you expect me to be just like you?”

  • http://www.facebook.com/BeckyPhelan Becky Phelan

    I am Christian and I have always celebrated Christmas (although my parents aren’t Christian so it was much more the family-and-consumerism thing growing up). But I have a Jewish ex-boyfriend, and I went to Brandeis University, so I also have a menorah and light it (when I’m actually home of an evening to do it). First of all, as you point out, there would be no Christianity without Judaism, and if they really wanted to be Christlike, all Christians would also celebrate Hannukah as well as Christmas. At least remember the whole miracle part even if you don’t do the gifting. Second of all, I fully believe that Christmas is allowed to mean different things to different people. It’s sort of like Thanksgiving, in a way. I mean, the idea of Thanksgiving is originally religiously based , because the Pilgrims were giving thanks to God for giving them America, life, food, etc. But now it is a strictly American holiday. Not a Christian one. And Christmas can be similar. Make it about peace on earth, good will toward all, joy, love, family, etc. Everyone can celebrate as they choose. Those that want it to be a religious holiday can go to church (like those of us who attend Thanksgiving services), but it doesn’t have to be about Jesus being anyone’s savior. Of course, all this consumerism bull should go away too. And I guess that’s not likely to happen any time soon, in spite of the recession. I will probably wish you a merry Christmas, but it’s because of the spirit embodied in the holiday, not because I want you to come to church with me or because I don’t celebrate Hannukah. Sorry for all the rambling, but I’ve been thinking about this stuff a lot lately actually (I have a really long commute…lots of thinking goes on).

    • http://www.juliagazdag.com Julia Gazdag

      I think that since Channukah is a rabbinic holiday and not in the Torah, when Christianity developed and wanted to separate itself from Judaism, it was probably natural to refrain from celebrating the holiday. Jesus and his followers were protesting the Jewish priesthood and the corruption they saw in it, so they would naturally reject a holiday that was instated by religious figures and not the Torah.
      I find Thanksgiving fascinating in that sense, by the way. It’s become a completely secular holiday, but it has more traditions that are set in stone than any religious on. No matter where you go, there is turkey, sweet potato pie, pumpkin pie, cranberry sauce, and everyone goes around expressing gratitude. It’s not written anywhere, it’s not religious, it just happens! Amazing.

  • http://www.facebook.com/bonnibrasco Bonni Thompson

    One thing that’s not really talked about outside the Pagan community is that Christmas wasn’t even originally Christian. Christians just kind of showed up amidst a crowd of merry pagan carolers welcoming the return of the sun on the solstice and were like, hey this is cool, let’s make it about Jesus! Modern day Christmas is undeniably more about family, and in the western world, consumerism, than it is about Christ, but I think it’s also about the turning of the season; the cozy wintery feel and activities we do (or in LA, the activities we pretend we can do); it’s about tradition and lighting a fire and singing songs and kissing under the mistletoe. None of those things are inherently Christian but are remnants of pagan ritual. It makes all the sense in the world that a Jew, and that myself as a Buddhist, would happily celebrate the holiday; who doesn’t love egg nog? It might be more appropriate to say Happy Yuletide, or Happy Solstice, and then separately observe Hanukkah. I just wish it wasn’t forced upon y’all.

    • http://www.juliagazdag.com Julia Gazdag

      Haha, I feel like that ALWAYS comes up, but I went to emo-anarchist-hipster college, so most of my friends over-intellectualize and dissect everything anyway. I mean, historically, Jewish holidays generally fall into the calendar with ancient seasonal holidays as well. Pesach is at the first harvest, Sukkot and all the fall holidays are at the last. These holidays are what we make of them, really, and there’s something to be said about both the friendliness and connectivity that comes from everyone wishing each other a happy holiday, and the assumption that the person they’re saying it to observes the same rituals as the person saying it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=532035427 Carly Babione

    I’m so glad you wrote about this. I grew up in a Christian family, but then my parents divorced and my dad married a woman who was Jewish. I’ve been celebrating both Christmas and Hanukkah for the past 12 years so It just feels normal to me now. I consider myself Jewish, but it’s hard to deny the magic that surrounds Christmas with family, friends, music, and cookies. When I have a family of my own I know I can’t give up this idea of Christmas, but Hanukkah’s important too. I don’t see why one has to choose. As for the whole Merry Christmas thing, I understand since I celebrate Christmas, but I usually respond with a Happy Holidays so I can get New Years in there too. I think It’s important to just be comfortable and have people deal with their own life.

    • http://www.juliagazdag.com Julia Gazdag

      I like this. I just didn’t want to click the little heart anonymously. That was me.

  • http://www.facebook.com/aparna.nigam Aparna Roli Nigam

    I love the Star Wars picture…and the article :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/GirlSailor Chelsea Steiner

    Up until this year, even though both my parents are Jewish, we primarily celebrated Christmas. We would celebrate Hanukkah, too, but it always seemed like an afterthought. In September, we lost my dad unexpectedly, so by December no-one was feeling particularly festive. But then we found his family’s menorah. We didn’t bother to put up a tree or hang stockings above the fireplace, but every night at sundown, we’d stand together as a family, light the candles, and say the prayer. And for a moment, it felt like he was still with us.

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