Please stop calling Hanukkah the “Jewish Christmas”
December is my least favorite month. The weather drops below 90 degrees, which is treacherous for a gal from the San Fernando Valley, my electricity bill goes up because I sleep spooning my space heater, and Christmas takes over every area of public life. This year, on the first day of December, a group of my coworkers were discussing their Christmas plans. “Hey Rosie,” one of them said, “What are you doing for the holidays?” I laughed, and said I planned to shower more than once and finally locate the source of that smell in my car. “No but like, I mean for Hanukkah. What are your plans for Hanukkah?”
At that moment, I felt a familiar sense of a difficult-to-describe frustration that I experience every December. With my limited sphere of influence and net neutrality still in place, I decided to post this Facebook status:
It was long-winded and Jew-approved. I got a cool 136 likes for it (but who’s counting), and it was nice to expel my feelings and see that other Jewish and non-Christian people felt the same way. However, one comment left by a friend of mine helped me get to the heart of my frustration. He wrote: “Christmas is such a wonderful holiday and I don’t like the idea of people being excluded from it.”
And this, I think, gets to the crux of the issue for me. Because here’s the thing about Christmas: I don’t want to be included in it.
Don’t get me wrong, inclusion is important. It’s important to make sure the leadership of your organization is racially diverse. It’s important to pronounce the “T” in LGBTQIA. It’s important to validate the customs and traditions of the people around you who are not the same as you. But if being inclusive is your goal, you need to listen and take your cues from those marginalized groups.
And for me, being told that I can “bring my menorah, too” doesn’t feel like inclusion—it feels like the dominant culture using a Jewish holiday that coincidentally falls close to their holiday to justify bending the rules that separate church and state.
It’s okay if we light a Christmas tree in city hall—we can decorate it with dreidel ornaments! No worries if the public library is decked out with tinsel and lights—we also wrote “Shalom” on the wall! It’s uncomfortable and invasive. Why is it considered acceptable to ask a young Muslim child to sing a Christmas carol during a school concert, as long as it is dispersed among Anglo-written “Hanukkah songs” that desperately attempt to rhyme “dreidel” and “cradle”? My culture is not there for you to commodify and use as a tool in the oppression of others.
And here’s the other thing about my friend’s comment, well-meaning as it was: We also have “wonderful holidays.”
I don’t feel sad that my friend doesn’t get included in Tu B’shvat, the Jewish birthday for the trees. Or Purim, when we get to wear costumes and go to a carnival. I lose no sleep over the fact that my non-Jewish friends don’t have fond memories of dancing around their temple’s social hall with stuffed Torahs on Simchat Torah. It’s not exclusionary that I don’t get to partake in Christmas. You don’t get to participate in Lag B’Omer.
And to my eggnog-drinking, cozy-sock wearing, cookie-decorating friends out there: I’m definitely not asking you to stop loving Christmas. I do believe it is a lovely, beautiful holiday, and it makes me happy to see you spending time with your family and enjoying your traditions. And if we’re close and you are having a Christmas party, or baking cookies, or decorating your tree, you can certainly invite me to participate in those traditions. But try to understand that I’m a guest, not a participant, in the “Holiday Season.” And please recognize that there is a difference between inviting me to your private celebration and trying to compartmentalize my holiday to fit into your own.
This essay was originally published on December 18th, 2017.