Tuesday, December 25, 2007

What do Jews do on Christmas?

What do Jews do on Christmas? Well
in the United States,
at least,
we take walks,
move,
find a park
We go out to the few open businesses,
movies theater, Chinese food,
and know that most everyone we see will be Jewish,
or Atheist (though they may still follow comfortable family tradition)
or what have you, but not Christian.

Here, the temperature is in the 70’s
and we had a beautiful solstice under the stars
(we could see though the city-glow)
in our shirtsleeves
and on the 25th
we are at my sister-in-law’s
(Mother-in law, father-in-law, wife, daughter and son)
because she doesn’t want to be the only Jew at her home
as she gathers her husband’s family-
Southern Baptists all
and very concerned for the souls of the children.

We are there with my mother-in law
who was born Jewish
but who is sure America has made Christmas
a national holiday
we have to celebrate
or incur a terrible social wrath.
She wants to know if we are going to heaven.
(How the hell should I know?)
(Is it full of people just like this?)
Then the party is over,
everyone wishes each other Merry Christmas
over piles of presents given each other
in honour of the Christ child
and we gave one or two but look at all that stuff! And say goodbye.

13 comments:

Sewa Yoleme said...

Christmas has not, for many years, meant anything particularly Christian, outside of the name of the holiday. All the symbols that everyone so cherishes — the decorated tree brought indoors, the lights, the evergreens, the holly, the red bows, the giving of gifts, the lighting of candles — are all so thoroughly Pagan, so thoroughly what western Europeans did to celebrate the winter solstice, that I have no trouble celebrating with a full heart. And the season has become so secularized that, much to the chagrin of the Fundamentalists, there is very little Christ left in Christmas.

Granted, this is coming from a post-Christian perspective. I was an insider now gracefully devolving into an outsider, and have no serious baggage or resentment to overcome. I can't feel what it's like to be the outsider (in this, at least; in other respects I'm the ultimate black sheep). But does thinking of this is one big Solstice celebration help a Jew on Christmas?

Adam Byrn "Adamus" Tritt said...

No, really, it does not help. As someone coming from the outside, I recognize the symbolism as being Pagan and as having been thoroughly co-opted, but it really does not help.

Like a certain symbol co-opted by a certain German regime, I recognize what it was but the sullying is so complete few can use it and have the original meaning understood.

I like solar crosses, for instance, but I could not use it without most people thinking, knowing in their hearts, I must be a good Christian.

Oppression makes the celebrating of the season, regardless of what I know, intellectually, difficult. Since most people were not sat under a desk for not accepting a New Testament Bible ON school grounds, since most people have not been failed for not singing silent night, since most people have not had people tell them “Then we’ll beat the love of Jesus into you” I would not expect most people to understand how I would feel.

Since most people did not grow up being called Christ killer, I do not expect most people to have an understanding.

Still, I can let go of much of it and enjoy the season with friends, but I have trouble with the generic celebration and the assumptions that go with it: that we all celebrate it, that we all appreciate it, we all like it and we all just, so much, enjoy Christmas.

Sewa Yoleme said...

Goodness. Where in the world did you go to school?

In suburban Maryland, there were fights in elementary school over whether the phrase "under God" should be taken out of the Pledge of Allegiance; there was no argument *for* school prayer, though we were allowed a moment of silence if we wanted, and only a Hindu girl took advantage of it.

By junior high, there was no trace of religious sentiment of any sort. This was, of course, before the rise of the religious right, but you're not that much younger than I am. I'm surprised you were caught up in that nastiness. I'm truly sorry.

Adam Byrn "Adamus" Tritt said...

New Jersey, Charleston, SC and North Miami. Same thing in each place.

The only difference was, in school in Charleston, the students kept feeling my head for horns.

Fun.

Sewa Yoleme said...

Horns.

The mind boggles.

Adam Byrn "Adamus" Tritt said...

A quote from another: Do Jews have devil horns?: Born and raised in Boston, Mass., in a privileged Jewish family, one of her first startling childhood memories was another gentile child's question: "can I see your horns?" "What horns? I don't have horns!' "My daddy says that Jews are devils and devils have horns!" [a sad corruption of John 8:44]

If you look at Michaelangelo's Moses, the beams of light shining upon his head may look like horns. Many Christians take that to mean we do, indeed, have horns.

Just google Jews have horns and see what you get.

Can you see why we actually thought seriously about movin to Israel, regardless of the difficulties it would entail? It might be hard, and we might have to deal with bombs, but, in some says, those are easier to deal with. In some ways, straight hate is easier to deal with than the continuous stream of people labouring under misunderstanding, misapprehension and good intentions, looking to always save us.

Sewa Yoleme said...

I wonder if being Jewish in a gentile (read: "Christian") society is in any way analogous to being gay in a straight society. There are the absurd and hurtful misconceptions, the well-meaning desire to save us, the hate crimes.

No horns, but then again, you don't have to put up with jokes about dropping the soap in the showers, or barstools turned upside down.

Adam Byrn "Adamus" Tritt said...

That is very much how I have seen it. We get everything from villification and blame for the woes of the world and the wrath of God rained down upon the Earth to gentle reproach and helpful offer of "If you only KNEW the love of God, as I do, you'd be cured and would accpet Jesus as your savior. You DO want to be saved, don't you? May I be the one to save you?"

As if we just tried being Christian, just once, we'd be cured.

Sewa Yoleme said...

"You just haven't met the right girl / savior!"

tapwitch said...

All I can say is I'm honored you accept an Underdog shirt from me for the dreaded Yule/Christmas!!!

And...for myself, I find that open acceptance works better than a rigid maintaining of walls against the crappy stuff. History is full of crappy stuff. Hell, I'm Italian and German. The Italians were major players in the kidnap and enslavement of Africans. The Mafia ain't nice people. And the Germans, well, we know all about them. My ancestors did shitty things. Does this mean I have to disavow everything to do with this heritage of mine? No. I bring a pine tree into my house, eat anchovies and scungilli (Mediterranean conch) on the eve of the solstice as the Catholics do on Christmas Eve, put out cookies for both Santa and Befana and wish people Buon Natale. It doesn't have to mean the birth of the Christian god. Let it be the birth of whatever feels right--the sun, the new year, the first day of the rest of your life.

That said, there are the assumptions. Our culture is full of them; it can be really annoying, but doesn't it just seem like a frailly human need to see everybody as alike, to feel part of a tribe? Yes, there's the assumption we all observe Christmas, and that we're all heterosexual, and are all paired up (my rant will come on Valentine's Day), but it even extends to things like television-- how often does someone say to me, "You know that commercial where the guy..." and I so enjoy the look of shock when I interrupt to say I don't have TV in my house. Sometimes they press on because it's not in their mindset that someone never watches TV. I've been asked, "What DO you watch?" as if staring at a screen is a given of human life. Once in a while I even get hostility, accusations that I'm uninformed and I'm isolating my child from the world. From the Fast Food Nation? Indeed I am.

Don't assume I eat at McDonald's.

Long-winded point being: our society is filled with assumptions, and while some folks are hostile--everyone you experienced in various schools, apparently-- most are just plain ignorant and could benefit from a well-placed application of the Clue Bat. Just try not to take ignorance personally! Putting colored lights on our houses does not necessarily mean we're Nazis!

May you find some peace in this season, dear friend!

Adam Byrn "Adamus" Tritt said...

I can see your point but. I agree with much of what you say. But, to carry that into something analogous to my own life, I would have to say I don’t disavow the Jewish custom of _____ even though some Jews _____. In other words, you are not disavowing the symbols and customs of your own heritage even though there is much in them that you could, if you wished, point to as negative.

That refers to your OWN heritage. That is very different than identifying with the aggressor. Accepting the symbols and practices of an oppressor group, taking to my heart the practices of the aggressor is something I can’t do.

Just like it makes no sense to me the Native Americans turn to Christianity. Like it makes no sense women repeatedly elect more men to office than women.

I can certainly accept their symbols and practices as right for them, as part of a valuable and worthwhile heritage with meaning and import. But I will not give myself to the aggressor culture just because it makes my life easy.

Not only is it not right, it is not the compassionate thing to do. It is not in the best interest of those with power to have free exercise of that power. Nor is it a kindness to those who are different to allow their numbers to dwindle while they fight to hold identity.

And so my heart tells me to be a wall against that power, to say “Here, now, that will not work. Here, now, I will remind you there are others. Other ways and other ideas. Here, now, I maintain my identity and stand for those others who do the same and we will not disappear because it is easy. We will not absorb because it smoothes the landscape of your mind. And, I, for one, will not fade.

I too, wish to find peace. But, like every other person in this world, if I can be at peace, if I can realize peace, the peace will come from within and it will exist independant of the season, the ebb and flow of life and machinations of people for good or ill. It is a verb, a state of being and someday, I hope to be a creature of peace who can stand against anything, as I do now, but do so at peace.

Sewa Yoleme said...

I honestly think people who are "different" need to periodically shock the assumptions of the insensitive. I take some joy in telling people I'm gay when they've assumed otherwise, even though there's no good reason for bringing up the issue. I think atheists need to challenge schools who assume everyone shares the same belief system. I think Jews need to have a clear response to clueless Christians. So do Pagans.

At the same time, I remember participating in a big discussion over the proper response to a clerk who said "God bless you." I ended up thinking that theological discussions are probably not appropriate for the checkout line, and sometimes it's best to simply accept their blessing as an expression of good wishes and hope for health and happiness, and let it go without incident.

So of course I've just contradicted myself. Which I probably do quite regularly....

Adam Byrn "Adamus" Tritt said...

Now, if someone says to me, “God bless you," then I know that is a wish. It is a blessing given by them. It is done in their language, a desire that their god bless me. Hardly can I look askance at such a wish.

But it is much different that saying “God loves you” or “Jesus loves you,” a desire that I be saved or join them in their belief, which always receives an answer very much like “Good to know” or “tell him I think he’s a hell of a guy too.”

If I meditate on someone, journey for them, ask the spirits for their benefit, perform tonglen for them, then I am desiring their benefit, that they not suffer or realize the root of their suffering. I am not requiring or even desiring they believe as I do. I have no need for that and I’d not ask it.

The largest church in our area will help no one who is not a member. With 10, 000 members, a coffeehouse, wi-fi, tv and radio station, auditorium and parking lot larger than the county fair grounds, they send people in need who are not members to the to the 43 member Unitarian Universalist Church, full of Buddhists, Pagans and Atheists. There, they are always helped and nothing is asked in return. Not even a shared belief.

When the minister at the UU called and spoke to the pastor there, she was told "our mission is to being people to Christ. Their bodoes are their own problem. We bring amore people to Christ with our radio station than we do with food and shelter.

Ann thanked them for allowing the UU to do God's work and hung up.

That's a blessing, not an extortion.