This post is inspired by this post at Racialicious. The comment I posted there appears at the bottom of this page.
I don’t know about you, but I had the best Christmas this year.
I grew up vaguely celebrating the holiday, since my father is Catholic but he and my mother raised me and my sister Jewish. Like, we didn’t really give gifts to each other on Hanukkah but rather waited until the 25th (we did that up until this year, actually, when my parents were out of town and my sister was with her husband’s family), we would sometimes remember to buy a tree (and they smell amazing, so I’m always down for a Christmas tree), and I’ve been to Mass a handful of times in my life. But this December 25th was particularly awesome because I was alone in my house, I slept late, I took a bubble bath, I watched a movie, I did a puzzle, I read a book, and in general I did all the lovely, lazy things I always want to do when I have the day off from work, but this time I didn’t really have any chores to do or errands to run, so I got to do them all, instead of just some.
I don’t really understand Christmas anyway. I know it’s the reappropriation of Jesus’ birthday to a more convenient time coinciding with the winter solstice, but I don’t really understand how a jolly old man who fits into chimneys got added into the mix. And of all the people I know who celebrate Christmas, both the religious ones and the non-religious ones, the holiday is mostly about tone-deaf people singing aesthetically unpleasing music, cookies, and presents. That’s all fine, because that’s just how it goes in America, and other holidays have gone that way, too. And in a way, I think the fact that Christmas is forced on everyone makes it even less religious and more just a national pastime, like watching the Superbowl or giving each other Valentines. But if you happen to actively practice a religion that doesn’t care so much about Jesus, people stop seeing Christmas as that American consumerist holiday and try to tell you how religiously significant it still is, and how you must have your own Christmas, like Hanukkah! Because they come at the same time of year, so Hanukkah is totally the Jewish Christmas, right?
Except it’s not, because Hanukkah isn’t even canon; it’s just extra. And fun as it is to have a holiday that basically requires you to eat fried food, it’s not all that important aside from that. If you want to say that Christmas has a huge religious significance, the “equivalent” has to be Passover for the Jews. I hate it when people think that everyone has to have a Christmas, first because it makes Christmas the norm and other holidays the other, and because it mistakenly assumes that Christmas has a religious significance that for most people it has lost, and because it assumes that all religions are the same. And in a way they are, but I think they’re the same in that their mythologies all have some essential truths or storylines that are similar, not because they all celebrate a virgin birth by going to the mall every day in December.
This is all a diatribe of how little I care for or about Christmas, because I don’t feel like it’s a holiday that has any tie to my personality, my religion, or my budget. I’m also realizing that I just don’t care about most holidays, period. I abhor finding something to do on New Year’s Eve, because personally, I find it rather stupid. At midnight the calendar is going to change. Well, newsflash, but that happens every midnight. Yesterday was a different day, too. Also I hate any holiday that purports to be about inherent, incumbent personal change or that requires you to have a boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife/whatever or that has all these social rules tied to it about what you can wear and how much you have to drink, etc. Usually I watch movies on New Year’s Eve and fall asleep before midnight. But I feel obligated to do something because we’re all socialized that it is the correct thing to do. And that is, I think, the problem with Christmas as well. I mean, I participate in Secret Santas and all, too, because it’s easier to do so than to explain why I’m not going to, and because it’s always nice to get a present. And if you really feel as if Christmas is personally significant, whether it’s because of religion, the fun family dinner, getting presents, or because you somehow enjoy how crowded the mall is after Thanksgiving, then you should celebrate it. But I think Christmas and other holidays, at least in the United States, are more about socialization than anything else. We are obligated to participate, whether or not it goes with our religious, personal, financial, or social identities, because that’s the way society is set up. Our lives revolve around moving from one holiday to another. It would just be nice if we tried a little harder to see that not all holidays are created equal, and not all people care about all holidays equally.
And here is the comment I left at Racialicious:
I work at a children’s museum, and from November to February, we have various “festivals of friendship,” where we center an afternoon around a holiday or cultural celebration and have various folk art crafts, musical/dance performances, story readings, etc. We started with a luau, then we had Hanukkah, then Christmas, and next on the list are MLK Day, Chinese New Year, and Carnaval. I think it’s a nice start, even if it is missing things like Diwali and Eid, and even if Hanukkah is a fairly unimportant holiday religiously (Passover is far more important, I would say, and even in terms of kids’ celebrations, Purim would be far more entertaining). But I do have people wondering if, because I’m black, I’m going to be celebrating Kwanzaa (our daily craft on Sunday was an mkeka mat), which confuses them, because I’m also Jewish and “celebrate” Hanukkah, and I’ve never met a single person who celebrates Kwanzaa. Not to mention, things like decorating in “Christmas colors” and “Hanukkah colors” (I don’t consider Hanukkah to really have colors, since the ones we use just seem to be based on the fact that those are the colors of the Israeli flag) or baking Kwanzaa cakes are all ways of making other holidays seem like Christmas. It’s especially funny given that most people, when only talking about Christmas, bemoan its lack of religious basis nowadays, since it’s mostly about consumerism, and it’s not as if Jesus brings you presents to celebrate your birthday, so it’s already become muddled with other mythologies and traditions and holidays.
My favorite thing about the holidays, which was also my least favorite thing, was the other day at work when we made candy cane reindeer, and four Orthodox Jewish boys wanted to participate. For one positive thing, theirs were the most creative and interesting reindeer, probably because for them, it was just a craft, not something that had to end up resembling Rudolph to be correctly made, and for the negative thing, they weren’t sure if they could eat the candycanes, because the box didn’t say anything about whether it was kosher. I had to go and google the box and call Target, and ended up getting no information and assuming they were not kosher, because they were cheap, and cheap candy companies can’t usually afford to be kosher. I would say those boys are an example of what inclusiveness should be about–participating in a “seasonal,” holiday-specific activity just to have fun and learn a little, but also an example of how inclusiveness fails when the dominant culture won’t make concessions. I wish someone would be as willing to dress up for Purim or celebrate Diwali as these boys were to make Rudolphs that they couldn’t even eat.