A JEW LOOKS AT CHRISTMAS
by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- First, I have to say that Christians didn't come highly recommended when I was growing up in a Jewish enclave of Brooklyn, N.Y. The whole "Jews bake the blood of children into the matzos" thing. The Spanish Inquisition. Burning people at the stake. Forced conversions. The Catholic Church's centuries-old and, might I add, very successful "Jews killed Jesus" campaign. The Cossacks. The Nazis. No, in my very Jewish community, if it came down to lions versus Christians, I can't say the milk of human kindness would have squirted anywhere near the Christians.
As an adult, though, I came to love the man Jesus Christ, especially His Sermon on the Mount - one of the truest and loveliest summaries of everything I believe in as a Jew. Jesus was a Jew, too, remember, and in that speech He got it right.
What I have come to love most about Jesus is the celebration of His birthday, Christmas. I love the bright lights, the happy houses all tarted up with giant waving snowmen and glowing icicles, gifting presents, receiving presents, regifting presents, writing checks to the causes I cherish (OK, I like the tax benefits, too), the occasional Christmas bonus, being happy, being around people who are happy, loving my fellow man and woman, the food, the drink, the parties. I get into it. Joy to the world - what a wonderful concept.
One of my happiest memories is of Christmas Eve 16 years ago, when Randy took me home to meet his family. I was so nervous that my first words to my future mother-in-law were, "I need a drink." She obliged with understanding and an ancient bottle of rye whiskey that she pulled from a cabinet. Later that night, when the golden-haired granddaughters were handing out abundant presents from under the tree, one of them had my name on it. I have adored her ever since.
Of course, as a Jew, I still have many moments of doubt, moments when I realize that even though I've joined the celebration, I'm not included in this particular holiday. Every year, for example, my town decorates a fir in the commons, and when I drive by, I have a momentary pang of, "Hey, does this mean only Christians are welcome here? What about me?" And as much as I love the music - I may be the only person in America who still perks up when they play "The Little Drummer Boy" - I quickly reach a limit for how many times I can "Come and adore Him." I can't worship Him. It's not my religion.
This year, to deepen my conundrum, something new has been added to the mix. It's the right-wing idea that there's a "war against Christmas." It says that instead of a Christianity of warmth and welcoming -joy to the whole world, remember? - Christmas must be a time of exclusion and contempt for outsiders. It says that I may love Christmas, but Christmas doesn't love me.
Like all radical right-wing "wars," no matter what the ostensible theme might be, the reality is domination. Turn feminists into "feminazis" and belittle women's great achievements in the world. Then call abortion "murder" and try to wedge women back into the kitchen, barefoot, pregnant and subservient to men. Label hard-working honest journalists as "the left-wing liberal media" and hamstring their attempts to tell the world how corrupt the Bush administration really is.
Now it's a make-believe "war against Christmas," where if we say - shock! horror! - "Happy Holidays" or "Season's Greetings," we are somehow denying Christians their religion instead of recognizing it, as well as the many other celebrations that fall around this time of year. They are saying, as James Carroll chided them in The Boston Globe, how dare we "forbid the dominant Christian culture from celebrating its dominance."
As a Jew, traditionally the first to be persecuted and killed at the slightest pretext, I have a low tolerance for religious triumphalism. The "My God's better than your God" argument is what led to the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Holocaust and all the rest of it. Contempt for other religions and cultures is a pretty big part of what's gotten us into the quagmire in Iraq, too.
There are a plethora of holidays to celebrate at the end of the year. Christmas is the biggest one. There's also Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and Solstice itself. In so many cultures and traditions, this is a time when people are tired of the frightening dark, a time when they need a bit of light and hope, a time when they need to celebrate the fact that the days are slowly lengthening. They need to celebrate - in the depth of the dark - a minuscule amount of light. How's that for the power of the human spirit?
Bah, Bill O'Reilly, Humbug, Rush Limbaugh. Grinches, all of you. You don't scare me. This is a time to celebrate. Happy Holidays, Season's Greetings and Merry Christmas to all, from a Jew.
Joyce Marcel is a free-lance journalist who writes about culture, politics, economics and travel. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.