I remember secretly praying, when I was a lad of ten years, for Santa Claus to mistake our home for a Christian household and slide down our chimney with presents. It was a serious and plaintive devotion; my good Catholic neighbors were going to have the reindeer adventure and the morning dash of gifts; why not me? I felt left out.
December 25 is a day that we simply live through.
Over the subsequent decades, Hanukkah’s new acquisitiveness has been tethered into the overall December mercantile rush. It’s now less of a question of who is a Christian and who is not; it’s more a matter of who has money and who does not. The spiritualty of both holidays, related only by a calendared quirk, has converted the season into the vanquishing of valuables over values.
And yet: we Jews are at the party as proxies and not as participants. We joke about trekking out to the nearby Chinese restaurant (and we really do eat there, as an almost supplicatory ritual); our families gather together and mingle because, well, it is a federal holiday and there is not much else to do. A notable percentage of us actually have a Christmas dinner and share presents and empty out stockings—further adding to the ambiguity and conflicted feelings of privation and competition and some resentment that marks a national holiday that is not inclusively sectarian.
The reality is that for Jewish people, most of who were animated at the theologically neutral Thanksgiving and now eagerly await the hedonistic liberation of New Year’s Day, December 25 is a day that we simply live through. Even the most pluralistic among us feel that twinge of alienation, that discomfiture of being intrusive, almost voyeuristic within our own community—a sense of, no matter how hard we try to participate or acquiesce, we are still, for those twenty-four hours, somehow manifestations of “the other.”
By January, however, we will be very much like all of our good friends who never tried, deliberately, to exclude us from their beacon festival. We will all be the same again, mulling over our credit card statements, offering New Year’s resolutions that quickly fade into platitudes, and beginning the painful organization of our federal and state income tax returns. 12/25 will morph into 1040 and we will all realize that the tinsel was expensive, perfunctory, and that most of us will have forgotten about Santa coming down our chimneys. We’ll all be hearkening to Uncle Sam knocking at our doors.
Perhaps this is all one reason somebody once said, “To be a Jew is the same as anyone else, only more so.”
Ben Kamin’s books about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement can be acquired via the above web site or directly on Amazon.com.