I am in Israel during Christmas.
(Is it really “during Christmas” if I don’t celebrate Christmas, and the majority of the country doesn’t celebrate Christmas, and I honestly spent a good portion of my childhood not even knowing when Christmas was because I thought it was 12 days long and changed dates every year like Channukah does?)
Being in Israel at this time is not exactly what I’d hoped for, which was to at last be free of the capitalist curse of Hallmark holidays merged with astounding levels of ignorance surrounding Chanukkah. It’s possible to live in a bubble wherever you are, and unfortunately my bubble has few actual Israelis in it, which means I get to field commentary such as:
“You’re so lucky you get 8 days of Christmas gifts!”
[A/N: Channukah isn’t Christmas but Jewish. If we get gifts- especially big ones- it’s because of social pressure from Christians to do so. My biggest gift ever was the free printer that came with my mom’s computer. Usually it’s gelt and buttons.]
“Don’t we get a ‘Hannukah Week’ off of school?”
[A/N: If someone hadn’t asked this in class would half the students have genuinely missed school next week? Don’t they check the syllabus???]
“I feel so special being a minority here as a Christian! It’s so fun! And this is how you feel all the time, I’m so jealous!”
[A/N: Being an oppressed minority is 1 million times different from being a privileged minority. Yikes x10.]
That said, it’s still significantly better than how I spent Christmas in London last year, which featured the following gems:
a) I said “bless you” to someone when they sneezed and they yelled at me about my Jewish privilege, how they didn’t want to be blessed by me, and how as a Christian they would never be allowed to speak in such a way to a Jew and that Jews are over-sensitive to “supposed anti-semitism” and have unfair double-standards.
b) Two separate men at separate times grabbed the Jewish star around my neck and demanded an explanation (the explanation is that I’m Jewish) (you can bet that went over well)
c) Three of my classmates came together in a beautiful display of teamwork to “explain” to me all the ways in which Jews oppress Christians, especially my classmates specifically, and also how dare I bring up Jews during this sacred holiday, and also fuck the tiny menorah beneath the lobby Christmas tree, it is clearly stealing all the attention!!!!
So. In terms of experiences like that Israel is 0/3 which is depressingly good in my book. But it’s definitely not what I’d been expecting or anywhere near my ideal December. It’s easy for the world to feel terribly small when you have the same experiences halfway around it.
Back home in New York City, the crown jewel of the Jewish diaspora, Christmas is equally unavoidable. The classic carol music starts playing the second the sun sets on Thanksgiving. Sales roll in not long after, featuring faerie lights and stocking stuffers and tacky reindeer tchotchkes*. Santa’s appear on street corners with bells and buckets and New Yorkers get a rare, morbid taste of nature as stacks of dying pine trees line (and block) the sidewalks. For every Happy Holiday you’ll hear ten Merry Christmases and 1-to-5, “What do you mean you don’t celebrate Christmas, can’t you just pretend and accept my well-wishes gracefully?”
I don’t mean to sound like the Christmas Grinch (which reminds me- don’t even get me started on TV specials in December). I don’t hate Christmas. I simply don’t care**. It’s not my holiday! As a Jew I am no more invested in Christmas than I expect Christians to be invested in Yom Kippur, or Sukkot, or Pesach- holidays with levels of religious significance that align more with Christmas than Chanukkah does.
I am so tired of measuring time by someone else’s watch. And yet without pine-scented, peppermint-spiced, Santa-approved, Mariah Carey-filled days, it barely feels like December at all; my internal clock will keep stubbornly insisting it’s Autumn and no, I don’t need that winter coat, who cares if you’ve frozen on the way to class every day this week?
It’s a little bit Damned if you do, Damned if you don’t. When Christmas is present, I want it to be less so. When it’s not, I can’t stop thinking of it anyhow. Part of that’s just a Me problem and part of it is thanks to good ol’ American indoctrination. Which is why if one more person compares Israel to America by saying one is religious and the other is not I am definitely going to scream.
And if another American Christian abroad tells me how oppressed they are by religion, here, for the first time in their lives, how much better and more advanced and smarter and secular and welcoming America is, I am going to… well, respectfully disagree, and then write a frustrated blog post about it.
Because it’s not any individual I’m mad at, really. It’s 1,000 years of macroaggressions towards my people as a whole and 23 years of microaggressions towards me personally and I actually love being invited to partake in someone else’s culture and lifestyle, I just don’t like being shunted in without being asked in the first place. And I definitely don’t like being shunted in to the point where it actually interferes with the demands of my own culture and lifestyle. I am so sick of vague anti-semitism masquerading as enthusiasm for anything explicitly non-Jewish, especially if Jewish things are going on at the same time and can be pointedly ignored.
So. I am in Israel during December. And unfortunately, unexpectedly, that does mean that I am in Israel during Christmas, too.
❃ ❃ ❃ ❃ ❃ ❃ ❃ ❃ ❃ ❃ ❃ ❃ ❃
*Ornaments. I meant ornaments. Decorations? I’m too Jewish for this.
**Full disclosure: okay, I do sort of hate it. But only in that “this has been shoved down my throat so much that though I initially enjoyed it, that time has passed and if it is used as an excuse to override and oppress my own culture again I will definitely implode” kind of way.
One slightly related thing to consider:
It is acceptable, and reasonable, and even expected for secular Christians to take time off to celebrate their holidays. And yet a hungry, dehydrated, exhausted Jew asking for a day off during Yom Kippur is over the top. A secular Jew would never ask for time off for a holiday they don’t even believe in. Not because it’s bad to but because they can’t. “Separation of Church and State”???? Not so much.