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What I witnessed, ladies and gentleman, was a holiday. Nothing more, nothing less.
The magic of Christmas, I discovered, was the same as the magic of any other holiday; its mystical powers limited to whatever good food, togetherness and brief suspension of logic and ordinariness the day can produce.
The celebration of Christmas, mostly of its material accoutrements rather than its spiritual practices (few Jewish or Jew-ish people are in it for baby Jesus), has long been a symbolic battlefield for Jews. A house with a mezuzah and a string of lights around the widows is a communal failure, another family lost to that mighty tide of assimilation.
Having been to the other side and back, I am here to say that I don’t think we should be this afraid. Christmas will not be our downfall. Centuries of our rich intellectual and ethical tradition will not be undone by catchy tunes and flickering pine-trees. Christmas is just not that good.
According to the recent Pew study, 32% of American Jews have a Christmas tree. Considering that the study also told us that less than one-fifth of Jews think that observing Jewish law is an essential part of being Jewish, the fact that this many Jews have a tree can only be connected to the larger existential crisis we are going through these days.
As I see it, we have two choices: we can continue to fight against Christmas, or we can work on making our holidays more exciting and more fulfilling for our families and friends. I suggest the latter.
This doesn’t mean more presents and peppier music. Instead, I am talking about committing ourselves more deeply to holidays like Rosh Hashanah, Passover, Purim and Sukkot. All of these days offer us rich opportunities for togetherness and joy, and also a form of renewal that Christmas, for those who don’t observe it religiously at least, lack.
A lot of the blame about the decline of observant Jews as reported by the PEW study was placed on our institutions – the synagogues, foundations, community centers and schools that are supposed to protect and nourish us as a community. But this whole battle Christmas not by fretting about trees but rather by making our holidays more impactful thing that I am suggesting? Well, that one is one us.