Shunning Christmas Is Bad Choice for Jews in Heartland

No Harm In Joining in Spirit Where Yule Is King

thinkstock

By Max Edwards

Published December 25, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Sarah Seltzer takes aim at Jews who choose to embrace a number of “Christian” traditions. Her guidance is simple: “No trees, no wreaths, no carols, no cookies — unless, of course, they’re fortune cookies.”

As a firmly rooted Jew, I took offence to Seltzer’s, and I worry about what they imply. It seems that for Seltzer, there are only two routes Jews tend to take with regard to Christmas: We either embrace the “cultural and religious hegemony” not our own, or we excuse ourselves and enter a 24-hour, anti-Christmas hibernation.

These are, however, far from the only two ways Jews can and should engage with Christmas.

I have spent every Christmas season of my life in my hometown of Rochester, Minn. In Rochester, Christmas-related happenings start ramping up just after Thanksgiving. The downtown is beautifully decorated with lights and wreaths, Christmas music takes over the airways, and sales start popping up all around town.

Christmas might well symbolize a “cultural and religious hegemony,” though I’m not sold on the “extreme cultural exclusion” that supposedly goes along with it. In a town like Rochester of 100,000 people with no more than 500 Jews, it’s impossible not to engage with Christmas. When people wish me a Merry Christmas, I wish them one back; I don’t launch into a tirade narrating the cultural oppression I feel when someone assumes that I celebrate a birth on December 25.

The fact is, I think Christmas lights are pretty. I gobble down the holiday cookies that my mother’s coworkers give to my family. I know all the words to ‘Jingle Bells,’ and make no qualms about it.

Are we to assume that those non-Jews living in Israel should avoid sufganiot at all costs over Hanukkah?

I don’t celebrate Christmas, at all. But should I really be taking my time during the holiday season to seclude myself rather than open myself to what my peers experience? Seltzer argues that Christmas, at least in America, creates a boundary between “us” and “them.” But I ask: why try to widen it?

Perhaps we can take time this year to learn more about our Christian neighbors. Asking simple questions like, “What makes this holiday special for you?” or “What do you do in church?” are good places to start. I know if someone asked me about Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur, I know I’d have much to say.

Not wishing to define ourselves by those around us is noble. But when we all go eat Chinese food and take in a film on the 25th of December, are we indeed sticking it to Jesus? Or are we defining our own traditions through him?

Max Edwards is studying for a Masters of Theological Studies with a focus in Jewish Studies at Harvard Divinity School.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Sigal Samuel's family amulet isn't just rumored to have magical powers. It's also a symbol of how Jewish and Indian rituals became intertwined over the centuries. http://jd.fo/a3BvD Only three days left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • British Jews are having their 'Open Hillel' moment. Do you think Israel advocacy on campus runs the risk of excluding some Jewish students?
  • "What I didn’t realize before my trip was that I would leave Uganda with a powerful mandate on my shoulders — almost as if I had personally left Egypt."
  • Is it better to have a young, fresh rabbi, or a rabbi who stays with the same congregation for a long time? What do you think?
  • Why does the leader of Israel's social protest movement now work in a beauty parlor instead of the Knesset?
  • What's it like to be Chagall's granddaughter?
  • Is pot kosher for Passover. The rabbis say no, especially for Ashkenazi Jews. And it doesn't matter if its the unofficial Pot Day of April 20.
  • A Ukrainian rabbi says he thinks the leaflets ordering Jews in restive Donetsk to 'register' were a hoax. But the disturbing story still won't die.
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.