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!
  • Law professor Dan Markel waited a shocking 19 minutes for an ambulance as he lay dying after being ambushed in his driveway. Read the stunning 911 transcript as neighbor pleaded for help.
  • Happy birthday to the Boy Who Lived! July 31 marks the day that Harry Potter — and his creator, J.K. Rowling — first entered the world. Harry is a loyal Gryffindorian, a matchless wizard, a native Parseltongue speaker, and…a Jew?
  • "Orwell would side with Israel for building a flourishing democracy, rather than Hamas, which imposed a floundering dictatorship. He would applaud the IDF, which warns civilians before bombing them in a justified war, not Hamas terrorists who cower behind their own civilians, target neighboring civilians, and planned to swarm civilian settlements on the Jewish New Year." Read Gil Troy's response to Daniel May's opinion piece:
  • "My dear Penelope, when you accuse Israel of committing 'genocide,' do you actually know what you are talking about?"
  • What's for #Shabbat dinner? Try Molly Yeh's coconut quinoa with dates and nuts. Recipe here:
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • 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.