December is a complicated time to be a Jew in America. I annually find that once the holiday season hits full swing, all the Christmas gushing, tree-trimming, “what do you want this year?” asking and red and green everything makes me a little… bah humbug. I start getting more sympathetic to Dickens’ Ebenezer Scrooge than an Occupy-friendly writer should. But I’m not strictly Scroogish: I frequently vacillate over just how strongly I want to signal my nonparticipation in Christmas. Do I want to say an emphatic “Happy holidays” back to the presumptuous “Merry Christmases,” because I’m in a defiant mood? Usually. Conversely, do I say “Merry Christmas” back to peoples’ gentle “Happy Holidays” if I’m feeling conciliated and ready to grant joy to others in exchange for their acknowledgement of me? Or do I just smile and act aloof about the whole thing overall?
I want it on the record that Christmas is not my tradition or holiday. I get grumpy when the seasonal aisle is all red, but I also laugh at the excesses of those blue, star-of-David displays. I don’t want people making the same kind of fuss over Hanukkah that they do over Christmas; that makes me feel dishonest about a minor holiday. While I dream of my dad’s latkes and enjoy lighting the menorah, I can’t pretend that Hanukkah for us is as huge and insane as Christmas is to our non-Jewish friends. It isn’t. You give each other diamonds and huge toys, at least according to the thousands of commercials I see on TV. We give each other gloves and books. You squeal over fruitcakes and puddings; we say “pass the applesauce” and kvetch about work the next day. (You want to make a giant fuss and give me time off for Passover? Go for it.)
I do get a lot of amusement out the zany things that the competitive winter holiday spirit brings out of enterprising Jews. Very NSFW Hanukkah YouTube videos, high-stakes dreidel contests, and rewritten or new carols: I devour them all. SNL’s “Christmastime for the Jews” is a classic that stays in my head all month. The endless discussion of Jews’ contribution to Christmas carols renders me a bit smug. And now there are nails to compete with the popular trend of Christmas nail bling. This year, one Rabbi has gotten particularly creative with Hanukkah-themed “midrash manicures,” little pieces of nail art that are meant to teach young women about the Jewish holiday. The decals are meant as a tool to impart the stories of the bible, but I kind of like them as a way for adult Jews to subtly rebut Christmas-mania.
At the office Christmas party, you can hold out your hand for more Whiskey and then when people ask about your manicure bling, you say: “oh this?” Then you launch into a lengthy tale of the Maccabees, grin and say “don’t you just love the holidays?” Of course there’s always a chance that someone will fire back by flashing Christmas nail bling in response.