This is not my ‘holiday season.’ Please leave me out of it.
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My first thought when I saw Old Navy’s new “Happy ALL-idays” commercial was: How clever, I can’t believe nobody came up with that term before. Then I watched it.
First you see the T.V. personality Keke Palmer emerging from a chimney in a Santa hat. “Expecting someone else?” she asks cheerily. “Ho-ho no! It’s the ALL-idays, and we are all about it!” What are these ALL-idays, you ask? Well, they look a lot like Christmas.
Palmer’s playmates are in pajamas dotted with Santa faces, and they dance in front of sparkly-lit trees then go through a door with a red wreath. There are references to nice and naughty, lovely weather for a ride together, sleighs and egg nog.
There’s also a token menorah on the hearth in the background, holding not candles but bulbs in blue and white but also red and green. “However you jingle,” Palmer says, “we’ve got your jammies.”
I love pajamas as much as the next person, but they are not part of my observance of any holiday. Green and red jammies with pine trees or snowflakes are just as Christmasy as the jammies with Santa’s face, and the inclusion of blue onesies with five-pointed stars don’t mean anything to me.
I don’t want Hanukkah pajamas. I don’t want ALL-idays. I want to light my menorah, make my latkes, and spend Christmas eating Chinese food and going to the movies without hearing another word about this fake holiday “season.”
I am aware that there are many Jews who love Christmas. Jews who love Christmas music, maybe even join friends in caroling around the neighborhood, mumbling the parts about Jesus under their breath. Jews who love to bake Christmas cookies, in all their adorable deliciousness. Jews who decorate their homes in sparkly lights, maybe even have a Hanukkah bush. Jews like my own daughter, who count the days until Starbucks brings out the Peppermint-Mocha Latte each year.
I am not one of those Jews. I’ve got a huge Christmas chip on my shoulder. If the first step is acknowledging you have a problem, this is me acknowledging. I don’t hate Christmas; I just wish everyone would leave me out of it.
That means not saying “Happy Holidays” when you mean “Merry Christmas.” It means not asking me, “What are you doing for Hanukkah?” as if it’s a time for travel and major family reunions.
It means not buying idiotic Hanukkah merch that is really about Christmas (“Oy to the world”) or Passover (“Why is this night different from all other nights? Happy Hanukkah”). It means recognizing that we live in a Christian country and just dealing with it.
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I have a “holiday season” — just not in December. Ours is, frankly, much more of an authentic “season” — a month-long journey from Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur to Sukkot. That’s a great time to tell me “Happy Holidays” or, better yet, “Chag sameach.” You want to celebrate ALL-idays? How about letting my kids make up the pottery class they missed on Kol Nidre? How about not scheduling the science fair for the day after Passover Seder?
Or, here’s an easy one: how about mentioning just one of those September Jewish festivals in the local high school’s daily email blast along with Constitution Day, the First Day of Autumn and Patriot Day? (Yes, these are the same daily email blasts that, last spring, highlighted Meir Kahane for Jewish American Heritage Month.)
I got an email on Monday announcing the Parent Ambassador Cookie Walk at my son’s school:. “Please share your family’s favorite holiday cookies to celebrate the season.”
Now, I probably like cookies more than the next person, but my family does not have “favorite holiday cookies” and we do not “celebrate the season.” The only cookie that plays a central role in a Jewish holiday is Hamantaschen for Purim, and most are among the driest, worst-tasting treats of any kind. When it comes to cookies, we love any with chocolate chips all year round.
Yes, I know, I could make “Hanukkah cookies,” cutting out six-pointed stars and menorahs and even Judah Maccabee shapes. But they are not family favorites — they are a lame, not-delicious attempt to be part of the ALL-iday season that I reject. I certainly will not buy the Manischewitz Chanukah House cookie-decorating kit.
A friend suggested I could send in donut holes, a nod to sufganiyot, the filled Hanukkah treat fried in oil. I probably will, but I’m not happy about it — they’re not cookies, my family never really ate them for Hanukkah except when we lived in Jerusalem, and the “cookie walk” is Dec. 16, 10 days after our holiday ends.
I know I sound like an absolute Grinch. I have already acknowledged this is a me problem. As I watched the new ALL-idays commercial, I got to wondering if maybe I was missing something. Maybe Jews who live in interfaith families — like our Second Gentleman, who made history by hanging a mezuzah on the door of the Vice President’s residence — feel differently about the “season”?
This is not a fringe group; this is a huge portion of our community. The 2021 Pew Research Study found that fully 42% of married American Jews have non-Jewish spouses, 61% of those married since 2010.
“The biggest thing that struck me is, ‘Don’t call it ALL-idays when it’s still about Christmas,” Tema said, echoing my own reaction (and my daughter’s).
“I appreciate all of the interfaith dialogue-y-ness of all this stuff, and at the same time, this is so dumb — we don’t have to go on about how our holidays are so similar in order to like each other.”
Tema said that while some interfaith families “do syncretistic versions of mashing up holidays” — like hanging Stars of David on their Christmas trees — most who mark both holidays “do them separately.”
In her own family, the mashup is “Chinese food and stockings” — which they do separately, as she said, it’s not about stuffing egg-rolls into socks.
Interestingly, Tema said it’s her Jewish mother, not her non-Jewish dad, who drives here. “It’s like her favorite thing to go shopping for things to put in the stockings — my father does not care,” Tema said.
“What interfaith families bristle at when people say ‘Jews don’t do Christmas’ is the exclusivist-ness of it,” she added, “that you are somehow not authentically doing Jewish if you are doing Christmas.”
Tema, like me, went to public school, and she mentioned that her mom “made a whole big fuss” that the Christmas concert should be a holiday concert. “It was still Christmas songs, until they threw in that dreidel song,” she recalled.
This brought me back to the “holiday concerts” at my own Mason-Rice Elementary, where we sang a little ditty called “Here in my House.”
Here in my house, there are candles burning bright, one for every night of the holiday
We gather with friends, sharing gifts and happy times, Happy Hanukkah
And in my neighbor’s house the lights are shining, too, Red and green and blue, ’round the door
The sound of jingle bells and laughter everywhere, Merry Christmas and many more
Season of light, season of cheer, season of peace, may it last throughout the year
By now it will not surprise you to learn that I did not love this song. Like Old Navy’s ALL-idays campaign — which, according to this news release, seems really to be more aimed at racial diversity around Christmas than anything to do with Jews — I know it came from a place of good intentions.
The composer, Aline Shader, actually taught at another elementary school in my hometown, Newton, Massachusetts, which was a place with plenty of Jews (though my sisters and I were the only ones in our public schools who went to shul rather than class on Sukkot). She was a major mentor of Julie Silver, who I went to camp with and who is one of the best Jewish singer-songwriters of my generation (and whose Hanukkah album does not include “Here in my House.”)
I thought about Shader’s song a lot last year, when — perhaps because the pandemic had forced us to spend so much time at home — I felt a strong pull to put up some twinkly lights outside. I would only have considered plain white, of course, but in the end even that felt way too Christmasy (and also like a lot of work). Instead, I bought one of those menorahs with the screw-in lightbulbs and put it in the window of our front porch.
We’ll “light” that menorah again this year, along with our regular menorahs — “candles burning bright, one for every night of the holiday.” And when Hanukkah is over on Dec. 6, I’ll put it back in the box, get my daughter a Starbucks Peppermint-Mocha Latte and start thinking about what movies we’ll watch after dim-sum on Christmas.
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