A Jewish Buddhist at Christmas/ Chanukah/ Solstice Time


A re-posting, with some minor changes:

Christmas and I are not friends. We are not even good neighbors. I was raised Jewish in predominantly Jewish neighborhoods, school systems, summer camps and other social encounters. This made me an outsider in an insider world every December.

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Despite about 75% Jewish population in our local public schools, the relentless Christian-ness of the USA permeated. Most of our teachers and all of the school administrators were not Jewish. Therefore, we Jewish students were forced to learn and sing Christmas carols alongside our Christian classmates every year in music classes and choirs in our classes and assemblies. I mouthed but would not sing songs with lyrics like “Jesus, our God,” or “Christ, our King.” I refused to “celebrate,” but I would go along as required.

I hated it.

All of my childhood and most of my young adult life, I also hated Christmas. I hated the trees, the lights, the candy canes, and, especially, the incessant carols on muzak almost everywhere we went. I hated the silly fashion and accessory affectations (reindeer hats, Santa sweaters, elves in snow globes on chains, fake snow on windowsills) and the massively wasteful appropriation of space and time every December. This extravaganza has gotten worse over the decades, now beginning prior to Hallowe’en and including some year-round “Santa Villages,” “Christmas” stores and such.

Appalling.

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Christian adults still post and say ridiculous, ignorant things to me and other non-Christians, like: “Christmas isn’t religious; it’s American.” And, “It’s not a Christmas tree. It’s a holiday tree.” Or, my personal favorite, “You can celebrate Christmas and still be Jewish. I know lots of people who do!”

I belong to several authors/writers groups online and in person, and without exception, they are filled with eager, interesting people. Except, at Christmas. Then, they devolve into ignorant, unaware bigots who claim things like: “If we call it a ‘Holiday’ sale instead of a ‘Christmas’ sale, we’ll get fewer hits on Google”; and, the most appalling, “We did it your way last year. This year, it’s a ‘Christmas’ sale/program/event.”

The most insulting? “You are included if you feel included. Your choice.”

For every kid who feels oppressed by the pervasive and invasive Christmassification of everything for almost two months every year, it’s difficult to separate hating the holiday-ness from despising the people who rightfully celebrate it. I often did/do not succeed in making that distinction. I breathe a sigh of relief every December 26.

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Yippee!

I celebrated the Solstice for a few years. We were tentatively friends, paganism and I. I even created a Solstice “advent” calendar with thirteen paper strips as “rays” of the sun to be unfolded, one on each of the thirteen days prior to December 21. I liked this because each “ray” jad written on it a quality or positivity we wanted to affirm or invite into our lives. That was fun and interesting, and I liked the symbols and intention, but Solstice and I did not remain friends, either.

Winter Solstice

For about twenty years, after our son was born, we—my son’s Christian (Episcopalian-raised)/Sufi and somewhat Muslim father and sometimes members of his family—celebrated a kind of Christmas, usually when at one of their homes.

For two years in the late 1980s, when I worked as the Director of Religious Education for the local Unitarian Universalist “Church,” I/we “celebrated” several December holidays, including Kwanzaa. i even went to church and sang Christmas carols and enjoyed it a little, holding a lit candle and the whole shebang.

Mostly, I hostessed Chanukah parties for my mostly Christian friends and half-Jewish son (not Jewish at all, except by birth). and and then my Jewish/fake Mormon/Buddhist female partner. I did this primarily because I liked to make and eat Chanukah food and give presents. Also, my mom (bless her) mailed (from Missouri) a huge box every year after our son was born that had eight gifts for him and many for us (some were small, like a pair of socks, but still: very welcomed!). So, we needed a way to spread out the opening of these and other gifts so he wouldn’t be overwhelmed and not appreciate any of them properly. I created and shared an English lyric about visualizing miracles to be sung when lighting the Chanukah candles (since the religious parts of the Jewish holidays and I parted ways when I was about ten years old) for each of the eight nights.

latkes

I tried to make Chanukah mine. It only kind of worked, and only for a while (mostly for the years that our son lived in my house or was visiting for the holiday). But, since it wasn’t an authentic, deep relationship, Chanukah and I gradually drifted apart.

Partly, this drift occurred because I became a Buddhist. That made “the holiday season” even more irrelevant. I not only stopped celebrating Christmas, but don’t do much with Chanukah or Solstice any longer, either.

Each fall, when I can afford it, I buy some gifts for friends and family members (honoring whatever they celebrate), and wish people well for whatever they celebrate. But, I also try to keep to myself on the actual days of these holidays, since they’re not “mine.” I really do not celebrate or believe in them.

I do not miss these holidays. I do not feel left out. I do not feel angry. I do not feel deprived, alone, or otherwise sad or depressed. These just aren’t my holidays. I view them with slight amusement and a keen detachment over the last fifteen years, as if I were visiting from another culture (which I kind of am).

This year it is a little more difficult to escape both major holidays because Chanukah and Christmas are coinciding on the calendar: Christmas Eve is the first night of Chanukah and it ends on New Year’s Eve for the first time, ever, in my life. I don’t have much money, but I do want to buy some gifts for loved ones and this is as good of an excuse as any to do so.

I’ve gone through despising, hating, avoiding, celebrating, enjoying, participating, encouraging, hostessing, attending, bowing out to relinquishing December holidays over my six+ decades. I’m quite happy, now, taking the parts I like (mostly some good food and a few songs, gift-giving and receiving, days off) and ignoring the rest.

Buddhist December

Please don’t take it personally that I don’t participate in or celebrate any holidays in the fall “holiday season” the ways you do.

Enjoy your holiday(s). Really.

Just don’t impose them on me. And, by the way, I hate Capitalism, for real.

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14 thoughts on “A Jewish Buddhist at Christmas/ Chanukah/ Solstice Time

  1. Growing up, Christmas was only ever secular. Winter Solstice became a big deal during my Wiccan decades, especially when my daughter was young. All along, I also began to hate the increasingly overwrought nature of the Christmas season. Committing to a Buddhist path put me more at ease with it all though, because…..equanimity. Now, I make the whole pressured & greed-oriented spectacle fun by setting the goal of getting through the season without being forced to hear Manheim Steamroller. (I rarely manage to, but did in 2016!)

    Liked by 1 person

    • I appreciate your perspective and your comments, here. I do think it’s harder for a person raised with Christmas and Christians to understand the alienation non-Christians feel, but I think we all feel the shallowness of the commercialization of holidays in general.

      Best to you!

      Sally

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hello Sally. Good post. I was brought up Christian, but I don’t enjoy the over indulgence or extravagance of Christmas as I find it very stressful and expensive. The whole thing is cloaked in rampant commercialism and it’s as if you have committed a crime if you say you don’t enjoy it all, whether you are a Christian or not. Christmas is so dominant in the year calendar that I feel sorry for people of other religions in the West as there is no respite.
    I don’t like going from shop to shop constantly hearing Christmas carols and being accosted by shop staff in costumes trying to make you feel that their corporation loves Christmas. No – they love the sales registers singing. I don’t blame the staff, by the looks on some of their faces, they hate it as much as I do.
    There was actually a fist fight between two women over one Christmas card in the UK this year. A Christmas card!! Where was the compassion and joy to all Men there?
    I have said before that all of this commercialism is becoming year round. Starts with Christmas and then the adverts for summer holidays start combined with adverts for dieting products and exercise equipment to remove the weight you put on over Christmas. It then moves into Valentines day, then Easter (bet there are Easter eggs in the shops in January – because if you buy them in January, you will have eaten and bought them three or four times over by actual Easter) then Halloween and Bonfire Night (UK) or Thanksgiving (US) then back to Christmas again.
    Maybe we should look at shopping areas becoming more secular, the same as government offices and anyone who wants to celebrate their religious festivals can do so in their own homes and religious places of worship, but it won’t happen as too much money is made out of it.
    I’m sure that if a section of the community wanted to celebrate for example, Dwali the same way as Christmas is celebrated, there would be uproar and people protesting, but it is also a recognised religious festival – it’s just not Christian. We both live in multicultural, multi-religious societies.
    There is no ‘War on Christmas’, there is however a ‘Hello, can we just dial it back a little if it’s at all possible’ little voice in the back ground.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Yes I did read you post. Actually twice. This is precisely why I asked you where your love is, not the love of others or there anti Semitism oppression or exclusion. If you say you are now Buddhist, great, but you must learn that it’s not about them and whet they do, it all about you and how you choose to interpret, perceive, or otherwise deal with it.

    QP

    Liked by 1 person

      • I agree idiot compassion is the wrong way that’s why we seek the middle path between compassion and wisdom. With out each other the whole thing falls apart. Pure compassion is too soft and gets one into such a mess. Only cold wisdom and and everyone will not want anything to do with you.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: Coming together in dark days | From guestwriters

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