I’m Jewish, and it’s nearly Christmas. It’s not just nearly Christmas, though. I’m Jewish, and it’s been Christmastime for the past month or so. Sorority houses and dorm rooms are covered in lights. People have switched from playing the same three Adele songs on repeat in the lounges in Brett Hall to the same three Christmas songs. Even Brower has gotten in on the action from the festive decorations to the constantly streaming Christmas radio station.
A week or so ago, I made a joke during dinner about how Christmas was following me or something equally dumb, and my friends protested that “Jingle Bell Rock,” which was the song that was playing in Brower at the time, was not a Christmas song. Apparently because “Jingle Bell Rock” never explicitly mentions anything about Christmas, Santa, or Jesus, it’s a “winter” song. I proceeded to receive a crash course on how lots of songs I, as an ignorant Jew, thought were about Christmas were really just about winter. I was told that I had chosen to think about winter songs as Christmas songs just because they were played constantly on the radio around Christmastime. Christmas and winter are totally separate.
At least for me, though, there very much is a Christmastime that fuses December (which for the most part isn’t even winter) with Christmas. It’s something I’ve found that most of my friends who have been raised Christian or even whose families celebrate a secular version of Christmas don’t totally understand. There’s an entire month every year that is entirely isolating. They’re able to recognize that Christmas is everywhere in full force, but when they get fed up with me making another joke about how I found the token Hanukkah whatever, I’m gifted with another lecture on why Christmas is an American holiday. Only fundamentalists and my parents celebrate it for religious reasons. Christmas isn’t Jesus’ birthday. You’re only uncomfortable because you’re letting yourself be. Christmas and religion are totally separate.
Being uncomfortable during Christmas is my fault. My friends who were raised Christian but no longer believe in religion aren’t uncomfortable during Christmas. My friends who were raised with a Christmas tree in their living rooms but no Jesus aren’t uncomfortable during Christmas. If everyone else is cool with it, I must be choosing to feel this way. When my friends in college ask me if I believed in Santa, I say yes. When they ask me if I felt bad that Santa never gave me presents, I say that I felt bad that other kids’ parents didn’t love them enough to give them presents themselves. That’s so funny. That’s such a clever comeback. It’s also not true. I never knew I should be ashamed that Santa didn’t visit me until I was taught to.
Buzzfeed released a video this week called “Jewish Kids Meet Santa For the First Time.”
Honestly, when I first read the title I didn’t think it was a bad idea. I assumed they recruited kids with wild personalities that would be adorable regardless of what theme video Buzzfeed shoved them into. Despite Buzzfeed’s typical line about how the results were entertaining, they actually really weren’t. Jewish kids met Santa, and they knew he was a guy in a suit. Jewish kids met Santa, and they didn’t really have anything to say to him. Jewish kids met Santa, and they should have what? They should have tearfully asked him why he never brings them presents? They should have punched him the face for pretending to be someone he’s not? They should have asked for his autograph because he’s famous? Jewish kids met Santa and sat uncomfortably on his lap while some adults who think they’re hilarious recorded them.
I want to make it very clear that I don’t hate Christmas. I don’t even hate Christmas spirit. I think it’s wonderful that there’s an entire month where people feel fuzzy and warm and want to spend time with their families. I respect that many people celebrate Christmas for religious reasons, and I also respect that many people celebrate it for secular ones. There’s so much love and light during Christmastime, and I definitely do not want to take that from anyone, but I also recognize that I’m not included in it. Jewish kids get their own video for meeting Santa because they’re not included in Christmastime, the entire month of it. It’s like there’s this giant month-long party, and we’re not invited. It’s not malicious or intentional, but it doesn’t stop the fact that the whole month I feel like I’m wearing a giant sign that says I’m different, and I don’t belong here. I don’t want people to stop following their traditions or to feel bad, but I would like permission to feel uncomfortable without it being my fault.
If you aren’t uncomfortable during Christmastime, it’s probably because you’re being very represented. The radio is playing songs written for people like you. Movies are premiering for people like you. Television networks are releasing special themed episodes for people like you. Hearing about people celebrating Hanukkah doesn’t make you feel uncomfortable because you’re not being surrounded by a culture that you aren’t a member of along with the suggestion that you should want to be. When I make jokes about specks of Jewish representation during the holiday season, it’s partially because I feel like I need to recognize that I exist during this month. It’s also partially because many people think those specks are more than enough, and they aren’t. Most of the time they don’t feel like welcome signs or invitations as much as dividers. This is your section. This is where you fit.
I was talking to one of my Jewish friends about the commercialization of Hanukkah, and she told me that if it hadn’t been commercialized she would have been miserable when she was younger. What would it be like to be a child surrounded by an “entirely American” and not at all religious holiday during which everyone else receives presents and you receive nothing? Of course there are religions and groups of people who are in that exact situation, and I won’t pretend to know what those children feel like. I will say, though, that I’m really glad to have had Hanukkah growing up and to still have it. It helps to have an identity when you feel out of place. This year, my mother sent me Snapchats of my family lighting the menorah every night of Hanukkah, during which they would break out in a terribly sung but incredibly enthusiastic rendition of “Hanukkah, O Hanukkah.” It was Christmastime, but at least it was still Hanukkah.