I have nothing against Christmas.
When I lived and worked in Manhattan, I used to love the season around Christmas and New Year’s. All the lights. The people happily stumbling out of bars, laughing, from their office holiday parties. Even the tourists — so much an annoyance to the locals most of the year in midtown — seemed like a welcome contribution to making it a festive atmosphere.
Oy, but turn on the television or go into a shopping mall in the States. The bombardment of advertisements to buy this or buy that. And all the pressure people feel. To buy the right gift for the right person. About whether they have enough money to afford all these gifts.
And then there’s probably the hardest part if you’re a Jew. The reminder. The reminder of the thing that’s so easy to forget if you live somewhere like New York where there’s a large population of Jews and where Jews have a big influence on the local culture — the reminder of the fact that you’re a member of a minority. That you’re somehow profoundly “other” and don’t share some of the most basic things with people around you.
As a spiritual caregiver, though, who has spent years working closely with, and for, Christians around their deepest faiths, I’ve come to learn about things that are kind of the same between Christmas and elements of Judaism. No, I don’t mean the (sometimes painfully silly) attempts to make Chanukah into a holiday that is the equal of Christmas (even as a kid I didn’t buy the “eight days of gifts is better” line)
Rather, I mean the profound hunger for things like peace. Every Amidah prayer in the traditional Jewish prayer service ends with a call for Shalom. And Christians so often use Christmas as a time to call for “Peace on Earth”. It’s the very best of the religious impulse, the wish for peace and the drive to care for others in need. So, I’m glad to be living in a majority Jewish country where I was only tangentially aware of Christmas’ approach in the way I’m tangentially aware of the approach of Ramadan when that’s happening. I love that I know it’s a particular Jewish holiday just from walking down the street and overhearing passersby’s conversations. But I do miss learning something about the faith of my Christian neighbors and how that motivates them to work for peace and wholeness and justice.
And, so, in the words of John Lennon:
A very Merry Xmas
And a happy New Year
Let’s hope it’s a good one
Without any fear