how not to be a christmas asshole

December 03, 2012

the juggernaut cometh: Or:  How Not To Be A Christmas Asshole!

Allow me to explain. See, the thing is, I am a Jew who hates Christmas, and not for any of the reasons you are thinking, either. I do not hate Christmas because I am bitter that people are celebrating a holiday I do not celebrate; nor do I hate Christmas because the good cheer of others brings me to rage. I do not even hate Christmas because Christmas music drives me crazy, although, to be fair, like anyone who has ever worked retail during the holiday season, it really fucking does.

No, internet. No. The reason I am a Jew who hates Christmas? Is because every year, WITHOUT FAIL, someone I had previously thought to be a rational, understanding, and worthwhile human being proves themselves be a GIGANTIC ASSHOLE because of Christmas. And before you go, “Oh, I bet you mean those intense right-wing conservative Christians, I’m not one of those people, I can skip this post,” lemme stop you, because no, I don’t. In fact, I find conservative Christians easier to handle during the Christmas season than almost anyone else, because at least you know what you’re dealing with. The people I am talking about are not die-hard Christians; in fact, a disproportionate number of them, over the years, have been atheists. Others were people who were raised with Christmas, but not necessarily with any church; still others were people who believed in the tenants of Christianity in theory but not in practice; still others were—uh, I believe the term is “Christmas and Easter” Christians? But the thing is, come Christmas, they’ve all got one thing in common, and that thing is this:

They all think they know more about why I don’t celebrate Christmas than I do.

So. In my view, there are three variations on the theme of Being An Asshole To People You Know Who Don’t Celebrate Christmas. Let’s lay ‘em out, nice and simple-like.

Option A: “But Christmas is a secular holiday!” 

Okay. So, first of all, let me be clear: it’s not that I disagree with this statement, exactly. Despite my Judaism, I am fully capable of comprehending the world around me even when said world is lathed in red and green, and yeah, dude, I see where you’re coming from with this. In the United States, where I live and where church and state are theoretically very separate, Christmas is a federal holiday. Every year there are Christmas parties, Christmas lights, Christmas movies, Christmas commercials, Christmas store displays, Christmas music, Christmas coffee cups at Starbucks, etc etc. As I child, I participated in Christmas activities at my public school; as an adult, I watch in bemused curiosity as conservative pundit after conservative pundit complains on my television about the loss of Christ from Christmas. I am not in any way under the impression that everybody who celebrates Christmas is doing so to exalt the birth of their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, because to think that I would have to be willfully missing about half of what goes on around this holiday. I’m not even of the impression that Christmas has always and forever throughout all of history been a day about Christ, because let’s be real, history is very clear on the fact that this celebration belonged to the pagans first.

If Christmas is a secular holiday for you, that is so great; rock on with your secular selves, and please (please) don’t feel obligated to believe in Christ on my account. Trim your tree and wrap your gifts and listen to that song about Mommy kissing Santa to your heart’s content, go over the hill and through the wood’s to grandmother’s house until the goddamn cows come home, get all up in that Christmas spirit. Seriously! Have fun! This is not sarcasm, I genuinely hope you have a merry, non-religious Christmas.

But the fact that this holiday is secular for you? Does not mean it has to be secular for me. And it isn’t secular for me; it never has been. It has always been the holiday that everyone else celebrated. It has always been the holiday that made me different, never mind that the holidays that actually make me different should really be my own, the ones I decide to interact with, the ones I chose to celebrate whether or not the general culture is. Christmas, in my experience, for me, is about Christianity, about things I don’t believe in, and about things I don’t feel comfortable participating in as a Jew. That’s not to say that this is true of all Jews, or of all people who subscribe to a faith that doesn’t do Christmas—it’s not! At all! But it’s always been that way for me, and that’s my call. I would never tell you that you can’t view Christmas as a secular holiday, the same way I would never tell a devout Christian that they couldn’t view it as a religious holiday, the same way I would never tell a non-Jew that they had to view, for example, Rosh Hashana as a holy day and celebrate it with me regardless of their own feelings or lack thereof about their own faith/traditions/desires.

The thing is, I most often encounter this argument from atheists who are planning on celebrating Christmas, and honestly, I kind of get it. I get that getting other people to acknowledge that Christmas is a secular holiday probably makes folks feel better about viewing it that way, and let me be clear—I don’t think those people are wrong! I don’t think Christmas is a religious holiday for everybody! If it’s secular for you, it’s secular for you—that’s it, no argument, no debate, no discussion. But if you need someone else’s acknowledgement of the secularity of Christman to justify your participating in it to yourself, guess what? That’s not my problem, and making it my problem makes you an asshole.

Option B: “Hello, my name is Bob and I am here to be your Christmas mentor.” 

So, True Life: I’ve Been A Jew On Christmas: a few years ago, I was dating this guy whose family celebrated Christmas, and I spent Christmas with them (this is one of the awesome things about being Jewish and dating gentiles: you can make your significant other do Thanksgiving with your family in exchange for your doing Christmas with theirs, because your family does not care where you are on Christmas unless it makes them late for their movie). I packed up my things and went on down to this dude’s parents’ home, whereupon these previously kind and respectful people began treating me like a very small child. “This is a Christmas cookie,” said his mother, holding up a piece of frosting-painted shortbread in the shape of a candy cane. “This is how we hang ornaments,” said his father, lifting a glass bauble with a hook on it and using said hook to attach said bauble to a tree branch.

“I grew up Jewish,” I refrained from saying to these people and the dozens like them who have come into my life over the years, “I did not grow up under a fucking rock.” I know what a goddamn Christmas cookie is. I know how to hang baubles on hooks from trees! That Christmas song you love so much? I’ve heard it. That Christmas movie you watch every year? I’ve seen it (and probably loved it, because while I hate Christmas, Christmas movies are often pretty boss). The Christmas shit that plays on the television does not skip my house because I am a devotee of the bagel and lox. The Christmas stuff on display in stores does not render itself invisible to me because I had a Bat Mitzvah. I’ve watched Christmas plays, I’ve read Christmas books, hell, I’ve written Christmas fanfiction: this holiday takes over the country in which I live for an entire month every year. I have fucking heard of it. Now, would I be pretty lost in, for example, a Christmas midnight mass? Yeah, probably, just like most non-Jews would probably be pretty fucking lost in a Kol Nidre service, because other people’s religious ceremonies are usually pretty incomprehensible to someone who has never experienced one. Do I need you to take me by the hand and guide me slowly through the magical Christmas wonderland, stopping to identify the mistletoe and explain what a wreath is? Hell fucking no I don’t. I am a fully grown adult human who has lived through twenty-two Christmas seasons—I’m really good, guys. I know this shit as well as anybody else does. Don’t talk down to me; don’t be an asshole.

Option C: “Oh, I’m so sad for you! You’re missing out on the most wonderful holiday known to man! Woe is you, your life is so terrible, how tragic you are with your lack of Christmas!” 

You know what? My favorite holiday is now and will always be Passover, and this is because of the fun my family and I have celebrating it every year. I’ve got fond childhood memories of running around my grandparent’s house during Seder, muffling my laughter as I tried to find the afikomen before my cousins via stealth. I will never eat a piece of matzo seasoned with margarine and salt without smiling around the memory of my mother teaching me to use a butter knife for the first time, of sitting across from her at our kitchen table, both of us chomping away at the first snack I ever made by myself. I haven’t had a Passover in years where I haven’t busted up laughing to think of this time my father made pepperoni matzo pizza when I was a teenager, and we watched it cook under the broiler until we realized at the same time how hilariously not Kosher it was and laughed so hard we burned it. I fucking love Passover, because I fucking love my memories of Passover. I fucking love Passover because my cumulative Passover experience is important to me.

However. I would never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, IN A MILLION YEARS, go up to one of my non-Jewish friends and say to them, “Wow, you know, you’re really missing out on not celebrating Passover, that’s so sad for you, I feel so sorry for you. You should really start celebrating Passover, because Passover is the best holiday ever, and if you disagree, you’re wrong.” Because I know, the way so many people who love Christmas seem not to know, that the reason I love Passover is unique to my personal experience of Passover. That my warm, fuzzy Passover feelings are tied up with my warm, fuzzy Passover memories. That the things that are good for me are not necessarily the things that are good for other people. That it would be weird and wrong and unfair to insist that people who have not lived my life feel the way I do about a given holiday.

You know what my memories of Christmas are? They’re waiting in line for Chinese food and going to see a movie. They’re going on a family vacation to avoid being treated oddly by friends and neighbors. They’re being turned to by my third grade teacher and told, “The rest of the kids are building gingerbread houses, but I guess you can build a gingerbread menorah,” in tones of great pity. They’re being turned to by my sixth grade teacher teacher and told, “Oh, but you’re Jewish, right? So you shouldn’t sing this Christmas song with us.” They’re having a coworker say, “I bet it pisses you off when people say Merry Christmas, doesn’t it? Doesn’t it? Come on, tell me the truth, it makes you mad, doesn’t it?” They’re the aforementioned Christmas cookie conversation. They’re going over to the house of my few Christian family members and awkwardly trying not to acknowledge the giant, deeply complicated, family-history-laden, yarmulke-wearing elephant in the room. They’re having people lower their voices and cast distressed looks in my direction while discussing their Christmas plans, as though Christmas is a beloved family member of mine that has recently died.

Is any of this to say that being someone who doesn’t celebrate Christmas during the Christmas season is THE WORST AND MOST OPPRESSIVE THING IN THE ENTIRE WORLD AND IT HAS SCARRED ME FOR LIFE? Hell, no. Of course not. Being Jewish on Christmas has always been, for me, awkward and uncomfortable and unpleasant, but it’s never been oppressive or harmful. That’s not what I’m saying. That is not my point. My point is this: those warm, fond, fuzzy Christmas memories that folks are working off of? I don’t have those. My memories of Christmas are all awkward and uncomfortable and unpleasant, because that is what Christmas has always been for me. And the same way I would never expect someone who wasn’t Jewish to look forward to Passover with an impassioned glee, or pity someone didn’t look at Passover as the most wonderful time of the year, it is not cool for you to expect me to love Christmas because you do, or to pity me because I don’t share your feelings about it. That shit is your shit! It is not about me, and your making it about me makes you an asshole.

Finally, the thing I have to say to people every year even though I really think it should be self-evident: guess what? I’m a fully grown adult! If I wanted to celebrate Christmas, then, by god, I would be celebrating Christmas. I know where to go to get Christmas things during the Christmas season, because it’s anywhere. I know what Christmas decorations look like, because they’re everywhere. I know how Christmas works, because I didn’t grow up under a rock. I know Christmas can be a secular holiday, because I have both observed and been told that a thousand times. I don’t celebrate Christmas because I do not want to, and you know what? This is my life, which makes that reason enough.

So: don’t be a Christmas Asshole, guys! I’m not going to be mad if you say Merry Christmas to me; I don’t care if you talk about Christmas in front of me; I’m not going to take offense if you invite me to a Christmas party. I don’t celebrate this holiday, but I am genuinely glad it brings you joy, and I wouldn’t deprive you of it for the world. But don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t try to put your Christmas shit on me, whether it’s religious or secular, whether you think I need teaching or not, even if—actually, especially if—you think my life would be richer for it. Your holiday is not my holiday, and your life is not my life, and asserting otherwise? Is being an asshole.