That time of the year
What time of the year? Oh right, that time. No, I’m not. Doing anything. Giving anything. Getting anything. I’m not resistant, its not political – I just don’t. OK. Here we go again, try to get your head around it: by blood and by culture, I am Jewish. I don’t, and I never have.
A Christmas tree in my living room would feel so alien, you have no idea. What would I do, go to the hardware store and buy a little tree and a thing to make it stand up, and a set of coloured balls and stuff? No idea.
My nostalgia box is empty of this, and my emotional connection is nil. Oh. I do remember as a little kid, stealing tinfoil icicles off a neighbor’s tree and surreptitiously draping them over the branches of the small pine in front of our house. Hmmm. I guess there must have been times as a child that I craved for Christmas, it must have seemed so desirable, so very normal – and what kid doesn’t want to just be normal? But my parents held the line. They were adamant and they explained patiently to my pleas: we have our own traditions, and that’s not us. I was pissed at the time, and as a young adult I was infuriated. But now I am grateful. I know who I am and where I came from, and Santa has never been part of the picture.
This raises a difficult intellectual paradox for me. I live in a Christian culture, why not embrace and integrate? Or at the very least, be gracious and celebrate with my neighbours. What harm would a few carols do? If I was in Bali I would revel in the local Hindu customs, wear a cute Ganesha on my t-shirt. Intellectually it seems snobbish and intolerant to reject the Claus, and maybe even racist or rude. But emotionally, I just can’t do it.
The truth is more than simply intellectual. Although I like to pretend i can just watch it all floating by me, that’s not the whole story. Christmas is actually very visible to me and has a pretty deep place in my psyche. When a person is a minority in a dominant culture that culture is oppressive; it exists, heavily. As the wise Pattipow once said, “a fish in the water doesn’t see the water” – and when you are part of a culture as hugely dominant as mainstream Christianity, you don’t even notice that it is culture – it is just, normal.
Altso, this: generations of persecution and genocide leave a deep mark. My parents recognized two kinds of people in the world – us (Jews) and them (goyim). At its best, that mark shows as cultural pride, defiance, and unshakable faith. At worst it lives as neurosis, xenophobia and racism. And while I now try to regard Christmas (and everything else) from an objective distance, that mark is on me, and that time of the year still feels a little foreign and not completely safe.