Life of Carmen, Uncategorized

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.

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