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Jews and the Paradox of a Secular Christmas

by New Dealer

Every year the same messages come up on Facebook around the time the weather starts to cool on the East Coast. This is anywhere from mid-October to early November depending on the person.  The posts turn my friends into eager puppies and they constantly ask when is it acceptable to start playing Christmas music, hang up Christmas decorations, put up the tree, and other quandaries. The Christmas music postings are the most interesting because there is a sense that it is really tacky to play Christmas Music before December but my friends also seem to really burst at the seams for the time when it is socially acceptable.

The phrase I heard for all this stuff is “Christmas Magic.” My friends who grew up celebrating Christmas seem to think that it is an amazing and enchanted lead up. Now many of my friends are also starting to have young children and my friends who celebrate Christmas go especially off a deep end during this time period with posts about the children’s first experiences with Santa. My Jewish friends with children do not seem to post as many starry eyed posts (if any) about celebrating Hannukah with their children. Perhaps I will see more posts when it is the time for Bar and Bat Mitzvahs.

Christmas Magic has always perplexed me as a Jewish person. I don’t understand why Christmas gets elevated over all other holidays and times of the year for being magical and special. I don’t quite understand why Santa and the Tree and the music seem to cause lots of excitement and cause almost every non-Jewish person I know to go off the deep end in anticipation. Christmas seems to be the holiday that even the most strident atheists want to celebrate. This year there was a campaign of posters on keeping the Christ out of Christmas and a series of essays on the joys of secular Christmas.[1]

We did not celebrate Christmas growing up. We did not put up trees and decorations. We did celebrate Hannukah but with a lot less pomp and ceremony. Hannukah was always a very low-key celebration in my family and I always knew that the presents came from my parents. As we got older, the celebrations happened with less frequency and we maybe only lighted candles one the first night and did not exchange presents.

I was also lucky in that I grew up in a very Jewish suburb of New York City, which has a very high Jewish population growing up. There were more houses in my hometown without decorations than with decorations during Christmas.  You can take your Judaism for granted if you grow up in the NYC-Metro area. This is not true of Jewish people who grow up in most other parts of the United States. A friend who grew up in upstate New York said that when he was a young child people would look at him like he was “something dirty” when he told well-meaning strangers that he did not celebrate Christmas. It took me until I was 22 until I had these arguments about why everyone should celebrate Christmas.

I sympathize with my friend from upstate New York. The hallmark of December seems to be that everyone should celebrate Christmas in a free society. This is infuriating, but it seems like people are more shocked someone does not want to celebrate even secular Christmas. No one would ever ask a Jewish person why they did not celebrate Easter even secular Easter with coloring eggs, egg hunts, and candy. However, there does seem to be a feeling that Jews should set their Judaism aside during this time and celebrate secular Christmas and the undecorated house is somehow an affront to the Christmas Magic feeling. In Tod’s post on the real war on Christmas and other places my stance has been called “defensive.” It seems to me the real defensiveness comes from the persistence that everyone should celebrate Christmas and those that don’t are somehow existential threats to the idea of Christmas Magic especially when Jews point out that it is still a holiday dedicated to the birth of the Christian Messiah.

This is not to say I dislike everything about the time. In New York City, farmers from New England and Canada come down with small pine and trees in early and mid December. One of the sellers used to set up shop on my path from the subway station to my grad school. I loved the scent of pine that would fill the air as I walked home in the cool air of late afternoon and early evening. However, this does not mean I need to put a Christmas tree in my apartment and decorate it. I can also enjoy egg nog and gingerbread cookies without going full out either and accept an invitation to a Holiday kafeklatch.

I have these questions for the non-Jewish readership of Ordinary Times. Why is secular Christmas so “magical” over all other times of the year? Why does it seem to be the one holiday where there is a seemingly moral and universal requirement to celebrate the secular version of the Holiday? What were your experiences with undecorated houses growing up and reactions to them? What are your stories about Jewish classmates or friends or acquaintances that did not celebrate the holiday. There clearly does seem to be some kind of affront that goes on when people see unadorned houses and hear that there are people who do not celebrate Christmas, my friend’s story about dirty looks is not an isolated incident. When I was 22, an Australian housemate could simply not accept my answer of “I’m Jewish” as why I did not celebrate Christmas and I do not think he was the most religious person in the world. Is it because Christmas is supposed to be such a time of unmitigated joy that any non-celebrant acts as a damper and a reminder that not everything is universal?

 

 


[1] http://www.slate.com/articles/life/faithbased/2008/12/no_reason_for_the_season.html.

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140 thoughts on “Jews and the Paradox of a Secular Christmas

  1. “Why is secular Christmas so “magical” over all other times of the year?”

    presents! (really – think of it as early conditioning/brainwashing).

    you do seem to cross circles with a lot of very annoying people who don’t know how to mind their own business, though.

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    • This. I’m of Catholic stock but am non-practicing and only felt the faintest pressure from non-family to decorate and put up a tree… Neither of which we did. My mom took the baby to see a mall Santa but moms be crazy.
      While I don’t mean to dismiss your experiences I do wonder how universal they are. I saw only a smattering of posts about Christmas music (one of which was about Mariah Carey and was clearly sexual in nature).

      I dare say you might be overblowing your case. Most of my Christians only celebrate vis a vis their family. And my Jewish friends tend to partake only insofar as it is a social gathering with booze.

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      • i really like giving gifts to other people (especially kids), but the rest of christmas outside of the generally more chillaxed atmosphere can kinda go stuff it. definitely would rather people give donations to some (non-offensive, one hopes) cause they like rather than giving me stuff, but this does not fly with the wife and the folks.

        i also like using it as a springboard to inculcate notions of giving and a reduction of focus on stuff with the kid, but it’s difficult given the volume of stuff. ugh, stuff.

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  2. Thanks for the pic, I love it!

    I will add one story. When I was very young my paternal uncle was briefly engaged to a non-Jewish women. He lived in Florida close to my grandparents and we were visiting. The woman asked if we had a tree and I said no we were Jewish. She could not understand this as a seemingly simple concept.

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  3. I admit: I like giving people presents. If they’re people I really like, I really like putting a great deal of thought into the presents I give. Getting people to say “oh, I’ve been wanting this!” with a note of real surprise is something that’s awfully nice to hear and it’s only beaten by some variant of “I had no idea I could have been wanting this!”

    So, come Christmas, I really like the opportunity to get The Perfect Present if one happens to present itself to me.

    If I have a complaint, it’s that I usually tend to forget about half of the people I’ve been wanting to think about all year and that there isn’t enough time to find the perfect present for everybody (thank goodness, everybody is usually gracious enough to be pleased with a $12 bottle of something) but I try to mitigate that by being willing to buy The Perfect Present in May, if that’s when it shows up.

    Anyway, what I’m wondering is whether you’d see accepting a present as “celebrating Christmas”.

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  4. Me thinks thou doth protest too much.

    ND, did you not read Tod’s last post? The reason why we have “Christmas magic” is a result of a very deliberate and successful attempt to domesticate Christmas that took place in early 19th century America and Europe. The goal, which was met with spectacular success, was to turn Christmas from something celebrated by mild rioting to a holiday that was much more schmaltzy and family focused.

    The domestication of Christmas also coincided with the emancipation and assimilation of the Jews in Central and Western Europe. Germany was ground zero for both in many ways because a lot of the customs of domesticated Christmas come from bourgeoisie German culture. Naturally, the newly emancipated and rapidly assimilating Jews of Central Europe wanted in on the fun. Thats why a lot of Jews celebrate Christmas. Celebrating Christmas was a way for them to project their new German identity.

    You feel a bit more alienated because you come from mainly Ost-Juden stock. Christmas was not domesticated in Russia and Eastern Europe like it was in Western Europe or North America. Christmas could be a dangerous time for many Ost-Juden. When the Ost-Juden immigrated to the United States and elsewhere, many of them were reluctant to celebrate Christmas even if they other wise assimilated. Our great-grandparents did not assimilate, they remained very Orthodox. That further makes Christmas seem strange to you.

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  5. FWIW, I think the disconnect for Christmas Celebrators comes less from the thinking that YOU should be celebrating, so much as the inability to understand why anyone wouldn’t. And I think this is because for so many who have been raised celebrating it, the Christmas season touches something joyfully primal. I don’t think it’s accidental that the number one thing that people see to associate with the holiday isn’t a religious or even a secular message, but music.

    Maybe the best way I can translate it is this:

    You know when you talk to someone or read somewhere about some some guy who is asexual? That it isn’t that they choose to abstain from pleasure, they just don’t find sex in any way pleasurable? Not because they have a traumatic association or anything, they just aren’t wired that way for whatever reason. And you never think, “that person’s wrong about sex!” — you just find yourself wondering inside your head, “not fining sex pleasurable… huh… I wonder what that’s even like?”

    It’s kind of like that.

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    • I suppose that works as analogy.

      As I said in your other thread, I think the is an implicit message (and sometimes explicit one) that Jews and their practices are weird/strange at best and down right inferior at worst for not celebrating Christmas. This is not to say that Jews are superior to Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Atheists, Agnostics, Hindus, or anyone else. But the look and feeling Jews seem to get is is a mixture of pity and scorn. And as I in your original thread Jews who seem to yearn for Christmas do so with a lot of awareness of the different and outside status. Maybe this is too Freudian but I even think in the secular Christmas celebrations that there is an idea that Jews are odd for rejecting Christ as the Messiah. I really don’t see how one can strip Christmas of its Christianity no matter how much you try, it is always at the root even pointing out the initial pagan roots.*

      *Here it might be interesting to note that Hannukah is an explicit celebration in refusing to paganize Judaism or have it be co-opted in anyway. Part of the story is reclaiming the Temple for Judaism after it was paganized by occupiers.

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      • “But the look and feeling Jews seem to get is is a mixture of pity and scorn.”

        Meh, that stuff always goes both ways. My Jewish friends could not be more lovely and amazingly, but I’m still always aware even if they don’t say it that I’m not one of the Chosen, and that my kitchen is unclean.

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      • “But the look and feeling Jews seem to get is is a mixture of pity and scorn”

        I think it’s just that those other groups have not been given the shot at pity and scorn. (though I’d say there’s also an aspect of curiosity, if one wants to be charitable) For a good portion of 20th century suburbanization, the only families that one would encounter not celebrating Christmas (on Dec 25*) would be the few Jewish families** that may (or may not) have been allowed in the neighborhood.

        *the Eastern Orthodox also do things differently, and the one or two Greek families (who ran the restaurant) were also looked on with curiosity. But they also did many of the same things, just about a week later, so it was mostly transparent.

        **in addition to the Orthodox, the Jehovah’s Witnesses. But they didn’t celebrate birthdays in class either.

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      • To riff off your point about you being around your Jewish friends, I can say that when I’m around my in-laws, who are Jewish, I am often reminded very much that I am “Christian,” even if I’m the not-very-practicing-but-still-cultural-and-quasi-believing type of Christian. There are at least a few comments usually made about how “those Christians” are or about word choices that might have some Christian etymology but have, in my opinion, entered into the standard lexicon. My wife, for example, once mentioned the notion of having a calling (in reference to her career) and she was called out for using a Christian term.

        I’m not sure this isn’t all good for me. I’m sure that I’ve been on the other side of things without even realizing it, when I’ve committed my own micro-aggressions and in a context where my micro-aggressions are perhaps worse because they arise from the dominant culture and not a sub-culture. What I mean is, I can usually take for granted not having to face the kind of discrimination they have faced. My father-in-law, for example, has a story about once when he found a house he really liked and could afford, but was informed that the neighborhood didn’t allow Jews. That must’ve felt like a combination of humiliation and powerlessness that I only rarely encounter myself. So I have to keep that in mind.

        I also imagine that if I lived in a heavily Jewish neighborhood or culture, I, too, would be put upon by the hypocrisies and false pieties that I suspect arise in every community of faith or every community of common culture.

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    • And as I in your original thread Jews who seem to yearn for Christmas do so with a lot of awareness of the different and outside status.

      You said they suffer from an “inferiority complex”. Which is a bit too Freudian, it seems to me. Maybe they just want to participate in An Event for purely positive reasons.

      Maybe this is too Freudian but I even think in the secular Christmas celebrations that there is an idea that Jews are odd for rejecting Christ as the Messiah.

      The great virtue of Freudian theory is its irrefutability.

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      • From the article:

        “My father was raised in a devoutly Jewish home, but he always adored Christmas. My grandmother tells, half-fondly and half-sadly, of when he was 6 and asked whether he could become Christian so that Santa Claus would pay him a visit. He eventually stopped practicing Judaism, but his love of Christmas never went away.”

        How is this exactly positive? What causes a 6 year old to feel this way?

        I think we have in these debates that grand American tradition (or possibly human condition) of wanting it both ways. People want to cherry pick and take all the non-religious or only vaguely religious aspects while ignoring all the religious stuff as about Christmas including the very religious messages of most Carols (“All hail the New Crowned King…”).

        To be Jewish is to be Jewish and part of being Jewish is the belief that Jesus is not the Messiah. I think it is kind of silly that everyone wants to sweep these parts under the rug and act like they don’t exist. Ignore the Carols, ignore the reason the Holiday exists, Ignore the Nativity, just so we can make this more universal but not really.

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      • How is this exactly positive?

        How exactly is an individual rejecting an identification with Judaism a bad thing? It seems to me the presuppositions underlying your view aren’t being articulated very clearly, if at all.

        What causes a 6 year old to feel this way?

        When I was 6, I wanted to be Catholic because I liked the big hymn book and all the singing.

        To be Jewish is to be Jewish and part of being Jewish is the belief that Jesus is not the Messiah.

        I don’t believe in the Messiah, either. I’m not Jewish. Or Christian. But I believe in Christmas. Weird, no?

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      • “To be Jewish is to be Jewish and part of being Jewish is the belief that Jesus is not the Messiah. I think it is kind of silly that everyone wants to sweep these parts under the rug and act like they don’t exist. Ignore the Carols, ignore the reason the Holiday exists, Ignore the Nativity, just so we can make this more universal but not really.”

        Yeah, I think you’re still missing something, because I don’t believe that Jesus was the messiah and I never have. None of this makes the myths that surround Christmas any less powerful for me — and I’m including those myths that have nothing to do with Jesus.

        If you look at all the classic Christmas myths, legends, novels, plays, TV specials and movies, none of them are declarations that Jesus is coming to judge to the living and the dead. In fact, I’d say that a great majority of them never mention Jesus at all. They are all about the power of making a decision to lay down arms, give to those less fortunate and remember that those things that are truly important are not material possessions. That we don’t always live up to those messages is obvious, but I would argue that it does not make those myths any less important, and I don’t think it makes celebrating them without value.

        Surely you know atheist Jews who still find meaning in Jewish myths, eat kosher, and/or observe the high holies, yes? It’s the same thing, I think.

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      • “How exactly is an individual rejecting an identification with Judaism a bad thing? It seems to me the presuppositions underlying your view aren’t being articulated very clearly, if at all.”

        Because it is their history and ancestry. I feel like it is a kid take a subliminal or not very subliminal hit about from the mainstream about how their culture and history and ancestry stacks in the grand scheme of things.

        FWIW I see more Judaism as being more than a religion and as also being an ethnicity, culture, and philosophy. So my reaction to a 6 year old Jewish kid wanting to reject their Judaism would be the same as I react if a 6 year old minority student said that they wanted to be white. I would feel like they felt not welcome somehow because of who they were. They know their differenceness and outsider status and want to hide or change this. Assimilation is not the path here but mutual respect for all cultures.

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      • ND, I’m pushing a bit on this issue, but I definitely don’t want to push too hard. I disagree with your views on all this a bit, and to keep things short (and hopefully open enough to admit disagreement between us), you wrote

        Because it is their history and ancestry.

        which makes me wonder why history and ancestry matter one iota to a new born person. Or a 6 year old. Or even a full-grown adult. However, I get the feeling you believe they actually do, and I can’t quite figure out why.

        It seems to me – and I could be wrong about this! – that you identify “being jewish” as a higher moral/personal/cultural value than individuals simply being themselves. Even when – perhaps especially! – doing so means they embrace the spirit or magic of Christmas.

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      • , in addition to what ND said; giving up Jewishness completely is impossible. You might become an ordained Protestant minister married to a blonde from North Carolina but when the Jew hater wants to kill and your the only Jew around your dead.

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      • “To be Jewish is to be Jewish and part of being Jewish is the belief that Jesus is not the Messiah.”

        If I’m remembering correctly, you’ve often spoken about how being Jewish is more than a religion, but also a culture and ethnicity. So this statement stands out to me in contrast to that. I understand that to be religiously Jewish, there are certain core tenets one must accept (likewise for Christianity and Islam and all faiths). These are often required to gain “official” recognition within the faith but also serves to unify practitioners around common beliefs.

        But being religiously Jewish is not the only way to be Jewish (again, likewise for Christianity and Islam and all faiths). And there are many Christmas traditions which have nothing to do with Jesus as Messiah. My families celebrates Christmas Eve with the feast of the seven fishes, an Italian-American tradition which is far more cultural than it is religious. Yes, it was borne out of Catholic calls for abstinence (vis a vis meat eating) but we partake in the tradition because it allows my mother to feel connected to her Italian relatives who have since passed. On a number of occasions, my mom has invited Jewish friends to the meal. As is typical for our family, no prayer was offered and the extent of even mentioning Christmas was limited to wishes of Merry Christmas at the beginning and end of the night and our annual political argument with my conservative stepfather about the War on Christmas.

        Really, all we do is get together, eat fish, talk, laugh, and fight. None of that requires accepting Jesus as the Messiah, as evidenced by the fact that we gather at other times of the year to eat, talk, laugh, and fight — none of which have any religious affiliation.

        It seems you are arguing that my mom’s Jewish friends’ attendance at these events somehow makes them less Jewish or runs counter to their Judaism. Nothing in my experience suggests this to be anything close to reality.

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  6. Great Post ND,

    I sympathize with your position. 1. Jews have suffered at the hands of Christians. So a Jesus themed or historically-connected-to-Jesus in any way celebration probably feels like celebrating Thanksgiving feels to (many) Native Americans. 2. There is no moral impetus to celebrate one holiday over the other, but people sure act like their is a moral impetus to celebrate this one.

    Here is my theory on Christmas magic. There are two stages. Stage 1: As children we are conditioned to become incredibly excited about getting gifts. The nature of the gift doesn’t matter. It is the way in which they are given: hinder in a shiny box, talked about, presented with candy and family and food, etc. It is a level of gratification delay that drives children insane with happiness. We then carry that excited memory into future years. Stage 2: Being kind and jolly and sweet is emphasized over and over again. Santa is jolly. The Christmas Carol is all about happy kindness. The Red Nosed Reindeer is about being nice. It’s a Wonderful Life. Etc., etc. This idea of joyful giving is incredibly appealing to children and teens and when combined with excitement of the delay-gratified-presents induces a sort of deep emotional experience that can carry well into adulthood. Interestingly, we almost never expose children to this idea that a good life is one of joyful giving except at Christmas. They are normally told happiness is earning money and taking care of things and being responsible.

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  7. Having grown up in Canada, where it is really cold and really dark, the Joy and Importance of both Christmas AND New Year’s for me can be summed up thusly:

    It’s really fishing cold and really fishing dark – it HAS been those things for a month or two and will continue to be them for at least two more – and the Christmas-New Year’s one-two punch is an excellent excuse to spend one of the most miserable weeks of the year cheering oneself up with good food, good drink, good company, a lot of sitting around in one’s PJs reading, time to go outside and play if there IS any sun, and plentiful naps. Advent (and its more secular equivalent, aptly named by you “Christmas Magic”) is an anticipatory warm-up period in which, as the days get shorter and shorter and more and more unpleasant, one promises oneself that it really isn’t that bad and at least one has the holidays to cheer oneself up a bit. The “twelve days of Christmas” are an excellent excuse to extend the festivities for as long as possible before having to buckle back down to a couple of miserable and rather joyless months of winter.

    I remember discovering, when I was a little kid, that those who celebrate Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere do it on the same day(s) as we Northerners, and thinking that was bugfishing insane. “But they don’t NEED it if it is already summer there!!!! What do they do in the winter?!?!?!?!!”

    What the reason for the enormous hype is among people who aren’t as Vitamin-D-deficient as I am, I couldn’t really tell you. But it’s worth noting that even people with solid Vitamin-D stores are pretty short by winter solstice. From a religious perspective, I was always taught as a kid that Christmas was NOT the most important holiday, Easter was. Paradoxically, I think this made Christmas more of a “fun family time” and Easter more of a “mostly we are in church a lot” time – thus for a kid, making memories, Christmas was a lot more significant. (Church? BORING. Except for the songs. Which were also more fun at Christmas than Easter.)

    I was also taught as a kid (and we’re talking 30 years ago) that not everyone celebrated Christmas and that I should be respectful of that. It was actually hammered home hard enough that as a slightly older kid I had to learn that it was equally rude to say, “You have a Christmas tree??? But you’re Jewish!” So I’m appalled at people for shoving it at you. Not really surprised though, since it does seem to be a common atttitude in the US that Christmas Is Important. I’m still trying to train my mother-in-law that not being preemptively wished a Merry Christmas is not an offensive act on some poor salesperson’s part. (She’s mostly learned it – but I had to reason it out with her, and normally she is smarter than I am!)

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    • And of course Canada has days more the length of days in Europe. Recall that London and Calgary are about at the same latitude, so the day is about the same length. Most people in Eastern Canada live further south than England, (let alone talk about Scotland). So in some sense the motivation you have is the same one that drove the traditions in England. Of course in addition if you were in Ag December was the month with the least work required. (Plus before electricity one spent a lot of time in bed during December)
      Living in the South of the US the change is not as drastic but I did grow up in Detroit where sunset is about 5 pm. Plus up there you did not see the sun for weeks on end.

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  8. I’ve no dog in the fight, as it were, and many Christian relatives and friends. So it’s easier sometimes to join ’em than to fight ’em.

    Present exchanges are fun, too, and if the decorations and silly movies make my wife happy, then that makes me happy.

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    • Perhaps this a good point to admit that I don’t see why A Christmas Story is the huge classic everyone makes it out to be.

      Then again, I’ve long been mulling thoughts about how my generation and perhaps older generations seem to be constantly stuck in a nostalgia trap and wanting to keep everything comforting and secure instead of trying the new. I think 9/11, the War on Terror, and The Great Recession have created this kind of need to have the culture be constantly comforting.

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      • Perhaps this a good point to admit that I don’t see why A Christmas Story is the huge classic everyone makes it out to be.

        I love that movie, but not because it’s a subtle or even overt attempt to indoctrinate watchers into accepting the Christain Belief Matrix, but because of what it says about Human Beings.

        It’s pretty damn funny.

        As a kid, did you ever want something people told told you you couldn’t have?

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      • Oh certainly. I still want things that I can’t have.

        And I think my favorite movies are about being human to: Stolen Kisses, The Last Metro, The Garden of the Finzi Continis, Ikiru, After Life, Still Walking, Rhapsody in August, Madadayo, Jules and Jim, etc.

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      • my generation and perhaps older generations seem to be constantly stuck in a nostalgia trap and wanting to keep everything comforting and secure instead of trying the new. I think 9/11, the War on Terror, and The Great Recession have created this kind of need to have the culture be constantly comforting.

        I think it’s the internet, meself. Now, the past is truly never dead nor past; everything, ever, is just a click away.

        Now that culture can be replicated digitally in infinite plenitude and stored for next to nothing, nostalgia (always a strong pull on humans) can be sated any time we want.

        You used to have to go to an antique store or clean out the attic for that.

        Nostalgia is probably second only to porn, in terms of ‘net instant gratification.

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      • I don’t get it, either. I don’t enjoy that movie, and even though we’re in Cleveland this pre-Christmas weekend, we’re not going to see the house where the movie was filmed (which I guess is a museum to the movie now).

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  9. I can’t speak for anyone else but as a culturally Christian atheist I’ll admit I had a negative and completely irrational response on reading your initial comments in the other thread. I think it was a sense that saying you avoid the holiday because it is about Jesus implies I celebrate it for the same reason. It felt like you were saying “If you enjoy seeing these customs you *must* really believe that the creator of the universe was born of a virgin, etc, etc” and since I do enjoy and don’t believe that rankled.

    Now as I say I recognise this as a completely irrational thing, you were talking about your experience not mine, but this was my first response.

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    • Of course plenty of people celebrate completely secular Christmas and don’t care for the Jesus stuff. I imagine many of these people grew up in at least nominally Christian households.

      The question still remains why should someone who might or might not be religious but grew up in a non-Christian household abandon their past for the sake of secular Christmas. I find explanations of trying to get people to see it as a solstice holiday to be revealing. People are still keeping the name instead of referring to it as a general solstice holiday, etc.

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  10. I should add that I don’t think any of my rhetoric is going to change the mind of any Christmas celebrating person from a non-Christian background. People are going to do what they want to. This is more of a personal essay on my views.

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      • I don’t think I am disagreeing with that. I am disagreeing with the idea that there needs to be one universal holiday for all people for these things and it has to be of Christian origin. A lot of Jewish holidays involve around time with the family and meals.

        I would be all for a universal holiday dedicated to the above if it comes from complete scratch and it is not Festivus.

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      • “Presents are fun. Feasts are fun. Getting together with friends and family is fun.”

        Where in my posts am I saying that these things are not true and should not exist?

        Enough to deserve that swipe below.

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      • Well, then you lost-out last night, bro. The Wizard of Oz was looped on TNT, and I think I caught the whole thing (in Enhanced Colorvision!) over about a four hour time frame in between hockey games. (Modern technology is awesome.)

        “We represent, the lollipop guild.”

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      • I would be all for a universal holiday dedicated to the above if it comes from complete scratch and it is not Festivus.

        It’s a Solstice Party, dude. It has nothing to do with the birth of Jesus the Christ except by legislative fiat. Look up the work “catholic”.

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      • It’s more of a response to the “People are going to do what they want to.” portion. Of course they will… especially if it involves having fun or an excuse to have fun.

        You’re never going to make a convert based on Lent. You’re never going to make a convert based on fasting. (Heck, it would never occur to anyone to say “we’re not going to eat all day. Wanna come over?”)

        But when it comes to feasts and presents, it’s a “more the merrier!” thing and, here’s where it comes back to the Atheist/Christian/Jewish thing, to be told “no, I’m not going to celebrate with you because I don’t believe in Jesus” is really wacky when it’s atheists who are holding the party.

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      • This seems to be a no win argument. Christians get angry at Jews for not celebrating Christ related things and Atheists who want a secular Christmas get angry at Jews for reminding them that it is indeed a Christian holiday despite the secular trappings and they are holding over their dominant and at least nominally majoritarian Christian childhoods.

        A brief review:

        1. Yes many of the parts of Christmas do come with pagan roots because the early Church was willing to co-opt them for the sake of getting more and more coverts.

        2. The Jewish response to paganism and various pagan conquests was the opposite of being co-opted but rejection and rebellion. See the Romans, see Hannukah as a rejection of being co-opted into paganism.

        3. LeeEsq pointed out above that for a long time Christmas time could be very dangerous for Jews especially Eastern European Jews and many stayed way out sight during the time period to avoid attacks.

        4. The modern atheist needs Christmas to be as secular as possible to combat the Evangelical hold and this means making as many people celebrate it whether they want to or not or it was problematic for their people or not. Pointing out this old history is uncomfortable.

        Why is the general solstice party the one that happened to be connected to Christianity and the birth of Christ?

        Of course at this point we are probably not going to change minds.

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      • Of course my long response completely proves your Lighten Up Francis post but you said above you were pushing back but trying not to push too hard. What is the purpose of a push back but to try and convince someone to change their mind?

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      • And why are blacks always so angry?

        Really? You want to go there?

        Look, I’ll concede that the issue is potentially murky and the boundaries aren’t necessarily clearly defined, but I’m pretty sure the analogy doesn’t hold. People can’t choose the color of their skin. Religious identifications, on the other hand, seem to be be clearly subjectively determined, or subjectively imposed. A choice. Unless, that is, we’re equating Judaism (a religion) with genetically determined properties (like skin color).

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      • “Christians get angry at Jews for not celebrating Christ related things ”

        Which Christians? All of them? Most of them? A loud minority? The missing quantifier is a big part of the problem here, given that you’re clearly accusing this other group of being insensitive and silly.

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      • ND, somehow I missed out on your responses above. Don’t know why or how. Sorry about that.

        Here’s goes a belated response.

        I’m making a two-fold argument in this thread (not just this subthread). First, that you’re presupposition that there is something wrong with Jews celebrating secular christmas requires a justification that I haven’t seen yet. You’ve said that doing so constitutes a rejection of their “past”, but I haven’t seen an argument justifying why that past needs to be honored. That is, if we’re talking about individuals here and individual beliefs.

        Second, you wrote

        What is the purpose of a push back but to try and convince someone to change their mind?

        Well, sure, that’s true. I disagree with you’re take on Christmas because I think Christmas is a name I use to refer to a secular holiday celebrating a bunch of stuff that isn’t remotely religious in nature. I think lots of other people use the word the same way. So the identification of the holiday with anti- or contra-Jewish religious principles strikes me as a big stretch. Hence, my comment that Catholicism changed Jesus birthday to make it a universally shared event.

        But that leads to the bigger complaint: that you seem to view a secular holiday as necessarily being anti-Jewish. I think lots of people have expressed the view that Christmas, as a tradition, is – as a matter of fact! – non-religious. But more importantly, given that, I find it puzzling that you insist that Jews celebrating Christmas are somehow “dishonoring their past” or “dishonoring their heritage”. Why should “the past” and “heritage” mean a rats ass to a young person growing up in the US? That’s a cultural norm, quite clearly it seems to me, and has nothing to do with the legitimacy of the choices individuals make.

        Why should the feel beholden to a conception of the past that doesn’t fit their current desires?

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      • I guess lightening up is for people who don’t celebrate Christmas.

        Not exactly. It’s for people who don’t want to look at the event without begging questions about the religiosity of the event.

        I mean, I’m guessing you celebrate Christmas James, yes?, the non-religious version?

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      • Also, I second what KenB said. I don’t think Christians get angry at Jews who don’t celebrate Christmas is a good way to describe the issue. Or even necessarily to raise an issue.

        I’m still unclear what the issue really is, actually. I’ve heard that Christians want to shame Jews into sharing the holiday; and I’ve heard that Jews who celebrate the holiday have an “inferiority complex”.

        Honestly, I think jaybird got it just right when he said that an excuse to give presents and eat a bunch of food is a sufficient reason for a holiday, and that’s about the end of it.

        Unless we’re getting all anthropological here….

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      • , there have been lots of people who didn’t consider themselves Jews and did not meet the Jewish definition of Jewishness, having a Jewish mother, but were still plenty Jewish enough to get into trouble, often very serious trouble, with Jew haters.

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      • Lee, I’ve noticed that you like to focus on the concept of “Jew haters” when defending not merely Jewish solidarity (whatever that is) but the concept of Jewishness. Surely you don’t think that non-Jews are determining the set of people who identify as Jews or define the limits of Judaism and what constitutes (quote-unquote) Jewishness. At least, I have a hard time believing that you think so.

        And that suggests to me that there are some other properties involved in determining what constitutes “being Jewish”. ND identified some. You seem to be suggesting others.

        Still, I’m not at all clear on how non-Jews views of what it means to be Jewish should matter to what Jews consider being Jewish without begging a question about what it in fact means to be Jewish.

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      • Honestly, it’s just a cookie and some wine. What’s the big deal?

        Surely a refusal to eat the cookie or drink the wine isn’t sufficient for being Jewish. Do I have to start checking different boxes on official gummint paperwork?

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      • Surely you don’t think that non-Jews are determining the set of people who identify as Jews or define the limits of Judaism and what constitutes (quote-unquote) Jewishness.

        I can’t speak for Lee, but as a matter of fact, non-Jews have played a pretty large role in determining who is and who isn’t “Jewish.” The Nazi’s racial theories didn’t much allow for self-identification as a determinant of Jewishness. And while I’m technically indulging in a Godwinism, I don’t make apologies for it as those dark years are looming in the background of any discussion of what counts as “Jewishness” and what measure of security, or lack thereof, someone who might be identified (by others) as Jewish has.

        As with all Godwinisms, it’s important not to insist too much on the comparison, and yet, I am also convinced that there is a certain segment of antisemites who really do define Jews in racial and and ethnic terms, terms that are inescapable, except perhaps through some “passing” mechanism. Conversion to Christianity doesn’t doesn’t put an end to being lumped into a group by hate mongers.

        How much does this apply to the more mainstream sections of society who would never endorse the extreme right? Probably not so much, at least explicitly. But it’s not out of the question if you scratch beneath the surface.

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      • I’ll also add two more things. First, I can’t any high ground here. In my past, even my recent past, I have made bigoted choices.

        Second, there’s another issue you (Stillwater) seem to be raising that is important, namely, a certain contradiction or tension or ambiguity between what appears to be NewDealer’s preference that Jewish people continue to self-identify as Jewish according to some standard that may or may not be commensurate with religious identity and what appears to be a certain lack of power to control that identity. Assuming I read NewDealer’s points aright, that is something that might be useful to tease out..

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      • Pierre,

        there’s another issue … that is important, namely, a certain contradiction or tension or ambiguity between what appears to be NewDealer’s preference that Jewish people continue to self-identify as Jewish according to some standard that may or may not be commensurate with religious identity and what appears to be a certain lack of power to control that identity.

        Yes, that’s it exactly. And said which much more clarity than I could muster.

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    • Disclaimer: The United States is a free country and people can do as they please, such is the nature of liberty and I would not have it any other way.

      But no a personal level, the phrase “Christmas-loving Jew” does bother me a lot for the reasons I have presented above.

      Jewish people do not need to enter complete seclusion. It would be a mitzvah (good deed) to work or volunteer on Christmas Day so a Christian co-worker could spend time with his or her family (depending on the industry). You could probably accept an invitation to a party or do the traditional movie and Chinese food thing.

      Though do I think a Jewish person should put up a tree with decorations or other stuff? I find it puzzling and a yearning for what is not your history and culture as expressed above. Lee presented counter evidence though for more Germanic Jews.

      I have a friend who is Catholic and married a Jewish guy. They have a small child. I see on facebook that she sincerely seems to want to raise her kid interfaith. But she does not know much about Judaism and her husband is largely apathetic and possibly actively hostile to the idea. She described him once as the “most-Christmas loving Jew.” I often find this apathy in a lot of Jews who intermarry especially men. They want to practice what I often label as kitsch-Judaism, they want to use their Jewishness as a kind of charm and funny thing while ignoring the 5000 years of history and tradition and culture and all the serious stuff. This is how Kazzy in a previous thread can think that all Jewish holidays can be summed up as “they tried to kill us, they didn’t, let’s eat.” There is some truth to that but it is a bit too light considering the very real darkness in Jewish history when we were almost killed. Why is it that we still have lots of Jewish men who flee from marrying Jewish women and seem to want to abscond from all things Jewish?

      I know that it is very fashionable to try and raise interfaith kids now* and think it can work but I find it to be a paradox. If Judaism explicitly rejects Jesus as the Messiah (and Jews for Jesus are not Jewish, they are a front for the Southern Baptists) how can you raise a kid in both the tenants of Christianity and Judaism? You just end up destroying or making light of the Jewishness it seems often enough.

      *http://www.slate.com/articles/podcasts/mom_and_dad_are_fighting/2013/12/mom_and_dad_are_fighting_celebrating_hanukkah_and_christmas.html

      I realize that this is a rather old-school view and possibly goes against the liberalism of my screen name but there you have it.

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      • I agree with you about the interfaith stuff. I think it’s confusing to a child to be taught the tenets of two religions with conflicting visions of G-d. Choose one or the other or none. But don’t put it on your kid to make the choice.

        Actually, I agree with most of what you say in this post but, then again, I’m a curmudgeon and tend to view the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Years as a period of commercially imposed gaiety. I’m always pretty happy to see January 2nd roll around.

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      • “I agree with you about the interfaith stuff. I think it’s confusing to a child to be taught the tenets of two religions with conflicting visions of G-d. Choose one or the other or none. But don’t put it on your kid to make the choice.”

        that’s kind of depressing and a bit awful, really. life is confusing. life is complicated. there are conflicting visions of god within a single religious traditions, much less between faiths. presuming that the parents respect each other, the kid’s gonna have to find his own way anyway. if someone’s that orthodox (in whatever faith) they probably wouldn’t marry someone of lesser religiosity, much less of a conflicting/”conflicting” faith.

        i find some of this interfaith stuff a little too close to the usual arguments about mixed race families, right down to the “destruction of bloodlines” and “it’ll be confusing” angles.

        gross.

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      • I don’t dislike early winter. Early winter in New York (roughly the time you described) is refreshing and pleasant. It is cold but usually not too cold and it is nice to walk around outside and duck into a cafe for a hot drink. Or go on a walk with a hot chocolate or cider or latte. January and February just have everyone itching for spring.

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      • I’m not sure what I think of interfaith upbringings of children. (I suppose I’m in an “interfaith marriage,” but we’re not having children, so that’s a dimension we don’t have to explore.) I do think some people approach it without acknowledging the contradictions involved, although at the same time, as dhex points out, life has a lot of contradictions and it’s pretty hard to dismiss those by a “our family does it this way, so should you, at least until you’re 18” fiat.

        I remember reading as a child “Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret,” and found the protagonist’s experiences to be very illuminating and interesting as she tried to decide which faith to observe. (However, truth be told, today I don’t remember what the resolution was.)

        When I was a pre-adolescent/adolescent, I had something of a conflict with my parents. My mom was Catholic and my dad, even though he was Lutheran, was non-practicing, but early on, around 5th grade or so, I began to embrace a version of what might be called evangelical Christianity (my brother was/is pentecostal, and my best friend’s father was a baptist minister, and they influenced me in that direction). It created a little conflict in my family and although I think my parents were mostly respectful of my choices, there was still a sense that I was rebelling against them and going against their wishes because of those choices (and to be honest, perhaps that was part of my inner motivation).

        In other words, I think it’s a bit too facile to tout interfaith upbringings as simple, good things, but it’s also a bit facile for parents to adopt a religious/cultural tradition without much regard for the choices the child might make. I don’t think Michelle or NewDealer really said otherwise, but I’d just like to bring to the fore that children are people with their own will and while that will might be, and perhaps should be, channeled into certain directions, it ought never to be destroyed. Again, no one here has said it should be, but I just wanted to put that out there.

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      • I was being glib and uncharitable in my assessment true but I think there are real contradictions or one parent is really non active and/or possibly hostile to their religion. Not always but often enough in my estimation.

        As I mentioned, I have a good friend who is Catholic from undergrad and she married a Jewish guy. They have a young child and she has made posts during and after pregnancy about trying to raise her child to be interfaith and searching for resources. The issue seems to be that she obviously knows a lot about Catholicism and secular Christmas and not super-much about Judaism. Her husband seems to be actively not involved with anything religious or this aspect of his child’s life. She has mentioned that he refuses to step inside a temple and I think we went out drinking with a friend on the night before the High Holidays according to a facebook update.

        So even though my friend wants to raise her kid to be aware of the Jewish side, I am not sure how much this is going lead to serious interfaith and I see this more often than not. I think the will and desire is there often but ends up getting dropped. But there are plenty of families who do try for serious interfaith and I was being off-handed and wrong towards them.

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      • With all due respect, it seems that many of your arguments are backed up by anecdotes which you then generalize as the norm. I think you’d be well served to look at these issues more broadly.

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      • Thanks for the thoughtful response.

        For my part, I wish I had been raised with more of an interfaith experience. My mother converted from Judaism to Christianity when I was in preschool, and it was that latter religion in which I was raised. I had next to no understanding of Jewish culture or identity growing up, and as a result lost out on an incredibly rich and rewarding part of my heritage.

        When I moved to New York, I was determined to learn more about this neglected part of myself. (It helped to have a best friend who is Jewish and who has a wonderful family who welcomed me like one of their own every Passover.) As a practicing Christian (albeit with a pretty doubt-riddled faith), I have a hard time claiming my Jewishness, and feel uncharacteristically timid about doing so. I know that the tenets of Christianity, particularly as regards the divinity of Jesus, are contradictory to Judaism, and out of respect for the latter I don’t hold myself out as a Jew. But I would claim it if I could, because I love that part of myself and think it utterly worth celebrating. And I wish it had been much more a part of my upbringing than it was.

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      • I know that it is very fashionable to try and raise interfaith kids now* and think it can work but I find it to be a paradox. If Judaism explicitly rejects Jesus as the Messiah

        That’s small potatos. I mean, think of all the shared overlap: a shared belief that the universe was created six thousand years ago; strict adherence of all the rules set out in Leviticus; belief in a vengeful God who sill smite (or burn) non-believers like the sodomites. Surely a little dispute over something as trivial as the Messiah can be overlooked given so many shared beliefs and values, no?

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      • I do agree that NewDealer is over-generalizing and perhaps too glib, although he has retracted that part. But I think he touches on potential contradictions when it comes to inter-faith upbringings, the understanding of which is based more on the logic of the thing than on the empirical evidence.

        I don’t think someone can really be “interfaith” on a personal level. One can, I suppose, posit that there is one universal faith toward which most (all?) of the other faiths are approximations, or one can say, for example, that all other faiths are lesser versions of, say, Christianity (where that is considered the “one true faith”….I could just as easily cite any one of a number of other religions), but that seems to be distinct from an “interfaith” understanding. At some point, one faith, or some combination not reducible to the faith standards others follow, or some variant of agnosticism or atheism, has to be decided upon. Something gets preferred over the other, at least at the personal level.

        None of this is to suggest I believe that interfaith tolerance and openness to other faiths and suspensions of judgement on others is bad, just that it’s distinct from “being interfaith.” (I sure hope I’m being clear, and as is my wont, I might have to skip town for the next several hours to do things.)

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      • Except that if you study Judaism, you will discover that there are a lot of differences besides the divinity of Jesus.

        1. Jews never had strict adherence about Leviticus. A lot of far-right conservative Christians like to talk about Judeo-Christian law but they no very little about Judaism and the Talmud. The Talmud is the interpretation of Torah and in Judaism the way to study Torah is through vigorous debate and disagreement over the meaning of things. Yes there are all the rules in Leviticus but the Talmud actually makes it very very very hard (read: basically impossible) to kill someone for violating those rules. Early Christians denounced the Talmud for being too “legalistic.”

        2. For all the talk about how the Jewish God is mean and vengeful, Judaism never developed the concept of Hell as place of never ending pain and suffering. In Judaism, the strongest concept of Hell is a place where you are “away from God” but it is still supposed to be more peaceful than life on earth.

        3. Male homosexuality is a “sin” in Judaism because it wastes semen that could be
        used for pregnancy (Thou shall be fruitful and multiply). Interestingly this makes being lesbian less of a sin (yes there is rabbi debate on this) but it is not enough of a sin to encourage eternal damnation.

        4. There is no concept of Original Sin in Judaism. That is also a Christian invention.

        out Judaism because it is not their background and the often just think it is Christianity without Jesus and this is very far from the truth.

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      • Ahh. So the difference between the two is that Christian culture has established religious beliefs X and jewish culture has established religious beliefs Y, and X/=Y, yes?

        So the problem isn’t really about contradictory beliefs about the Messiah, per se, but that the two religious cultures are incompatible, and “being an X” means accepting, believing and acting on – or in some sense identifying with – the established cultural norms defining X. Is that it?

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      • I agree that Judaism is much more than Christianity w/o the divinity of Jesus, but my (admittedly very rudimentary) understanding of Judaism as a religion is that it has and continues to evolve as part of a dialogue, perhaps in a similar way that common-law systems evolve or academic disciplines evolve over the ages.

        Therefore, I would not be surprised if Judaism could evolve, say, a notion of “original sin,” perhaps in response to the problem of why some people can sincerely intend to do good and yet end up doing evil. (Also, I think I may have read something by Kushner in which he discusses original sin, perhaps not to say that it’s part of Judaism, but it seemed to me that he wasn’t saying the idea of original sin is necessarily antipathetic to Judaism.)

        Also, concerning hell, I think some Christians might agree that hell is absence from god and not really about eternal punishment, except inasmuch as being disconnected from god is its own punishment. That’s not the majority Christian view, as far as I can tell, but I think it’s one at least some Christians hold. Also, my understanding is that ca. C.E. 0, some adherents to Judaism entertained the idea of Gahenna, which is kind of a hell-with-flames that some later associate with the Christian hell. I’m not saying Judaism today has that concept of hell or that that concept was ever anything officially or dogmatically endorsed, but only that it wasn’t impossible for that conception to arise within a Jewish tradition.

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      • To a certain extent, yes I think it does.

        This is not to say that everyone needs to believe in all things in their native or adopted religion and there is plenty of disagreement between adherents of all religions but there are probably base line things that all parties disagree on. Or in a more joke form “Two Jews, Three opinions.”

        A liberal Quaker or Episcopalian might heavily disagree with Phil Robertson on homosexuality and other issues but they would at least agree on the idea that Jesus is the Messiah. I don’t know how one can call oneself a Christian without believing that Jesus is the Messiah. Though I suppose Unitarian Universalists and others would disagree.

        Though as I said below in a country with Freedom of Religion people can say and do as they please and I would not have it any other way despite my grumpiness as expressed here.

        So I do agree with you to that extent. But on a more philosophical level you have it right.

        Then again people are weird and continue their affiliations for all sorts of reasons. You can see this in politics when people keep registered as Democratic or Republican despite always voting for the other party.

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    • “This is how Kazzy in a previous thread can think that all Jewish holidays can be summed up as “they tried to kill us, they didn’t, let’s eat.””

      FWIW, Jaybird offered up that quote and it is not one either of us invented. I heard it during a radio program in which two Jewish people were discussing how they could incorporate Hanukkah traditions with Thanksgiving because of their concurrent timing this year.

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  11. I was raised as a Christian, to some extent; though I have not been anything approaching Christian for quite a long time.
    I really couldn’t care less when Jesus was born, or at what time the day of his birth is celebrated. Sort of like Oktoberfest, the way I call it.
    I honestly don’t remember the last time I had a tree in my home. I don’t decorate. I give a few gifts; usually to nephews & nieces, and a few choice friends. I gave a gift earlier this evening; a bottle of mead that I had made. Spreading Christmas cheer, I call it.

    As far as I’m concerned:
    If a child that had no coat before receives a coat because it is Christmas, fantastic.
    Concerns of how Christian the giver might be wold never enter into my mind.

    And again:
    If other people are celebrating a holiday that is different than the one you want to celebrate– whether it’s the Jews with Christmas, or the Aussies having their Labor Day on Pearl Harbor Day– and this is truly an item of concern in your daily life, then life must be really good to afford you this luxury of indulgence.

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  12. I realize that I do probably come across as cranky and a crank in this post. Shazbot, Todd, and Maribou summed it up the best with their first observations and possibly with Maribou’s observation on the constant questioning.

    As I said above this is a free country and people can celebrate as they please and I would not have it any other way. No one should be trapped in a box, I will make this concession. There should be no enforcement agency that says “Sorry you were born Hindu and can’t covert to Islam and do secular Christmas” or any other holiday.

    However this is how a conversation should go:

    X: Do you celebrate Christmas?

    Y: No. I’m Jewish.

    X: Okay.

    This is not how a conversation should go:

    X: Do you celebrate Christmas?

    Y: No. I’m Jewish.

    X: Why not? You can totally do Christmas without the Jesus stuff. The tree, the presents, the decorations, are the best. Everyone should celebrate Christmas.

    This happens. It happened to me with my uncle’s ex-fiancee and when I was 22 and living in Japan and largely the only Jewish person around. So this is the real source of crankiness, why is it hard for people to accept a simple “No. I’m Jewish” to questions about Christmas trees and celebrating Christmas. The above would be like Maribou’s description of how asexual people feel when constantly bugged about why they don’t like sex.

    And I don’t think the experiences that my friend felt as a small child are an isolated experience to himself and when I made a similar post on facebook about this, it received a lot of likes.

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    • I just want to be clear, because I’m trying to follow what’s actually occasioning this discussion here at OT. Hs anyone here said you/everyone should celebrate secular Christmas, not just that you could (maybe mistakenly)? Have people over the age of 25 here in the U.S. ever demanded to know why you don’t celebrate it? How often do you face such unaccepting inquiries these days? “Constantly”? If it happens constantly here, why are you citing one particular example that happened in Japan when you were just out of college or whatever?

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      • – To use your construction, here is another example of how the conversation should or shouldn’t go:

        Should:

        X: Do you celebrate Christmas?

        Y: Yes, non-religiously, even though i am Jewish.

        X: Okay.

        Should not:

        X: Do you celebrate Christmas?

        Y: Yes, even though I am Jewish.

        X: Why? You are jewish. You are disrespecting our Jewish history and tradition.

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    • I agree that the second conversation is inappropriate, and that X in that case is in the wrong. I do wonder if you are perhaps reading that second conversation implicitly into some that don’t descend to that level.

      By saying “I wonder” I really don’t intend to do the passive aggressive thing…..maybe that second conversation is implicit in a lot of your interactions, but it’s unacknowledged by your interlocutors. As someone who is guilty of certain bigotries, I can’t say I’ve never said things that are technically correct or inoffensive but that by implication I know or should know my interlocutor will find them offensive or be hurtful. That’s not a good part of me, but I admit it happens and therefore suggest you might not be wrong, even if you are reasoning a bit from anecdote.

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    • How much of the inappropriate reactions might be fueled by a fundamental ignorance about Judaism? As I’ve discussed, I grew up in a town with a large Jewish population. I went to probably 8 or 10 bar mitzvahs growing up. When I went away to college — to a Jesuit institution with part of the campus in a very Jewish neighborhood — I was shocked by how many of my friends knew literally nothing about Judaism. I had wrongly assumed that they had regular contact with Jewish people when it turned out very few of them did. They were jealous of the neighbor’s “fort” until I explained it was a sukkah. They assumed many of our very wealthy Jewish neighbors were actually poor because they were always walking everywhere and they would only do this if they lacked a car. It was kind of mind blowing, to be honest. I could see such folks making the sorts of comments you describe here, not necessarily because of any hostility towards Judaism or some conscious sense that Christianity is superior, but rather because they don’t know enough about Judaism to know that such comments are offensive.

      Thoughts?

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      • Kazzy- Fwiw, i’ve known a few educated people with a fair amount of experience in the world and its people who had no clue about Judaism. They weren’t people who had lived a tiny bubble or were afraid of meeting new people, they just had no experience or knowledge. It was interesting. A good friend of mine once asked me whether Judaism was a race or a religion.

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      • A friend from my high school had her college roommate visit our hometown. When we were out driving, we saw a large group of Orthodox Hasidic Jews walking home from temple.

        “Awwww!” the roommate exclaimed. “They’re like Amish people! That’s so cute!”

        It was cringeworthy.

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  13. And now I feel like a crank and that if my non-Jewish friends saw this, they would look at me like I was a crazy person who didn’t really like them which makes me feel bad. Also I’m sure some of my Jewish friends would feel the same.

    Blah…..

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    • There’s no need for all that.
      Let me draw a line between the common threads for you.

      There are a lot of Jews in this world. I’m sure for each one of them this thing about “Being a Jew is much more than just a religion” rings true, to some extent, at any rate. Perhaps more important than these conditions existing; e.g., ethnicity, culture, and philosophy, et al., is the weighting of those attributes.
      Each Jew in this world, right now, is going on about the business of determining for themselves what it means to be a Jew. That such determinations are colored by past experience serves as no requirement of limitation of future experience.

      I learned long ago that every performance artist makes mistakes; sometimes very bad ones. The key is that the mistake itself doesn’t really matter so much. It’s how quickly you can recover from it that matters.
      There are two sides to this, and I think you’re only seeing the one clearly, while most non-Jews would see the other as well:
      X: Do you celebrate Christmas?

      Y: No. I’m Jewish.

      X: Why not? You can totally do Christmas without the Jesus stuff. The tree, the presents, the decorations, are the best. Everyone should celebrate Christmas.

      From the one view, you wonder if this means you are somehow deficient.
      From the other view, some d!ck just intruded on you in an unjustified manner. And guess what? That happens even with non-Jews.

      My suggestion to you is that, when the above conversation takes place again next, to follow with this reply:

      Y: I gave it up for Lent.

      That should get the message across.
      If not, you might be dealing with a more advanced case of being a complete d!ck, in which case, ask for a card. It doesn’t matter if you want one or not; just ask for one.

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      • I’ll add to that and say that although it’s possible NewDealer in the OP sometimes exaggerates where he should qualify, he touches on something that I imagine is probably difficult to convey to those who might not already agree with him. I find myself in a similar situation when it comes to certain things that I find vexing or annoying. How to talk about it using language, which is just not up to the task of expressing that type of nuance?

        Maybe that’s one reason we have fiction and poetry because they can convey certain truths that just aren’t verifiable or even “factual.” NewDealer’s experiences are true to him. I can’t tell him he doesn’t feel put upon by his Christian friends and his pro-secular Christmas friends, and I can’t tell him he hasn’t had his experiences. But I can learn from what he has written. I can try to realize that there might be cases where I treat others similarly to the way he is treated and to try to do better.

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    • ND, seems to me there’s two types of arguments being made here. The first is that it’s Totally Cool for Jews to refrain from celebrating secular Christmas and the folks who think Jews ought to partake are wrong. That’s a defensive (I don’t mean that in a psychological way) argument attempting to justify your right to your own religious practices and beliefs.

      The other argument is a little more on the offensive, it seems to me, attributing devious (consciously intended or not) motives to … well … everyone who doesn’t agree with you that Christmas is a religious and in particular an anti-Jewish holiday.

      The first argument makes perfect sense to me. The second not so much.

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  14. To broaden the issue a bit what about Christmas and non-christians in general. Asia appears to have taken to the christmas idea (likely because its a good excuse to spend money). (At least this is true in Singapore, where they do Christmas and then Chinese New Year back to back). Japan celebrates the gift giving part of Christmas as well. Does anyone know about Indonesia or India? Do they do the commercial parts of Christmas. If one followed their trends and said that Christmas has no religious content but only a day like mother’s or father’s day, as an excuse to give presents then it would not matter what religion one was.

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  15. Yes, I hear you. As a Jew who is actually still in the midst of growing up in NYC, there is a disproportionate amount of pressure to…what? Conform? to these pretty little ideals of Christmas. Why? Just look at the word, people: Christ-Mass. Yeah. Pretty Christian, too. Why should a Jew just forgo all of their own religious ideals in order to make a few people happy? It’s kinda strange.

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    • What behavior expectations (“ideals”) relating to Christmas are you being pressured to conform to that require that you forgo your religious ideals? Or that don’t? How are you being pressured? Where/whom does the pressure come from?

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  16. I’m reviewing this thread, and this

    The modern atheist needs Christmas to be as secular as possible to combat the Evangelical hold and this means making as many people celebrate it whether they want to or not or it was problematic for their people or not.

    Is not too far shy of a simple slander. Now, of course, Jews have been endlessly slandered over the centuries by Christians, so I guess what’re ya gonna do? But I’m just saying.

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