There is something wonderful about the holiday season. The holidays are a very special part of my life, and as I look back, I well remember family experiences around holiday tables. While my personal preference is for the Jewish festivals that I celebrate, the other holidays also have a special place in my heart. The Fourth of July, Memorial Day and Veterans Day remind me to take pride in American heritage. Thanksgiving reminds to be appreciative of the bounty we enjoy. Yet of all the holidays, one that I especially enjoy but that I do not celebrate at all is Christmas.
Part of me truly wishes that the religious core of Christmas would be more widely emphasized. I want our young to understand that there is a reason that Christians observe Christmas and that most Jews do not. In my days as a school head I made it a matter of policy to go to work on December 25th, to catch up with phone calls, and to get out correspondence. I wanted to make a point. Even if the birthday is that of a nice Jewish boy, I was in no way a celebrant. Yet despite efforts at differentiating between our ways and those of our Gentile neighbors, there is something quite compelling about Christmas.
My poor wife goes batty as I whistle Christmas carols. Can I help it that they have such catchy melodies and lyrics so easy to spoof? “Deck them all with lots of challee, tralalalala….”
By and large Americans are not the warmest of people. Strangers do not normally greet one another when they see one another on the street. Yet pass by someone this time of year, and you’d think all Americans are bosom buddies as they wish one another “Merry Christmas!” (Happy Holidays does not cut it. What other holiday might be gaining our attention this week?)
Family values are celebrated whenever there is a major political campaign. Then each party tries to show why it best reflects family values in its program. Yet if you want real family values, watch TV this time of year. At no other time are there as many G rated shows with such wonderful lessons. Key lessons include the importance of family, the benefits of generosity and charitable life, and the real advantages of coming together for a common benefit. These lessons may not come directly from the Christian Bible, but they have as much recent sway as any lesson garnered from Matthew or Luke.
Pirsuma denisa, decorating to advertise the miracle of the day, is a very Jewish activity. It is the central mitzvah of Chanukah, which this year did not overlap with Christmas at all. The world would be far drabber if celebrants did not light up homes and work spaces with lights and seasonal memorabilia.
So while it is not my holiday, I have no trouble wishing Christians I encounter a very Merry Christmas. If only lessons of this special day designated as a national, American holiday since 1870 could encourage us to be kinder, gentler and more empathetic the remaining 364 days of the year what a wonderful world this could be!
Post script: If you ever wanted to know what Christmas would be like were it a Jewish holiday, try this link to Hilchot Christmas.