I hate the Christmas season. If your first reaction is to call me a Grinch or a Scrooge, take note of that because I’ll be coming back to that idea in a bit. But yes, I cringe when the holiday season descends not because I don’t look forward to dealing with family, but because I don’t look forward to dealing with people pushing Christmas on me.
I am a secular Jew, but the important context for this is that I’m simply not a Christian. For some reason so many people who are Christians, ranging from believers to non believers who were just raised in a Christian home, insist that it’s the Christmas season. People who are generally fine as far as respecting people of other religions all year-long suddenly start evangelizing about how Christmas is American, secular, and for everyone. As a religious minority I can tell you that it’s not, and claiming that it is for everyone, no matter how well-meaning the sentiment, is a bit bigoted.
Let just start with the secular, or at least non-Christian, argument. That it came from pagan origins and therefore is old enough to simply be a tradition. For that you need to take a look at two things:
- Distance from origin
The origin of many traditions are indeed pagan (the tree, the ornaments, lights) but the distance from where those came from is vast. For instance, no one makes that argument that Christmas mass is a secular tradition because it really hearkens back to ideas of Set, Odin, and Mithras. That’s because the distance between those inspirations and the current practice are so vast that it’s nonsensical to try to peg Christians as worshipers of the Norse pantheon. Modern pagans may try to reclaim some of it, but the current pagan movement can be traced back to formally to the mid 1960s and informally back to the 1800s. So don’t tell me that modern pagans are taking over the secular American zeitgeist and giving Christmas back to the people. That argument will gain validity when it’s tied back to the Wild Hunt traditions, and until then modern pagans seem to be fine with Yule.
If we look at the traditions of Christmas as it is today, the origins of those practices are a big mess of traditions and religious iconography. But the distance from that origin is zero, since Christianity is still around today. It’s a bit soon to reapproriate a holiday when the religion that created the current incarnation of it is still around, still a popular religion, and still celebrating. It’s not a dead or ancient practice that can be recontextualized. Christmas has never stopped being a thing. And yet people (mainly Christian, or at least nominally Christian people) still try to tell everyone that’s a holiday for the masses.
What it comes down to is that, by trying to push Christmas on everyone, those people are presenting the idea that Christmas is the ideal holiday and that, by extension, Christianity of some form or another is the ideal that people of other religions should try to achieve. This year a well-intentioned coworker tried to explain to me why I sort of do celebrate Christmas in a way. The underlying assumption was that I should want to celebrate Christmas and finally join in on this grand thing.
Remember when I asked if you thought I was a Grinch or a Scrooge when I said I hated the season? That’s Christian privilege showing. That assumption that a person is defective because they don’t embrace a religious holiday is Christian superiority. When it gets to be “war on Christmas levels” a la Fox News, that’s outright Christian Supremacy. If you’re getting a bit defensive over this, take a moment and think of one religious holiday that doesn’t come from Christianity that the country is trying to sell as a secular, American tradition. I’ll wait.
What is Christmas to me? Growing up as a Jew it was nothing. It was the same thing that Eid was to my Christian classmates, or Yom Kippur was to the Buddhists in my class. It was something from someone else’s religion and that was fine. But now, even with the War on Christmas becoming a bit more of a joke every year, it’s a time of year when strangers, friends, and coworkers all act a bit more bigoted and entitled. ‘Tis the season of microagressions and privilege. When’s the last time a Jew called a Christian “a Haman” for not celebrating Purim? Probably never. And yet this year I had someone Christ-splain to me why I do sort of celebrate Christmas when I do Chanukah, and someone else tell me that Christmas is a secular holiday because it’s pretty. And those well-meaning sentiments just showed me how ugly this season can turn the nicest, least Grinch-y people I know. And don’t pity me. It’s almost as if I have my own culture, with my own traditions and holidays to tide me over.