An oxymoron? Maybe once, but I am not so sure anymore. This is purely anecdotal. I have no hard data, and as far as I know no studies have been published. But it seems to me that more and more Jews are ‘celebrating’ Christmas.
Certainly not in a religious sense. The truth is, fewer and fewer Christians celebrate Christmas in a religious sense, making sure to get to services at some point during the Holy Day. But it has become more than all of the old jokes about Chinese food and a movie. Even a cursory glance through Facebook’s news feed suggests that Jews are ‘doing’ Christmas. In some cases that means exchanging gifts with friends and family on the 25th of December. In some cases it means a decorated evergreen tree in the house (what we once euphemistically called a “Hanukkah bush”). And many Jewish families have ritualized Christmas, having annual family celebrations on Christmas eve or day, going to the same restaurant each year for a ‘Christmas’ dinner.
On the one hand, I understand it. We’ve been fighting for so long to be just like everyone else, to be able to go to the same schools, live in the same neighborhoods, work at the same jobs. And Christmas is pervasive. Ubiquitous. And intensely commercialized, while all the while becoming more and more secularized. And it’s secular form is so… nice. Peace on earth and good will to all men, that sort of thing. Very touchy feely. Very easy. No demands other than following our natural instinct (most of us anyway) to be kind hearted to our fellow travelers. After all, you can leave the Jesus part out of it, and just enjoy the good cheer and warm spirit, the gift giving and the egg nog. Can’t you? If everyone else is, Jews seem to be saying, why can’t we?
But it is not so simple. The peace on earth quote comes from the Christian Bible, the Gospel of Luke, chapter 2. And isn’t there something wrong when more Jews observe Christmas in one way or another than Shavuot? Or even Sukkot for that matter? Christmas is a wonderful holiday with beautiful sentiments. Let us respect it, but let us let our Christian brothers and sisters celebrate it. Here another biblical quote, this from the Hebrew Bible, Leviticus 19: Be holy, for I the Lord your God an holy. The Hebrew word for ‘holy’ is kaddosh, which most scholars believe originally meant ‘distinct.’ Different. Other. Apart. Even – in fact maybe especially – on Christmas.