Tuesday, December 23, 2014

What Christmas Means to Me.

 What does Christmas mean to me?


It's not my holiday! 

All this stuff?
Pretty, but meaningless.

I grew up the child of immigrant parents. Jewish. Holocaust survivors. Both of them.

Of course, as children, their neighbors and playmates in Hungary and Czechoslovakia had Christmas trees, and plenty of traditions...leaving their shoes outside, hay for reindeer... etc.

But they never followed them, never celebrated, didn't go to church. Didn't recognize Jesus as the son of G-d, or G-d or anything like that.
Who was Jesus? A nice Jewish boy, had some interesting ideas, tragically died young.

I was a little jealous of our Catholic neighbors, the Fredricks... they had the tree, the ornaments, presents... we had Hannukah, a nice holiday - we had a menorah, dreidels, gelt, potato pancakes [never had a jelly donut, must not be a Hungarian thing.] We did get some presents, but not giant toys, not the crazy haul the Fredricks girls got. We didn't have disposable income. I used to go over to check out the tree - I tried a candy cane at their house, and it was nasty. They also had a dog that wanted to bite me [Tuffy], so I didn't spend a lot of time there. Besides, those crucifixes on the wall were pretty graphic and not very cheerful.

At that time, people were still blaming the Jews for Jesus' death, so I kept it on the down-low when I could.

I never understood the issue... if Jesus didn't die, didn't resurrect... you wouldn't have him as a saviour...so what's the problem? I thought Jesus' entire message was about love. About forgiveness.

For centuries, our loving Christian brethren have been slaughtering Jews for that crime, and for any other reason that pleased them. My parents and their families really paid a steep price. When I was a kid, in the 20th Century... my loving Christian friends would call me "Christ killer!" to my face. I would be chased, threatened, and sometimes kicked or had my hair pulled.  I'd shout "I wasn't there! I didn't do it!" but I guess that doesn't matter...something about bloodguilt? How loving and forgiving that practice is...

In college, I piped up during a Religions of the World class when the professor [actually the Dean of the Humanities Department of a publicly funded state school] told the class we would all go to hell if we didn't accept Jesus as our personal saviour. He also had us read the single chapter on Judaism to discuss. I was a little disturbed - the entire chapter was almost entirely devoted to circumcision. that The Q&A included questions about big noses [?] controlling the banks and Hollywood, and using Christian children to make Matzo. Well, that was fun!

Hey, there were Hindu and Muslim kids in that class, too... and he made fun of their religions relentlessly!  Then there's me...the outspoken Jew [and two others that were cowering in their seats] who disliked the increasing spread of this "propaganda." 

I was followed to my car after that class. By a few loving Christians who wanted to beat the living daylights out of me. Why? Luckily, I had a pair of nunchaku under my car seat and I knew how to use them. I got all Bruce Lee on them and they left me alone.

I stopped going to that class for the rest of the semester.

At about the same time, I had a part time job at a department store, in the gift wrap department. I used to wear a beautiful silver necklace with a Magen David pendant. A beautifully attired older woman brought me gifts to wrap, and while I did... my necklace was dangling... the woman asked me what it was... she actually reached over and touched it. I said it was a magen david [sounding more like the Hebrew than English] she said "What?" Oh... A Star of David... "What?" Oh... a Jewish Star I told her. She immediately reached out, lifted up my hair and asked me where my horns were. Oh, these adorable Christian traditions based on a bastardization of a word in Exodus describing Moses... and this statue didn't help. Thanks, Michelangelo for keepin' it real. Not.

Through the years...every job I've ever had [when I wasn't self-employed] I would ask for the High Holy Days off... back when I actually went to Synagogue and bought into all that jazz. [These days, I'm more of a provisional agnostic] [I'm not a joiner] Every time... without fail... some fellow employee, or boss would insist if I took those days off, I had to work on Christmas. Well -- you oughta know, I was perfectly willing to work on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day... I wasn't doing anything else.

As I got older, I paid attention to more things.  I read more about Christianity. How did things get so off course? I totally get how an Emperor wants to be large and in charge in Constantinople, and then how Rome gets all pissed so they have a break up. I totally get the difference between Catholics and the other denominations, and totally get how a randy fat king gets to invent his own version of Christianity so he can get out of a marriage so he can have his way with a hot babe... or how a really angry guy can nail some new rules on a church wall... and how you guys burned each other on the stake depending on who was in power, and how another king gets to translate the bible into English for the masses and gets to do a little editing along the way to make it more convenient...so yeah, over the last few thousand years, there are many, many versions of Christianity.

Sure, there are different versions of Judaism, but the only differences is how strict you are, and how many of the original 613 commandments you want to follow [yeah, not 10]. And, I know people who do. Follow. All of them.

It also cracks me up when I see pics of Moses
with the tablets and they have Roman numerals...Um... no Rome yet, dummy? Even Hebrew isn't right!

So, if this is sounding more like a diatribe against Christmas from a battered and abused Jewish kid... let me get back to the actual holiday... and why it is meaningless to me. From an outsider looking in. I still don't like peppermint, btw.

I'm not really much of a Jew either, I consider myself Jew-ish.

My first words were "more lights," I was told. I must have been talking early, but it runs in our family. I made my parents drive around neighborhoods to look at them. They are beautiful. I'll give you that. I'm guessing this is some kind of electronic nod to the Star of Bethlehem? If Jesus himself walked up to this house, do you think for a minute he would recognize this as a celebration of his birthday? Or his teachings?

Santa Claus. Sinter Claus? Old St. Nick? but how is he related to Jesus? Does that make him Jewish, too? Well... a nice story about the guy who gave to poor children got mushed from St. Niclaus to Santa Claus... I don't get the connection between that real story and the guy invented by Coca Cola
to sell more soda... but yeah, it's fun. Somehow, the story of a simple, Jewish rabbi wandering around the desert preaching love, and spirituality turned into mishegas.

Nothing says Jesus died for the sins of the world... like a dachshund ornament or ballet slippers!

The guy who warned his followers against being "of the world and losing your soul" inspired people to go broke buying their kids presents?

The man who said to love your neighbors as yourself inspired the annual War on Christmas?

And, those who think this is a Christian nation instead of a nation - a Republic - with a majority population of Christians.  These kind folks think I'm gonna get all warm and fuzzy if they get in my face to sneer Merry Christmas!!! AT ME instead of just saying Happy Holidays...or Seasons Greetings. Or busts a gasket if the Target Lady says Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas?

You can have your holiday, it's a lovely time of year, get over yourself. Why do people get so angry at people that don't celebrate Christmas? Or throw Memes around the internet saying the White House tree is now called a Holiday Tree by a Muslim President [major sigh inserted here] Are you really practicing your faith or are you just a blowhard fan?

No one even gave children presents for Christmas until the visit from St. Nick poem came out... it was written by a rich guy in 1893 who didn't want to give his servants gifts for Christmas [as was the custom], but instead invented this gat guy, the reindeer and all that... so SANTA would have to give the gifts, not him. Then, the department stores got in the act, and the rest is history.

Did you know that celebrating Christmas in America was illegal for a while??? Have you heard of Separation of Church and State? Honestly, your nativity set is lovely... get it off the courthouse lawn.

The man who said the only way into heaven is to DO the WILL OF G-D [which includes: to love mercy, serve others - especially the poor and walk humbly...., love your neighbor {so start donating to your local food bank}] and not what you SAY.
So, it's not how many times you say Merry Christmas, or how big your Christmas display is, or how many trees you have up or how much that Playstation cost...it's what you DO and how you ACT.

Ham for Christmas dinner? Uh, you know Jesus was kosher, right? Plaid bows? Wow, that technology wasn't invented yet in year 32 of the Common Era. Getting a tattoo of Jesus? That's not cool...as far back as Leviticus!

Celebrating Christmas has turned into a circus. Every year, I hear someone say "Put Christ back into Christmas." I don't see it, folks. When I look at Christmas trees, I know Jesus never saw an evergreen. Santa doesn't belong in the lexicon. Elves? come on, what did ancient Jews know from the North Pole?

I'm not being a grinch. I just don't take it seriously. I might've stayed up late on Christmas eve once...staring at the fireplace, just in case. I like cookies. I like carols. I really love Amahl and the Night Visitors. I'd watch the Mr Magoo or Black Adder Christmas Carol anytime. Mostly because it doesn't mean anything to me.

When I was a display artist, I decorated Christmas trees. I could fluff and light a tree faster than anyone. I fell in love with the lights and colors, and ornaments. I collect glass ones. They're out all year. One year, I got a sandblasted mesquite tree, painted it with bumper chrome, put blue and white lights on it and ornaments. No star, no plaid bows. It was our winter solstice tree. I can be a little pagan if the mood suits.

I see the Christmas being celebrated all around me as a morph between outlandish capitalism, the torture of the Santa myth until kids are horribly disappointed later - and pagan rituals. What you call Christmas has almost nothing to do with Jesus. And, I am not a believer... so other than the fact that I still don't like Candy Canes, Christmas means nothing to me.

I know you have traditions, and they are nice.

I have mine, too. Movies and Chinese Food...
and for many years, I'd go to Vegas. With all the other non-Christians [and that one granny chain-smoking at the nickel slot machine with her tacky Christmas sweater on]. I'm sure there are plenty of Christians there, too. After all, it's a Christian nation.

So if someone wishes YOU an easy fast on Yom Kippur, you'll be cool with that, right? Of if someone hopes you have a bright Dewali...you'll be grateful for the kind wishes. If someone hopes you family is blessed with warmth and grace during Ramadan, you'll say "Thank you, you too!"....right?

If you say Merry Christmas to me, I'll say "thanks, you, too!" back. I won't get mad at you. If I get a Christmas card instead of a Seasons Greetings card, I won't get mad. If I put a wreath on my door...that's blue and white... I don't think Santa is coming, it's just pretty.

So, Christmas is just not my holiday, and I don't celebrate it at all. It's great for those who do, but for me...it's just Thursday.

I'm sure these are pretty tasty, though...
Happy Holidays!