I was hoping I could still get some assistance with a minor but ongoing irritation in my life.
I am Jewish, and I live in the Midwest, and that is awkward. I’m almost always the only Jewish person in my social circle, workplace, etc. Eleven months out of the year, this is a non-issue. And then there’s December. Captain, why are people SO WEIRD about Christmas? Even non-religious friends seem to get swept up into it. I feel like all month I hear an unending barrage of “oh but it’s really a secular holiday so it’s fine if you participate!” and “you’re really hurting my feelings/ruining Christmas for me if you don’t participate in my tree decorating party/secret santa/whatever!” Guys. I DON’T WANT TO PARTICIPATE IN ANYTHING CHRISTMAS RELATED IT MAKES ME VERY UNCOMFORTABLE. Not only do I have my own holiday to celebrate that is much less stressful thank you very much, I really hate the constant pressure to observe someone else’s holidays. How can me not celebrating YOUR holiday ruin it FOR YOU? I don’t seem to be able to convince people that their holiday feelings are their problems and not mine.
Most of my long term friends are used to this and even if they don’t totally understand they leave me alone about it. But I feel like every time I meet someone new I have to go through a song and dance routine to convince them that no, really, I don’t celebrate Christmas NO REALLY I DON’T WANT TO. This particular year is extra stressful because I just started a new job and I always I feel like I’m missing some workplace etiquette this time of year. Having brand new coworker dynamics to navigate just makes things more confusing. For example, someone I don’t know (because I literally just started this job a week ago) left an admittedly very cute little jar of hot chocolate with a “merry christmas” note attached to it in my work mailbox (she gave one to everyone, it’s not just me). But. Do I have to get her something in return? Or write her a thank you card?? Can I just wear a shirt all month that says “Sorry, I’m Jewish, please leave me out of your strange Christmas rituals, Gentiles”??? Idk how to handle this at work especially where I’m worried my preexisting annoyance will come across as hostility or ingratitude to people I’ve just met but would like to develop at least an amiable working relationship with.
Any scripts or advice you have for getting people to believe that I really and truly want to be left out of All Things Christmas would be greatly appreciated!
~Christmas is Confusing
Hello and Happy Hanukkah-Just-Under-The-Wire!
Bad news: The good people of your Midwestern homeland are probably gonna keep inviting you to Christmas/”holiday” shit literally forever. It’s just so…dominant. I’m sorry. Most of them aren’t thinking about stuff like “Hey maybe insisting that Jewish folks celebrate Christmas with you is in itself a kind of anti-Semitism” or “Erasure is a form of violence” or “There is a kind of privileged obliviousness that is indistinguishable from malice,” they are thinking “I have to include everyone (in my culturally dominant thing) because the meta-narrative indicates that nobody should be alone or left out on Christmas and I am a nice person who wants to do the good thing here.” They are also thinking about themselves as individual nice people with good intentions and not thinking about the gauntlet of individual-totally-separate-not-oppressive-at-all-interactions that the person outside the dominant group has to run. Right now it’s like every Geek Social Fallacy mated with the Spirit of Christmas and then they high-fived the Invisible Hand, and anyone who isn’t psyched about this time of year is made to feel like they are broken somehow.
Since you’re new to the company and mostly asking about work, for me, this is one of those “do you want to change hearts and minds or do you want to get out of the interactions as quickly as possible” decisions. If your goal is quickly dodging the interactions with people – especially people you aren’t that close to, people senior to you at work, people you see rarely – one strategy at your disposal is thanking people for the effort at inclusion as you decline the substance of the invitation, like, “Thank you for inviting me/wanting to include me in your holiday celebration, that’s very kind of you, but I’m Jewish and it’s really important to me to focus on my own holidays at this time of year.”
Them: “But it’s not a religious party, we’re just decorating the tree and wearing ugly sweaters and playing seasonal music in a totally secular way!”
You: “I appreciate you wanting to include me, that’s very kind. I’d love to come hang out another time, but at this time of year I really like to focus on Jewish celebrations/my holiday traditions/my Jewish family & friends, so, I won’t make it.”
In other words, treat the person like they have good intentions, acknowledge that the invitation is kindly meant, and reiterate your refusal.
(I know. Thanking people for doing annoying shit is awful. I know. I’m sorry. It’s just…It’s just the quickest way.)
You don’t owe your coworker a note or a return present in exchange for the hot chocolate at work. If you wanted to say a verbal “Thanks it was tasty” or “Hey, I’m Jewish, what’s the thanking protocol here?” it would be just fine. Also, if you can find a cool peer to connect with, try being really honest: “Everyone’s so nice here and I don’t want to make a faux pas, but I’m Jewish and Christmas is super-not my thing, what’s the protocol for hanging back from holiday crap without looking like a jerk?” That person will know the office lore and can also be your ambassador with others.
Here’s where it gets interesting. If you say “thanks so much for thinking of me but I’m Jewish so nope,” most actually-well-intentioned people will understand that the social circuit has been completed and they will back off. If the person doesn’t back off, they are the ones who are making the situation really, really weird. If you feel safe to do so, go ahead and let it be as uncomfortable for them as it is for you. Discomfort is one way that people learn.
- :long awkward silence where you look at them and let the awkwardness build:
- “Wow, is there a problem? You seem really upset that I celebrate different holidays from you.”
- “Thanks, but I’m Jewish, I only celebrate Jewish holidays.”
- “I’m Jewish, and I know you mean to be kind by including me, but I need you to hear me right now: I don’t celebrate anything to do with Christmas.”
- “I’m Jewish, I find the whole Christmas season exhausting and pretty confusing, so I mostly put my head down for the month of December except for Jewish traditions.”
- “Still super Jewish, so, no thanks on bobbing for elves or making eggnog together.”
- “If I seem a little touchy about this stuff it’s because I am. I wish you well in how you celebrate your holiday, but I cannot stress how much it’s really not my jam.”
- “I know you didn’t mean any harm when you invited me, but you gotta take no for an answer about this if we’re going to stay friends/work well together.”
You’re not new at this, so you know what’s coming next, right?
Them: “Well I have a friend who’s Jewish and theyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy put up a Christmas tree/love eggnogg/do Secret Santa at work, come on, it will be funnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn!”
You: “Huh, yeah, a lot of Jewish people have embraced the ‘best of all worlds’ approach but I only celebrate Jewish holidays, so you’ll have to get by somehow without me.”
I can’t turn down the background volume for you but hopefully this can give you some confidence in sticking by your crankiness without apology. If all else fails, tell people what a good friend told a particularly aggressive street preacher at a bus stop one time: “Oh, no thank you. Jesus was Jewish, and so am I!” We got on the bus and it pulled away slowly and his mouth hung open all the while as he tried to parse the truth of that statement.
People I’d most like to hear from in comments: Fellow Jewish folks who can give the Letter Writer comfort, humor, and solidarity in coping strategies. Did you defensively decorate your cube with a giant fucking dreidel so that the Party Planning Committee would step off? Tell us all about it. Also welcome: Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and any and all non-Christian religious folks, etc., etc.
If you grew up celebrating Christmas and have complicated feelings about it now for whatever reason (estranged family, atheism, whatever) you know I hear you and you know I love you but maybe this thread is more of a listening-and-nodding-along thread than a sharing-all-your-thoughts thread. There’s a difference between leaving a tradition and never being inside it in the first place (and still being expected to comply).
If you want to patiently and sincerely explain that #NotAllChristmasLovers are like that and you would never, ever do this to a Jewish coworker, this is definitely a day to practice being quiet. If you’re not like that, then keep doing what you’re doing – you don’t need to justify it to us! Shhhhhhhh….here’s a funky song. Here’s another one.
Seven more days. We can do this, y’all. Seven more days.
December 21: After 601 comments, it’s time to close this discussion down. Letter Writer, I hope you got some good suggestions and solidarity.
602 thoughts on “#1064: Christmas Help For A Non-Christian”
I am going to listen and nod. Know that you have my sympathy b
Also listening and nodding. The Cap has it, and very much sympathies LW.
Side note: I almost inhaled my uvula at “bobbing for elves.”
“…it’s like every Geek Social Fallacy mated with the Spirit of Christmas and then they high-fived the Invisible Hand.” God help us, every one!
I know. That was so good that I shared it with a good friend who is also Jewish-and-grew-up-doing-the-tree-thang.
In his case it’s because his father had Issues but my friend’s (paternal) grandparents made sure that he was connected to the tradition, gave him beloved family texts, etc. In my case it’s because my mother was raised a very traditionally-secular NYC Jew who’s father was a union organizer. No religious education for her; my uncle was bar mitzvah but that was it for the family, I think. My first-ever seder was a lesbian feminist community seder that my Jewish Lesbian Girlfriend took me to. (She is now a Rabbi who married me & my wife under a chuppah, and whose Seder table and Sukkah we join every year.)
I have the Complicated Feelings, but I did actually grow up doing a tree because we’re Unitarian on my father’s side. But we also went to Zucky’s, the local Jewish deli where all the waiters are 80 years old and your Uncle Saul. Now I’m going to sit back and read other people’s words.
Oh, and I’ll drop these here, for any who want them:
hopping fun: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LslsgH3-UFU (Tom Lehrer)
softer fun: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6wgjNo2ZgDo (The Leevees – and they have lots of other good songs)
(PS: I did mean “hopping fun”, btw, not “shopping fun” and so sorry that mistake could happen!)
Hello hi, this is also my life. I am in permanent cranky mode for the entire month of December and I always feel very Other for not just sucking it up and enjoying The Season. An additional thing that you didn’t write about but bothers me is how people will “make an effort” to say Happy Chanukah but at Passover or Rosh Hashanah or whatever, they have no clue that it’s a holiday and they schedule many social gatherings and work events on those (bigger) holidays. So…I feel you.
Coping strategy not mentioned by the Captain: make yourself some awesome non-holiday rituals or work on some non-holiday projects during this month. It helps me to focus some of my energy toward something that makes me feel good and fills my cup. Extra self care for the win.
Also, something I don’t do but I need to in the future is start saying No more to “it’s not a Christmas party it’s just a holiday party that happens to fall during the last two weeks of December!” parties. I feel obligated to go but I am feeling pretty drained after attending and feeling Other the entire time.
Finally, pro-tip to Dominant Religious Culture people reading: make an effort to find out when holidays are happening for your friends and celebrate with them at other times of the year! Stop making a big deal about Chanukah and learn something about Passover! Mail us a cool and pretty card for Rosh Hashanah! It’s not just the feeling left out at this time of year, it’s the feeling unseen during all our other cool holidays.
Yes this. One of the challenges of being in the minority culture as a Jew is that Hanukkah gets SUPER played up while our actual big holidays get ignored. Happens to people of all religions that aren’t Christian, but having to take off school on Yom Kippur as a kid always upset me. My boyfriend is living in Texas right now (only Jew on his staff), and he volunteered to work right around Christmas, and they very thoughtfully asked him if he needed off for Hanukkah. Meanwhile he worked straight through Rosh Hashanah.
On an unrelated note, in a year or two when I have my shit more together, I NEED to start doing Rosh Hashanah cards. It seems like the right thing to do.
Since we Muslims have zero holidays consistently in December, I keep getting people trying to rope me into some celebration and then ending in confused sad stares.
I keep reminding people in the office that hey Hanukkah isn’t actually THAT big of a holiday in Judaism…it just happens to fall near Christmas!
I grew up in an opposite bubble: there are so many Jewish people in my childhood town that I always had off for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. It was not until my freshman year of college, when I didn’t have off from school, that I realized it wasn’t normal. When I asked about it, it was treated like such a silly question: “Why on earth would we get off class for a Jewish holiday?” (Um, because I’m sure there are plenty of Jews on this campus?) Then, lo and behold, Hannukah rolls around and suddenly people were all about being polite and cheery to their Jewish friends, because it’s just Jewish Christmas but with candles or something instead of a tree, and isn’t it cool they get a WHOLE WEEK of presents instead of just one day? So jealous!
When in reality, some Christmas traditions, such as giving presents, were appropriated from Chanukah. There are zero Chanukah traditions copied form Christmas.
I actually did not know that! I’m more familiar with the rampant appropriation of European pagan tradition re:Christian holidays. Thank you for teaching me something new. 🙂
Untrue. Multiple analyses suggest that teetotum (you may know this game as dreidel) was a Christmas pastime long before it became a Hanukkah pastime, with the associated messaging.
Incorrect, it’s the other way around (other than gelt). At least in the US, Hanukkah gifts did not really become a phenomenon until the late 19th century.
Ugh YES. I’ll never forget my first year in college, when my department meet-and-greet party was scheduled on Rosh Hashanah. They wouldn’t move the date and I actually cried. It was so horrible to be left out of such an important event, especially my first year away from home.
I am admittedly not very Jewish (my dad’s side of the family is, and they vaguely celebrate the larger holidays, but my mom’s side is Catholic), but Passover is my favorite holiday out of all of the secular and non-secular ones I celebrate (across two religions). Hands down, it’s the best, and my cousins (in the same split religion predicament as I am) feel the same. I wish more people knew about it/had been to a Seder because it’s just the best, and it’s a bring-a-buddy friendly holiday! Would totally rather do Passover than Hanukah, Christmas, and Easter combined. So I definitely agree it needs to be played up more, and I’m sorry there’s people out there who have to take the day off for the other non-Hanukah holidays because no one realizes what a big deal they are. This is a good thing to remember to be sensitive about!
I frequently throw my own Passover seder in which I am the only Jew and invite a bunch of friends. I usually can’t go home, and its nice not to be alone for the holiday and a lot of my friends find it interesting. Plus the food is the best!
When I was in college I had a friend who traditionally threw a second seder for all his gentile friends and I really appreciated it.
I am not Jewish but belong to another marginalised religion. The Other feeling is what I hate the most. Like when people ask if you’re religious—they mean are you a Christian or an atheist? Because obviously nothing else exists. 🙄
One thing I like to do as well to cope is to make sure I’m carving out time to really celebrate MY holidays, doing meaningful things and creating new rituals for myself to feel more connected to my own religion and sense of worth and belonging. It really has been making a positive difference.
Oh my god, I’m Muslim, and the number of times I say, “I”m not Christian” and then people respond with, “oh so you’re an atheist” makes me want to bob some goddamn elves.
That deer in headlights blank stare when you tell them you’re not a Christian OR an atheist. Their minds just cannot compute!
When we were looking for day-care options for our first child, we came across one that was run by some religious organization. They assured us that the day care was non-denominational… in the sense of “equally welcoming to Catholics and Protestants”.
Man, it’s like that bar in Blues Brothers that had both kinds of music.
that is my favourite line in that movie.
“Man, it’s like that bar in Blues Brothers that had both kinds of music.”
Lines like that are just crying for a youtube linky.
Obligatory, just for SylviaMcivers!
Thanks for the clip!
I used to watch the Blues Brothers very often – it was funny and ‘clean enough for the kids’ but I just could not figure out where that line came from.
When I first moved to my new state, I was told “we’re very diverse here! We have Mennonites, Baptists, Catholics, and Amish!”
The first time I visited my partner’s family in Belfast, her grandmother reassured me that ‘it’s a very mixed area’ where they live. She meant they had Protestants AND Anglicans.
As the old joke goes, “Are you a Protestant Jew* or a Catholic Jew?”
*Insert Muslim/atheist/Hindu/Sikh as appropriate.
Protestants and Catholics, maybe? Anglicans *are* protestants.
(It does make slightly more sense to me that she would view that as mixed, and worthy of comment, given the history of huge sectarian divides in Belfast)
Was wondering when dear old Belfast would turn up in the comments. My friend had the fun experience of being one of Belfast’s very, very small Jewish population.
In high school there was a student group called Disciples of Christ who were constantly trying to recruit me since I “seemed lonely.” When I said, “No thanks, I’m Jewish,” their response was always, “Oh, don’t worry, we’re non-denominational.” Yeesh.
I went to a summer camp that had “non-denominational vespers” on Sunday afternoons. Turned out it was more of an amateur poetry slam and had really no religious connotations but man did that phrase get my mother’s shoulders up around her ears when she read it in the newsletter.
Yep, this happens to me constantly! “I’m not Christian.” “Oh, so you’re an atheist??”
Nope. There are more options than this.
And since my religion has no December based holidays, I feel especially sort of – ignored. Which sucks. But here we are.
This strangely reminds me of a scene from King of The hill.
Hank: So are you Chinese or Japanese?
Neighbor: We’re Laotian.
Hank: What ocean are you from?
Neighbor: We are from Laos, a landlocked country in Southeast Asia.
Hank: So are you Chinese or Japanese?
Different scenario, same principle. There can only be two types of Asians, like there can only be two types of religions. Christianity and atheism.
My best friend is Russian Orthodox. She has had multiple people, after hearing the word “Orthodox”, ask her if the cross she wore was a “Jewish cross”. (?????)
Also a lot of weird pushback about Orthodox fasting schedules and the fact her Christmas and Easter are not the same day as “normal Christmas and normal Easter”. So it’s not just Christian or heathen–you better be the CORRECT kind of Christian.
What…why would…what does that even…what??
A SHOCKING number of Christians don’t fully understand that being Jewish means that we don’t care at all about Jesus. Not even a little bit 😦
The last time I got missionaries at my door, after I pointed out the mezuzah and said we were Jewish, they responded with, “Oh, so then you know Jesus is the messiah.” Which… no
The pentagram is similar. “OMG THAT’S THE DEVIL’S SIGN.” Um, no. No, it is not. You’re thinking of the inverted pentagram. “BUT WITCHES WORSHIP SATAN!” “Nope! We actually don’t believe in the Christian Devil at all, much less worship him.” *blank stare* “BUT WITCHES WORSHIP SATAN!”
And people keep on thinking my Star of David is a pentagram. I guess “penta” means 6 sometimes.
@Cherries in the Snow, you would’ve loved the time the chaplain at my college saw my pentacle and my friend’s pentagram (they were a Satanist at the time) and asked us if we’d be interested in starting a pagan group on campus because ‘she saw our stars’ and thought it might be right up our alleys.
Good times. Such a group was actually started later, and that chaplain clearly meant well, but she also told a different friend that agnostic is basically the same as christian so he should think about coming to services, or something.
“Jewish Cross” reminded me a bit of “Hanukkah Balls” from Ask a Manager.
Context: the Jewish letter-writer’s, um, *eager* manager was doing things like hanging up a stocking that said “[Letter-Writer’s First Christmas]” and calling blue-and-white Christmas baubles “Hanukkah Balls”.
It’s annoying for any high church types who want to follow the more traditional advent/christmas distinction as well, although not as badly. Advent is a season of quiet reflection and personal and communal improvement, and the partying starts on Christmas day and extends for the next 12 days. As opposed to holding all the parties before Christmas and then dropping it Dec 26.
I honestly gave up.
Even some Christians seem confused about their *own* religion. We had a diversity survey to complete at work recently (imposed from on high by our regulator) I was responsible for collating and submitting the (anonymous) responses. There was a question about religion, on which one of the (many) options was ‘christian’ and one was ‘any other religion’. One respondent put a tick in the ‘other’ bx and wrote ‘catholic’.
Last time I looked that comes under the heading Christian. doesn’t it?
(For anyone wondering, every single question had the option ‘prefer not to say’ and when I sent the survey round I did point that out to people, so anyone who wanted to could answer ‘prefer not to say’ to any or all questions.)
Of course Catholicism is a subset of christianity, but honestly I can understand the need to clarify sometimes, especially in the US. There are certain evangelical christian denominations who avoid describing their actual denomination, prefering to just say ‘Christian’. This leads to a lot of confusion as the word ‘Christian’ in many people’s minds is beginning to mean a specific set of christian denominations (e.g., Roman Catholics, Anglicans, United Church, Greek Orthodox, Egyptian Coptic etc etc, are all in a list of old christian churches that are often definitely NOT meant when these people say ‘Christian’). So you do sometimes feel the need to clarify your actual religion.
There’s a surprising amount of gatekeeping around who gets to be called christian and who doesn’t, at least in some corners/subcultures. You’d think it’d be a pretty easy designation, but apparently it’s very complicated for some people.
There’s a TON of politics about how members of different Christian denominations describe themselves. Many Catholics I know would specifically describe themselves as Catholic, rather than Christian. When I was Catholic, that was absolutely my practice. In my experience, being Catholic was in many ways worlds different from the way that my Protestant friends experienced religion and religious identity.
I was raised Roman Catholic and as an adult became Anglican. As a child I remember being confused the first time I heard someone describe themselves as a ‘Christian’ as their religion, and refuse to be more specific. To me christian was and is a large family of sometimes drastically different religions with shared ancestors, not one religion. I remember trying to get this friend to narrow it down – Catholic or Protestant was the next big branch in the family tree I knew, each of which described several individual religions (like Ukrainian Catholic or Roman Catholic, and Anglican or United Church). I was kind of perplexed when my friend didn’t seem to have any idea what their actual religion was, only their broader family. (OK, I was nerdy even as a six year old).
I finally started thinking of that religion as ‘capital C Christianity’ to distinguish it.
It depends on the context, but to me when people describe their religion as ‘Christian’ rather than being more specific, it does usually rather sound like a political statement, like they are claiming their denomination is the ‘real’ one. Particularly since suspiciously, it is almost always the same few denominations that do this, and unfortunately they seem to be very right-wing evangelical ones. I do kind of assume this choice to describe themselves thus (which they do even in places where they are minority of christians) is a deliberate choice.
Obviously it depends on context – in a conversation about Judaism and Christmas it doesn’t sound so aggressive.
Oh boy, this reminds me of a story told to me by my uncle, who is Jewish, about when he was living in Portland, Oregon. When he was on his daily bus commute one December, some random lady, trying to make polite conversation, asked him about what he was doing for Christmas. When he told her that he wasn’t Christian, her response was along the lines of “oh, even if you haven’t been to church in awhile, you still should…” Like, the fact that he could literally be of another religion never occurred to her. SMH
A family friend who inhabited the Louisiana/ Texas border town I was nominally brought up in was asked, “What’s a ‘Jewish’?” (what were YOU thinking about instead of paying attention in Sunday school, lady?) and although I am not myself Jewish*, a kid in that town me in fifth grade that I was stupid, that there were no more Jews just like there are no more Romans… erasure is a thing, yo, and it works better than some think it does.
*Raised in an offshoot of HInduism called the SRF, if it qualifies me to do more than smile and nod; if I am out of line, please tell me! I can “pass” as Christian, for various reasons, so I definitely have the privilege, but I’m a practicing witch and have several Jews in my household/ close family, and, while I don’t begrudge others their religion, I’d totally vote for the White Witch if it meant that people weren’t constantly slopping their religion on my desk, not even joking and oh my God I’m whatever a Becky is in Judaism…
High-five to fellow Hindu offshoot children! I spent my early childhood in an ashram based on the lineage of Swami Rudrananda, though my mother left to follow a variety of other spiritual paths including Eckankar and SRF. By the time she got deeply into the teachings of Yogananda I had become more or less atheist so I never really got far into the Autobiography she gave me. 🙂
I too can easily “pass”, especially as we always celebrated Christmas in a secular/Advaita Vedanta fashion as a kid, so I know this might be a bit of a tangent to the LW–but I know how it feels to not only not be part of the dominant religion but to not be a part of any religion most people have heard of or that they don’t think it’s possible to follow it due to my race (and that’s leaving out the weird background of “this is what I was raised in but is also kind of gross cultural appropriation?” in my case, at least)
“there were no more Jews just like there are no more Romans”????? 🤤
Yeah, my sister’s best friend from college didn’t realize that Jews still existed until…well, college. When she met my sister and others.
Chameleon: I really felt like I was the only one! Man, you’ve never lived until you’ve been sent to the principal’s office for a Stern Warning at Calvary Babtist (that’s how they pronounced it) Academy for singing, “Engrossed Like a Bee at the Blue Lotus Feet of the Divine Mother” on the playground. I wish I could do the forums (I can’t, for Reasons) so I could frisk around exchanging raised-in-“weirdo”-religion anecdotes with you. And the feeling of “I don’t belong in the dominant culture and the one I grew up in is problematic, even though kind of nice in some ways.” Sigh. But not alone! That’s so weird.
MIB: Yup. Isabella Rosselini would be surprised to hear this too, I feel.
Petticoat Philosopher: bet you didn’t realize you were a religious cryptid, huh?
The ‘making non-holiday rituals and/or non-holiday projects’ line up with my coping mechanism, which is “Sorry, I’m busy that day” for all events I don’t want to attend. Maybe I’m busy reading a book, maybe I’m busy trying to find a grocery store that doesn’t blast carols… yet I don’t have to share the reason, and there are so many invitations and conflicts this time of year that everyone near me seems happy to accept “Sorry, busy elsewhere!”
The funny thing is that I coincidentally have many friends with birthdays this month, and their parties have no religious overtones, so I celebrate those. There are so many birthday parties (3 – I’m an introvert and that’s a lot), that I don’t have the energy for anything else.
I get cards in the mail from friends out of town (with a friendly ‘this was my year – how are you doing?’), and there is occasionally a sharing of cookies at work – I live in a country with a dark and cold winter so I try to view these actions as attempts to reach out and brighten the indoor spaces. Small gifts are designed to make the gift-giver feel good, so if you want to encourage more of specific ones (mmm – hot chocolate) then I agree that you could say that you enjoyed the taste, but otherwise I personally don’t acknowledge the gift and put it in the communal lunch room when no one is looking.
This letter makes me thankful that I live in a multi-cultural space. The dominant religion is definitely christianity, and it kinda feels everywhere this time of year, however (except for shopping – I need fresh veggies) I can do a fairly effective job of avoiding it and no one has ever pressured me into attending an event.
My one weird concession is outdoor strings of lights. I put them up in November and turn them off in March, when the days are sufficiently long that I arrive home after work in daylight. I get multi-colour and white ones (desperately avoid red and green), and I like them because I don’t enjoy arriving home in complete darkness. I walk in an area without many street lights, so I can see them for some time. It probably also helps that many outdoor light displays aren’t overly religious (deer, snowmen, minions), whereas I have travelled to the US and seen some pretty religious ways of displaying lights – if those had existed in my community then I would probably be a lot less happy with my lights.
As a Jew, it’s always been weird to me that we don’t get more into the light hanging, since Hanukkah is literally a “Festival of Lights.”
RIGHT? I grew up in a town with a significant Jewish minority (maybe 30%? Enough that some years, but not all, they closed school for the High Holidays) and, for whatever reason (it wasn’t proximity to a synagogue; we weren’t, and the two synagogues in town were Reform and Conservative so didn’t strictly enforce the prohibition against driving on Shabbat) the street I lived on was predominantly Jewish, plus a Hindu family There was ONE Christian family across the street from us who wrapped a single strand of colored lights around the lamppost at the end of their driveway; otherwise the street was DARK DARK DARK. And so depressing. When I found out in Hebrew school that you were supposed to put the menorah in a street-facing window, I begged for us to do that, but…we didn’t really HAVE a suitable street-facing window. Our house was set at an angle and all we had on the wall with the front door was a large clerestory about eight feet up.
When I was married, I lived in a beautiful 1897 money pit in a different, less Jewish city (it had been more Jewish fifty years earlier, but hello white flight to two adjoining suburbs), and even though we were both Jewish I put a single electric candle in each street-facing window from Thanksgiving to New Year’s (I might have left them up until February one year), and during Hanukkah the menorah went in the center of the living room bay. Because LIGHTS.
Our Catholic next door neighbor expressed some envy at our “restrained and elegant” light choice – her husband went for blinking multicolored lights all over their front porch in addition to the very nice colored lights on their very tall evergreen. I didn’t mind. It was cheerful.
I didn’t go so far as to seek out Star of David lights, or dreidels. Mostly because we got that stupid dreidel song as a well-meaning token in the winter chorus concert EVERY YEAR and if I never hear it again it will be too soon.
“Stop making a big deal about Chanukah and learn something about Passover! Mail us a cool and pretty card for Rosh Hashanah!”
Quoting because this cannot be emphasized enough! In fact, if someone wants to blow it up, turn it into a banner, and hang it on every single street corner in the USA, I would support that. We could shorten it to: “Stop making a big deal about Chanukah and actually learn something about Judaism and other religions.”
I have nothing useful to contribute to this thread but I wanted to thank you for this good advice, I am a bit iffy at sending cards on time (ever, at all) but I will do this… or try to.
Common Question: When did Hunnukkah (am I saying that right *big hopeful smile*) become an important holiday?
Me: When Jewish kids started going to public school in America, and their parents had to do something in holiday self defense.
I super agree with “stop making a big deal about Hanukkah.” It’s one of our most minor holidays. If people really want to be inclusive, they should take time and energy to research our big holidays.
The time I was on my workplace’s party planning committee, we obliviously put the summer catered picnic/barbecue party during Ramadan. It’s been years, I no longer work there, and I still full-body cringe when I remember it. Lesson learned for me, but I hate that people felt excluded because of my inattention.
I have similar feelings about the fact that we hired an Arabic-speaking translator to work in our Dubai office, invited him to London to meet the UK-based part of the team, and then, to my utter horror, went to a pub for the social part of the welcome. I straight-up flagged to the bosses that this was potentially* a culturally tone deaf move (a conversation they didn’t take well, as they hadn’t checked with him first). So I did check with him, and he said that he did not want me to make a fuss. We had an outside table and I noticed he didn’t go inside the whole evening.
Sorry for the tangent to the original question
*I say potentially because I know not everyone brought up in a religion follows the precepts.
If it’s Dubai, pretty much every fancy restaurant is also a bar (has to do with the licensing requirements and the fact that Dubai is the Las Vegas of the Middle East). So even the non-drinkers are going to be pretty used to going to bars. It might be awkward if they insisted that he get drunk with them – even then, Dubai’s a pretty boozy place (google Dubai brunch some time) so it’d be about the same odds of getting a non-drinker anywhere else.
I really hate the thing where someone correctly notes that they or a group they’re part of has done something culturally insensitive, and people come in and try to argue them out of that stance. Heather’s right that, regardless of how “boozy” Dubai is, it was insensitive of her office to put a new employee who may not want to be around alcohol for religious reasons in a situation where he couldn’t avoid it, and she’s right to keep it in mind for future situations.
I got a similar reaction when I told the story on another site of how I made meatballs for an office potluck, and when a Muslim coworker asked if they had pork in them, I said no, but completely forgot to mention the red wine I had put in. She overhead me giving the recipe to someone and was upset about the alcohol, and of course I was mortified. Other commenters tried to argue with me that it was her job to also ask about alcohol, or it didn’t matter anyway because the beef I used wasn’t halal, or whatever, but the truth was that I knew she was Muslim, I knew what the major dietary restrictions of Islam are, and I put her in a bad position due to carelessness on my part. Please don’t try to argue people out of being sensitive to the concerns of non-majority religions.
I have been the poison attempting to get well-meaning but oblivious people to understand cultural differences. It’s frequently frustrating, and you very quickly find out how well-meaning they actually are by how hard they did their heels in on “tradition”.
thank you for this.
Good luck to all the non-Christmas types out there. May your December end without drama.
OP I am a “best of all worlds” type Jew (being from an interfaith family does that to you) but I increasingly do fewer and fewer Christmas things. I wonder about getting Aggressively Into Hanukkah as a form of self defense? Like, show up to work in a Bad Hanukkah Sweater and dreidel earrings, bring sufganiyot and latkes for the office, and wish all your co-workers “Happy Hanukkah” when they wish you “Merry Christmas.” This might invite some of your co-workers to say “oh the OP has now been appropriately festive” and leave you alone, but it might invite others to ask a lot of very nosy questions about “just what is Hanukkah/ Judaism/ but really what ABOUT Jesus” that you may not want to entertain. So this is only a viable strategy if you feel comfortable being extremely festive. I know that growing up in a very Irish Catholic neighborhood I had my friends over for latkes, matzah ball soup, dreidel, and candle lighting, and everyone was very understanding that MDubz is the Jew, her ways are not our ways.
I love this idea! I’ve never really celebrated Hannukah – it’s a fairly minor holiday as far as Jewish holidays go but it gets hyped up because it happens to sort of coincide with Christmas – but I like being like IN YOUR FACE with a dreidel and some latkes.
I work on a college campus with a large Jewish population, and this is the route that my students tend to go. We had Santa Con a few weeks ago *shudder,* and their social media was filled with pictures of them in aggressively bad Hanukkah sweaters. It was pretty sweet.
Admittedly, I tend to keep the fact that I’m Jewish on the down low, but this year after suffering a lot of really insensitive questions about my religion and a few of my classmates trying to convert me, I went all out for Hanukkah. I wore a light up sweater for finals week (turned it off during the actual exam) where I saw them all twice. They all got a little candy bag for Hanukkah.
I am sure my teacher got a complaint about me shoving it in their faces. But, you know, there were three other students with christmas sweaters on and another student handed out those christmas tree cakes.
I think that’s exactly why it gets hyped up: when Jewish people make a show of festiveness that’s meant to match the intensity of the season, it seems to be a much bigger deal than it is. I feel like Christians try to figure out what other “versions” of Christmas are.
There is no Buddhist “version” of secular Christmas, because cultivating desire is exactly opposite the practice. People are shopping and making lists of all the things they WANT. When “Desire causes suffering” is one of the core tenants of your faith, you don’t make wish lists!
Right? I just attended a “holiday party” that included a song and dance number about non-Christmas holidays and it was cringeworthy. The lyrics were literally like “In Africa they celebrate with song and dance!” Ho-kay.
Not every religion has a holiday like Christmas, and That.Is.Okay.
Thank you!! I understand some people feel empowered by Ugly Chanukah Sweaters, but I personally hate that shit so much.
No. Chanukah isn’t “Weird Christmas.” There are very good Chanukah traditions that have nothing to do with decorating and presents, thanks.
The peak Weird Christmas attitude this year was the Frozen short they showed before Coco. (My condolences to everyone else who had to sit through that!) Olaf goes around collecting “Christmas traditions,” including dreidels and a chanukiah, apparently from medieval Jewish Scandinavians. Those aren’t Christmas traditions!! And let’s not even mention that Jews were banned from living in Scandinavian countries at various points up til the 1800s.
… they do know that there’s a whole bunch of Christians in Africa right????
Argh this reminds me of that stupid Do They Know It’s Christmas song. In many parts of Africa, yep, they sure do, because they are Christians who celebrate Christmas! In other parts they sure don’t, because they follow different religions with different holidays/practices and therefore don’t care about Christmas.
“And there won’t be snow in Africa this Christmas”. It won’t be snowing in HALF THE WORLD this Christmas dude. (Also, it sometimes does snow in Africa.)
Listening, nodding, and wishing I knew how to post a functional link to Roy Zimmerman’s song “Christma-Hanu-Rama-Ka-Dona-Kwanzaa.” https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=9MIKzPavUro
@SS Express: That line in “Do They Know It’s Christmas” always bugged me too. Like people on that continent feel oppressed due to the lack of snow, or that Western stereotypes about Christmas should define the holiday for everyone. When a sheltered 15-year-old (in 1984) suburbanite me like me finds your song patronizing, you might want to rethink some of those lyrics.
For those in this thread who also detest that song “Do They Know it’s Christmas,” I promise you, some of us are working to undermine that tune and attitude. I usually try to bring it in as a short-text study in conjunction with Things Fall Apart by Achebe, with a bridge lesson spent on “The Danger of a Single Story” by Adichie. The students get it.
This shiksa very much enjoys latkes.
Likewise on the latkes. I also told a friend that I would (were I into that sort of thing, which I’m not) totally be in favor of culturally appropriating Purim, because I can aggressively get behind a holiday where you give to the poor, raucously try to drown out the villain’s name when the story of the holiday is being told, and eat and drink to excess. And hamentashen (triangle-shaped tarts) are awesome.
My condolences on dealing with the Christmas-pushers. My husband got in a vicious argument with his sister over not wanting to spend Christmas at her place. We already had to give up part of one of his few days off to have a Christmas-ish brunch (not even half his relatives there but they sprung presents on us), and now she’s freaking out because she announced yesterday that she was hosting Christmas Day and we already had plans. Apparently we aren’t celebrating it “right” and she’s pissed that we’re rejecting her hospitality.
And I’m sorry, I’ve slid out of the “just shut up” instructions. So I will shut up.
Seconding being a non-Jew who would love to see Purim become A Thing on a larger scale. Similarly, I think we as a country could use more of the introspection that Yom Kippur inspires. (I say this as a shiksa who, because of the demographics where I grew up and the friends I had, has spent more time in shul than in a church.)
The point of a thread about how not to crush your Jewish coworkers under the hegemony of Christmas isn’t to start talking about which Jewish holidays you’d like to appropriate (if you were into that, which you’re totally not, but you’re still going to tell us about it). Not everything needs to be about you, and not everything is for you. Please stop.
@Jessica, THANKS. WHOLEHEARTEDLY AGREED.
Go forth and celebrate your own damn holidays! There are lots of great things about Christmas that have nothing to do with capitalism. The more religious the better, IMO. I don’t mind when other people celebrate their own religious holidays at all, and I find that the more religious the celebration, the less I’m expected to participate, which is ALL I WANT (for Christmas).
Sincerely, your local Christmas-loathing Jew.
” I also told a friend that I would (were I into that sort of thing, which I’m not) totally be in favor of culturally appropriating Purim, because I can aggressively get behind a holiday where you give to the poor, raucously try to drown out the villain’s name when the story of the holiday is being told, and eat and drink to excess. And hamentashen (triangle-shaped tarts) are awesome.”
A good friend of mine throws an enormous Purim blowout for his entire neighborhood, usually in conjunction with four or five other families (because it gets so big that one family can’t possibly run it all). The year I was living there, they held a Progressive Food & Drink Party, starting at the top of the hill because as you get more and more drunk it’s easier to walk downhill than up. They began with breakfast and sangria at 9AM at one family’s house, and drifted down through the others till they landed at his place around 4PM for the roasting of a whole goat and the tasting of homebrewed craft beer (and a whole lot of other stuff for people who didn’t like beer). His wife, who didn’t drink, was custodian of the car keys for everybody, and made sure to recruit the other non-drinkers to help drive people home who shouldn’t be driving themselves.
The whole thing was freaking AWESOME, and it was open to Jews and gentiles alike. I remember trying to explain the Purim story to a gentile acquaintance who’d asked about it, round about 5PM, by which time I wasn’t really very good at it… I didn’t *quite* meet the Talmudic requirement to get so drunk I couldn’t tell the difference between Haman and Mordechai, but I definitely wasn’t really too coherent with the story, so I considered honor satisfied. 😉
I wish I had enough Jewish families where I live now to run something similar. Even if most of the people who attend aren’t Jewish I bet they’d have fun… and it could be quite a revelation to the subset of Christians who don’t think Jews have any fun because all they see are the solemnity of the High Holy Days and the fact that we have to do a s**tload of spring cleaning and then stop eating half our normal diet over Pesach.
MIB, ran out of nest, but very much so, on Yom Kippur. I was raised, in a large part, in a geographic area where part of “religion” and “patriotism” often felt synonymous with, “stop thinking and questioning.” When I found that there was a dominantly-accepted religion that devoted a day to reflection, I felt a an actual physical longing in my stomach to ask if I could convert.
I don’t really understand how you can read this letter and the comments and call Judaism dominantly accepted.
When Paul Ryan’s projected replacement isn’t putting triple parens around Jewish reporters’ names, and when Jewish communities can celebrate holidays without police protection or hired security guarding the building, then you can call Judaism “dominantly-accepted.”
I apologize. Perhaps I may call Judaism, “non-weirdos”?
Well, not automatically accorded the accolade of “weird and ditzy cultists” in all but the most backwater of communities.
Also latkes and sufganiyot are DELICIOUS. Though I personally feel that latkes aren’t worth it unless you eat them standing by the stove.
We had an ugly Christmas sweater day at my old job a few years ago at work and our (at the time) only Jewish employee showed up in an incredible Hannukah sweater and it was epic. Sweater doesn’t even cover it, it was more of a…Hannukah sandwich board? Although I don’t work there anymore, this year I noticed they did a section of the office with Hannukah decorations, at least they’re trying I guess.
This sounds canny. I second this advice.
I’m normally pretty low-key about being Jewish (In that I am not at all religious and mostly it’s about as relevant as the fact that I grew up in South Florida, but it’s still my culture in a deep way), but around Christmas time I joke that I become passive-aggressively Jewish. I make a point of saying Happy Channukah during the actual holiday, and go out of my way to remind people that I’m Jewish, not Christian if they ask about holiday plans or whatever.
I don’t go full extreme festive, because that’s a lot of work, but this year my cube neighbors put up a bunch of Christmas decorations (which is cool, they can celebrate their holiday!) and asked if I wanted any. “Nope, I’m Jewish” and that was fine. But then I went and ordered a T-Rex menorah because of the above passive-aggressive feelings, which has gotten a bunch of positive comments.
I also bought an ugly Channukah sweater (it says “Happy Llamakkah” with a llama in a tallis on it, I love it) and make a point of wearing it to our holiday lunch.
At my work, this works well to satisfy my desire to remind people that other religions exist, and I’ve only gotten complements on both the menorah and the sweater. A couple people have asked some questions, but in a sincere wanting to learn a bit way, so I’m happy to give a brief run-down.
So as long as you feel like your co-workers are more “trying to be inclusive and failing” rather than “specifically insistent on *Christmas”, I second the choice to be appropriately festive as a signal that you’re not against fun, just don’t want to be pulled into another faith’s celebration.
T REX MENORAH OMG
If you’re done bobbing for elves and are in need of further entertainment, GOOGLE “T-REX MENORAH”. OMG.
IKR? My son-in-law is Jewish, and I want to press him to celebrate Hanukah just so I can buy him that, Well, also because I am into freedom fighting and resource-stretching as concepts, but… his house, his religion, his choices. I kind of wish it weren’t cultural appropriation for me to celebrate it; it’s a beautiful story that speaks deeply to me in a way Christmas does not.
Awe Ritual, you need more Jewish friends who *do* celebrate Chanukah. Get invited to some parties! It’s not cultural appropriation to share in someone else’s occasion when they welcome you to. (If by some freak chance you’re in the Pacific Northwest, hit me up and I’ll be glad to ask you to ours, next year.)
That would be lovely, Working Hypothesis. I’m actually thinking of visiting the PNW next year, weirdly enough.
Wait where did you get the llama in a tallis sweater???? INQUIRING MINDS MUST KNOW.
“What’s the deal with all the menorah decorations going up before Rosh Hashanah is even over? It’s a disgrace. That’s why we’ve started honoring this alternative to the overly commercialized celebration of Hanukkah.”
Not nearly as good as S1lverdrake’s: https://www.tipsyelves.com/womens-happy-llammaka-sweater
Maybe this one? https://www.pinterest.com/pin/421579215102944961
I would love this.
I mean, getting Aggressively Into Hanukkah is pretty great–as I’ve told my coworkers, it’s about three things: eating fried food, resisting tyranny, and lighting shit on fire, which I feel like everyone can get appreciate, especially in 2017.
It did lead to an interesting conversation about department trees, though. One of my coworkers was like, “It can be a Hanukkah bush, too!” and I was like, “no, for it to legit be a ‘Hanukkah bush,’ we’d have to say a blessing over it and set it on fire.” Obviously we weren’t going to do that before Christmas, but the tree might get a Viking funeral afterward, which is exactly the sort of religious syncretism I’m here for.
My boss is Jewish and our workplace is a little too “Christmassy” at this time of year, so he has also employed the Hanukkah self-defense. His Bad Hanukkah Sweater was a thing of beauty, I’m a secular Christmas celebrator myself, but seeing the impact all of the Christmas crap has on him at this time of year has definitely made me more cognizant of how coercive the atmosphere can be. Someone mentioned to me that my boss got a “little Grinchy” this time of year (he’s normally quite good-natured) and I snapped back “he cannot be GRINCHY: he is JEWISH.”
I am Jewish, and YES, YES, YES on the Giant Fucking Dreidls!! Decorating for Chanukah — yes, despite the fact that that’s not necessarily the way we actually celebrate Chanukah at home! — is one of the most effective ways I’ve ever found to signify “I am with you in celebrating the spirit of Winter Holidays With Light Involved, but I stick to my own particular holiday, thankyouverymuch.”
It’s as if, because you decorated with *something* in the month of December (bonus points if Chanukah comes early that year and you get to do it in November, heading them off before they begin), they feel secure that you 1) have something celebratory to do and are not All Alone Out in the Cold if they don’t drag you forcibly into their celebrations, and 2) are not an Evil Grinch trying to Ruin Everybody’s Good Time.
You can leverage this whenever anybody asks you to do anything Christmasy: if possible, you decline not because you donwanna celebrate Christmas, but because you have something else you’re planning to do involving Chanukah instead:
“Sorry; can’t come over and sing carols with you on Friday. My synagogue is having its pre-Chanukah Shabbat where all the kids show off the menorahs they made; it’s so cute.”
“Sorry; I can’t stay late Wednesday to do Secret Santa with the office folks — I need to lay in supplies for latke-making this weekend!”
“Sorry, I can’t come to the office Holiday Party That Is Totally Not A Christmas Party Which Is Why It’s Decorated All In Red And Green With A Honking Huge Tree Inside. I’m behind on my Chanukah shopping and my nieces and nephews are going to go dreidl-less this year if I don’t find an evening to get out there already.”
If it’s not possible to claim a specific Chanukah-related event (note that it’s completely expected that a lot of the fun involves prep work, so it’s totally okay to use prep work — shopping, cooking, etc — as “holiday plans” you reference to avoid doing their things), you can at least reference how much you’re doing that *does* involve your own holiday. “Sorry, I can’t. This season is just so busy for me with Chanukah stuff that I don’t get out much for anything else in December; it kind of takes over.” (The fact that this probably isn’t true, because Chanukah is a relatively minor holiday in Judaism which doesn’t require a ton of preparation and is often kept kind of low-key is irrelevant. They will see your winter holiday through the lens of their own, which *does* take over the entire month, so it will be easy for them to believe you’re not going to have time to do anything else that month.) Another good one, if you prefer to avoid outright lies, is “After accounting for Chanukah, I’m pretty holiday-ed out in December, thanks. I just want to enjoy my own holiday and then be finished until Tu b’Shvat rolls around.”
LW, you have my sincere sympathy and empathy. Best wishes in ducking till it blows over.
While we are the Jews of the do everything stripe I have so much sympathy for LW. It is so awkward. And no matter where your boundary is people will try to cross it (my workplace still insists on praying at our company party even though the non-Christians beg them not to every year). I try to be really blunt in the most cheerful way possible and I think the Captain’s scripts are excellent. In particular the phrase “It is really weird that you are being this way” has worked for me. I say it with a concerned tone, and really loudly, trying to make it clear that they are the one making this strange. After a couple of seasons people mostly just leave me alone about it.
I have had some luck being trying to head things off in advance – I talked to my boss about how nice it is when we are more inclusive in our language and this has helped a lot (though the praying persists). I bring latkes to our holiday potluck and made Star of David sugar cookies for the cookie table. These have always brought on good conversations (though I know in some workplaces that might not be true). For the most part I think that I am the only Jew these people know and I put a human face on something they didn’t really see as problem. It gets better every year.
Of course none of this is LW’s problem. Just saying “I don’t want to participate” should be enough. And I am sorry that this is a problem still.
Uuuuuuuuuuuughthis. I am also Jewish (super secular, not really practicing at all except for tikkun olam) and I would really rather be spending the holiday tucked into bed Netflixing and boozing than being dragged to “holiday” (and can we please just stop saying holiday, when I KNOW YOU MEAN CHRISTMAS?!) celebrations.
I also feel like people are being VERY aggressive with the Merry Christmases this year. I had to go to a mall the other day and got wished a merry Christmas by everyone I spoke to, which has not happened before, and they were seriously in your face about it. THANKS TRUMP.
I am dating someone non-Jewish and for their family Christmas is a big damn deal, and my family is so dysfunctional that we don’t even make a pretense at doing any holiday related gatherings, so I don’t even have my family to fall back on as to why I can’t attend.
I don’t care enough about it to take a stand about not participating, I like buying people I like nice stuff, and it’s cool that they want to spend time with me, so we’re going, and it’s fine, but I’m also really just Christmased the fuck out.
Re: coping mechanisms, I’m avoiding most office-related gatherings (like, the party in which you decorate a CHRISTMAS TREE yes we had that is not a ‘holiday’ gathering, it’s a Christmas gathering) and if anyone asks why I just cheerfully remind them that I’m Jewish. We do also have a menorah in one office so that’s something.
I have a personal rule that aside from wrapping presents, there are NO Christmas or Christmas-themed decorations allowed in my house. My partner’s mother tried to offer us a Christmas tree and I put my foot down.
Finally, LW, I seriously understand wanting to go along to get along at a new workplace, and I would want to do that too, but if anyone is still hard-selling Christmas to you, they are breaking the social contract, not you, and it’s okay to remind them that they need to respect your way or practicing religion, in the same way that some Christians don’t celebrate Halloween.
“in the same way that some Christians don’t celebrate Halloween” Heck, some Christians don’t even celebrate Christmas, for that matter.
Agreed on the people being particularly aggressive with the Merry Christmas-ing this year. I work in retail, and I feel like a lot more of my customers have been wishing me a Merry Christmas than usual. Every time they do, I think, “But what if I was one of the many people who don’t celebrate Christmas? Why are you just assuming I do?” I mean, I know why (and in my case, their assumption is correct), but yeah, we don’t all have to share our own holiday greetings with random strangers, thanks anyway.
My sympathies, LW. Christmas really does get very overwhelming and domineering this time of year.
I truly cannot get over people who insist on saying “Merry Christmas” because “Well, it IS Christmas, why can’t you just accept it as a nice greeting, how am I supposed to know you don’t celebrate it…”
There’s so much wrong with that, but I prefer to zero in on “it’s just a nice greeting”, because it’s not. Not just because even if you’re completely well-meaning about it you’re still promoting cultural hegemony, but because there are some people who are actively assholes who deliberately use it as a statement of “fuck you non-Christians” and indeed hope to give offense by saying it. The smokescreen of generic well wishing ought to be hanging in tatters at this point.
And, well, how am I supposed to know you’re one of the “nice” ones, and not one of the assholes?
Fellow Jew here, but an eastcoaster, and so I am not sure I’ve had quite this experience. People are almost more likely to want to be involved in my Jewish stuff (like – there is almost a fetishization of getting to do jewish stuff in some circles) or to be very much compensating like – everyone here got a RED and GREEN gift but you, my Jewish friend, got the BLUE and WHITE one because EQUALITY. or whatever. I almost find that more onerous, because wrapping Christmas in “jewish” colors(but – not even Jewish. Israeli! Which is not Jewish, and as an anti-zionist, whew, that’s a whole other ball of wax right there) is maybe more annoying to me than just admitting you want to give me a Christmas gift? But I am probably the Jew that would rather hear a happy christmas then hear someone butcher a happy chanukkah or give themselves an ally point about it. (Exception I teach, and one of my students gave me a menorah shaped christmas tree ornament, which was just totally cute and I loved it, in that “aww kids are the darndest” kinda way.)
Aaaaaanyway. Sometimes when people are rude, I also advocate lying. Like, it’s great if you can be like “what your deal, back off?” but if that’s too draining “I am busy that night/visit my other goyish best friend on Christmas/am-just-too-busy-lately-to-think-about-a-yankee-swap” also works for me sometimes. In fact, just as a general rule, I like to cultivate an aura of being extremely busy (not a lie, I am) so that when I turn folks down on the grounds of being “super busy” it’s like – what people expected, and feels plausible to them. YMMV of course.
A final thing. I am generally the loud-mouthed shit-stirrer in my circles, and also in an area where while still a minority, there are a lot of Jews, but again mileage varies. But I generally make a habit of being sure all my Christian friends know about the fact that they get de facto paid leave for their holidays and I never do. I can’t exactly pinpoint why it matters so much for me, but I really want them to know that. If you’re up for it, possibly in coming years you can start laying the groundwork of pointing out ways in which treatment of Jews and Christians differ so that when you come to the next holiday season, it’s not the first time they’re hearing from you on this?
I’m endlessly grumpy about your last point. I’m a professional Jew, but many of my Jewish loved ones are not and I’m endlessly cranky on their behalf that they need to use vacation days to practice their religion. My SO is probably not going to get to have Passover this year because of it, and it’s making me very sad.
OMG this drives me BANANAS. I’m a doc, so I always work on Christmas (happily so – gets me a comp day to use for a Jewish holiday and gives me a good reason not to see my mother-in-law, who is not Jewish). For years I worked every other hospital holiday (4th of July, etc) except New Year’s Day to get enough comp days to help cover two days of Rosh Hashanah, at least one day for Yom Kippur, and two days for Pesach. When I pointed out to a long-ago section chair that he got his holidays off without taking vacation time, he said “Well, that’s just a coincidence.” NO. It’s NOT. Docs get more vacation than most people but I usually have to take four or five days of it for Jewish holidays, which are not really vacation; they may be spiritually restful (or not) but they are physically stressful, especially if you are hosting. UGH.
To the LW: I love the Captain’s suggestions. As annoying as it is, you will likely have to repeat this for several years before people really get it – if they do. Since I work Christmas, I try to take off the first week of January every year for decompression, self-care, and sometimes travel. Whatever you can do for self-care. If you can find a Jewish community of any kind, it helps me to have that as counter-programming.
I worked in a union shop for a few years, and it was closed on all the Jewish holidays. Plus all the federal holidays. Like, 20 holidays per year. And then add on the mandated PTO. It was awesome. Then I went to retail, and had 2 holidays. Sigh.
I grew up Christian, and when I was in college, I snagged an apartment in a building whose residents were nearly all Jewish. One afternoon in September, I overheard some neighbors telling each other they’d see each other ‘after the holidays’ and I internally wondered why they wouldn’t see each other until January. It was a long few minutes before it dawned on me that they were talking about Other Holidays. A lesson learned, was that.
Our September is your December. Except instead of one holiday, WE HAVE FOUR (and in Israel, Rosh Hashanah is even the gift giving holiday, although it’s not here in the States).
I am also super grumpy about this. I have to use vacation/personal time for Passover and Rosh Hashanah, but Christmas is a paid holiday and I just hate the double standard.
My office decided new employee training should start on Eid.
I was pissed.
That SUCKS and I’m sorry they did that.
My company has a policy that people in their first year of employment don’t get PTO aside from standard company-wide holidays, which include two days for Christmas. I tried to trade those Christmas days for Rosh Hashanah and got quoted company policy about working on paid holidays. Ended up using two sick days, and will essentially be forced into observing Christmas
Company policy needs to yield to federal law about reasonable accommodation for sincerely held religious belief. There is a large body of statute and case law about this stuff, and not letting you off for something mandated by your religion when they can do so without serious hardship to the business is not their choice to make.
And even when I take vacation (or the equivalent) to visit family for Pesach, it’s usually during a busy time of year, whereas there’s basically the understanding that very little needs to get done for a week either side of Christmas. And thus I do not always get to visit my family for the holiday that actually matters to me. And no, getting to travel to an colder part of the country to celebrate “probably the week after Chanukah” doesn’t really count as exciting for me.
Regarding colors: actually, Israel got the colors originally from the Torah’s requirements for the tallit, which has one blue thread among the white threads on each corner. So yeah, actually they *are* Jewish colors first and Israeli only afterwards, not the other way around. If it makes you feel any better, think tallit instead of Israel when they toss them your way?
That’s fair enough, if it were folks actual reasoning, but I doubt it is, seeing as so few non-Jews would know that. Sigh.
True that, and I don’t disagree about it being really annoying that all they know is that Blue & White = Jewish Colors. But they probably aren’t getting it from Israel, for the same reason they’re not doing any better about understanding Judaism and its actual significant holidays — they’re getting it from the fact that everything commercial has been done in those colors for Jewish stuff for ages, including (to judge from my mother’s childhood haggadot put out by Maxwell House and the like) well before the State of Israel existed. It’s still irritating that the commercial junk in colors which happened to be what gentile marketing people saw us wearing wrapped around our shoulders is all that many gentiles know about us, but that is its own thing, apart from the whole Zionism/anti-Zionism question.
Ahhh +100 to the fetishization. And also fair-weather allies. I have a former coworker who for *years* was terrible at remembering the holidays, being inclusive, etc, but now she has a Jewish boyfriend and wants brownie points from me for celebrating Jewish holidays. #no.
Oh this so much. At a prev job one coworker SOUGHT ME OUT to say, “look I got my dog this toy and it says KOSER on it!! Haha!” I just… WTAF? Do you need a sticker for your random purchase?? Ugh.
Because my work follows the stock market, we literally get Good Friday off, but I have to take vacation to go to services on Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah. I am bitter about that every single year.
Unrelatedly, since January I wear a necklace with a star of david every darn day at work, and I push the little star forward when people ask about my plans for Christmas as I say “I have none, I’m Jewish.” And every Merry Christmas gets answered with “Thanks, but I don’t celebrate, I’m Jewish.”
Right. Timing can be the worst! I teach, and my last two Septembers have been at new schools. So it’s horrible timing for High Holidays. I was lucky this year Yom Kippur was on a weekend, but even if it isn’t I only ever take one day per holiday, and even then, I feel bad about it because the first month of school is so critical to so many things. Plus, I had to take an unpaid day for Rosh Hashona, which is frustrating, but as a teacher I only get 3 days of PTO and I didn’t want to use them all up the first month of school.
Oh yeah, first month of school + (Rosh Hashanoh + Yom Kippur + Sukkot) = rough.
Also Pesach + April tax season + Jewish Accountant = how did this even happen?
I am also DisPleased that this upcoming year Passover (though, to be fair, also Easter) fall no where near the public school April Holiday which makes my busiest spring weekend just in the middle of a regular work week! *sigh* (I will go so far as to through an off night seder reasonably near Passover to get it during break, but this time, no dice!) Though so much worse for an accountant! I imagine an earlier Pesach this year is particularly rough?
As a kid greeting the New Year (and three more holidays!) in September made a lot of sense.
Of course, in New York, schools were closed for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (and usually Sukkot, and Simchat Torah), so you’re sloooooowly eased into the school year.
“But I generally make a habit of being sure all my Christian friends know about the fact that they get de facto paid leave for their holidays and I never do. ”
Ahahaha, oh yes, starting the fiscal year with a calendar, counting how many Jewish holidays fall on a Saturday-Sunday, and figuring out if holiday+sick-days leave me any time to actually, you know, get sick.
Forget vacations. Vacations are for Xtians.
Ohhhh LW, I feel you. I am Jewish, and also a public librarian (and, unfortunately, not in my region’s one Jewish neighborhood), so I get both a) a ton of questions about what I’m doing for Christmas, and Christmas wishes, and b) a whole ton of awkwardness when I say, “Thanks, but I’m Jewish.” (I find it super rare for people to actually be calm about this? So if you are a gentile who is ever in this situation just say, “Oh, sorry! Happy Hanukkah!” and be done. Please don’t begin to tell a Jewish person about your knowledge of Jewish things, don’t self-flagellate about how you didn’t knoooow and you shouldn’t have presuuuuumed, and definitely don’t say, “Oh it’s so awful what happened to your people.” Like, c’mon.)
I think the Captain’s advice is pretty good here. I also think you are allowed to skip out on any Christmas-y things that you don’t want to attend, and also if people are weird about it, it’s super their problem. I am incredibly pro aggressive Hanukkah decorations, or ridiculous Hanukkah sweaters. I am generally getting more aggressively Jewish, but I am way more loud about it around Christmas, because it’s so exhausting to have to navigate all of the aggressive Christmas nonsense, and all the ignorance about Judaism. December is rough. Good luck, and take care of yourself.
> definitely don’t say, “Oh it’s so awful what happened to your people.” Like, c’mon.
WHAT. I am pretty low-key about my Judaism but if someone said this to me it would get real ugly real fast.
Yeah I started cringe-laughing at that line. Especially because, like, which thing? And also, we’re not all dead yet, we’re actually flourishing thank you very much!
I have let this pass one (1) time; it was a friend’s young daughter, who had just learned about Holocaust and was extremely upset about it. My partner and I were the first Jews she’d ever met and I think she was mostly relieved to know some of us had survived. Then she showed us how to make an Advent calendar, because I’d never seen one before and also because asking her about it got us off the awkward topic.
Anyone over age 16, though: stick with “Happy Hannukah”.
I once had some Christians apologize to me for the Crusades. I guess they meant well, but…awkward. And kind of weird.
YMMV. I, actually, would really appreciate that, so long as they weren’t expecting me, an individual Jew, to absolve them on behalf of my entire people. Hearing Christians (and atheists descended from Christians) acknowledge that their ancestors massacred the families of my ancestors would be validating.
I honestly wasn’t sure what they were going for, and I was about fourteen, so I had no scripts that would be helpful. I think I just stuttered out a “thank you” and then changed the subject.
The problem is, usually I’ve found that they *are* expecting you to absolve them on behalf of your entire people. I pissed some people off in college, when a German acquaintance tried to apologize to me for the Holocaust and wasn’t happy when I pointed out that, by treating the nearest random Jew he found as if I were capable of granting him forgiveness for the many other people of my ethnicity whom other people of his ethnicity had killed, he was thinking in the same kind of stereotype-terms which led to the Holocaust in the first place.
Three humans, four opinions. I think the best action for Gentiles is to follow the other person’s lead.
Christian reader here….reading this and wishing I could go back in time and apologize profusely to my Jehovah’s Witness coworker for all the holiday decorations and food days she was pretty much forced to endure. Oof! I always learn from this site. This post was an eye opener for me.
Same here. Although my intentions were good at the time, I worry that I may have offended non-Christmas celebrators in the past. And I’ve definitely been the person giving everyone in the office holiday cookies because I didn’t want anyone to feel left out. I am learning a lot reading the comments with suggestions of things we can do (or not do) to be better at this – so thanks everyone!
Yuppp. I am Neo-Pagan, raised Christian, and I’ve given in to the Midwest Holiday Cheer to the extent that I give non-denominational winter holiday gifts to everyone. (Including my new coworker, who I knew was Jewish, it just didn’t sink in. LW, if you are my new co-worker, I apologize, and thank-you notes are not required.)
Also a Christian here (a very liberal leftist one, there is a difference) – although in the country where I live in while the big majority of the population are protestants – “advertising” one’s faith aloud, especially if it is Christianity, is considered very awkward. A prayer in a secular business organization would be unthinkable here. Since I grew up sharing the faith of the majority I do not know how it feels to feel Other when it comes to religion but I constantly feel like that because of other reasons and if it is anything like that feeling I a) am so sorry you have to suffer from it because it is terrible and b) want very much to learn how to be more inclusive.
I consider it wrong to ask members of othered minorities to educate us so I have searched for more information on holidays of different religions. There is just one thing: most of religions do not consist of big group of like-minded people but of groups which differ from each other. I believe it is the duty of the majority to educate themselves, it is just, the internet is full of information and assessing which pieces of information are relevant to which groups gets confusing. Being very sensitive and afraid of hurting the feelings of others I get anxious and wonder whether I can trust the information on sites, for example this one on the Jewish holidays: https://www.hebcal.com/holidays/2017-2018
Now I am just wondering whom to ask for more information. I would love to send cards on Rosh Hashana – and latkes sound so very delicious.
Many Jews don’t actually mind answering questions; some of us (including myself) find it fun. One way you can reduce the risk of asking someone who *isn’t* interested is to look in interfaith circles (in person or online). Those settings are pretty much self-selecting for folks who 1) like talking about religious stuff and 2) don’t mind doing so with people of other religions; that’s what those groups are for. Unitarian communities also often have a pretty varied mix of religious backgrounds and a population which finds the subject interesting.
Hi, Christian popping up to ask, do I wish someone a “Blessed Rosh H.” or “Good Passover”? What’s the proper wording?
The Yiddish greeting my family use at Passover translates as “Good Passover,” and “Happy New Year” is an (not the only) appropriate greeting for Rosh Hashanah.
Hi, Google found these links for me!
Gentle Reminder: This is not the Judaism education thread for Christians.
Hebcal is a great site! One thing that is consistent in Judaism is that we all celebrate holidays on the same days. Some denominations (Reform and Reconstructionist) only celebrate the first day of holidays that other denominations, when not in Israel, celebrate for two days, but that’s probably the biggest difference. Jewish holidays are tied to the Hebrew calendar, which has been functioning for a few millennia by now, so Jews have been able to stay consistent in keeping track of when our holidays fall no matter where on the globe we may have scattered. The special observances mentioned on Hebcal for people living in walled cities and/or outside the land of Israel also enabled us to ensure we observed holidays at the right time in the centuries before modern communication methods (better to hold two Passover seders than to hold the Seder a day early).
Jewish Virtual Library is also a useful site. It’s essentially an encyclopedia about Judaism and the Jewish people, so it generally covers the variety of different traditions practiced by Jews in different parts of the world. For example, latkes are only a traditional food for Jews whose ancestors lived in Eastern Europe. Here’s a blog post someone wrote this year about some other traditional Chanukkah foods: https://geekcalligraphy.com/blog/2017/12/11/move-over-latkes.
Please stay away from Aish.com and chabad.org. They’re great sites if you’re attracted to ultra-Orthodox Judaism specifically, but, otherwise, they’ll give you a rather warped image of Judaism (imagine if you tried to learn about Christianity by only reading Amish resources).
Personally, I love comparing notes about culture and religion! (Because being Jewish is both a religion and an ethnic identity, culture and religion are sort of conflated in my mind. The description of Jews as members of the tribe is accurate; Jewishness doesn’t fall neatly into post-Enlightenment ideas of religion versus nationality/ethnicity.) Most of the time, questions about Judaism help me feel seen and respected. They’re the balm for all those times I’m asked about the ‘Jewish version’ of Christmas, and for that one time, in high school health class, when the teacher asked me in front of everybody what the Jewish attitude towards pre-marital sex is.
I’m having trouble coming up with the words to articulate the difference between a validating question about my Judaism, and an othering question, but I’ll comment again if my brain untangles and I find those words.
EchoFlower, thank you so much for your very illuminating answer! Oh, how much I would love to compare notes with you about your views of Judaism – and your memories of Jewish holidays and traditions. I have bookmarked the sites you recommended but it will probably take some time to get through even a fraction of Jewish Virtual Library. These resources of information have made me very happy and I hope others will find them, too. I happened to find a Jewish cookbook with background information on the recipes and I intend to share it and the post on Chanukkah food you shared with my mother-in-law who shares my interest in religions.
I hope your Chanukah has been very enjoyable and may you also enjoy Tu BiShvat! I am only starting to find out more about Jewish holidays but as a person who has lately read about ethnobotany as part of my studies what I have found out about Tu BiShvat so far is fascinating. Now I am only wishing our holidays were as amazing – and I would love to hear so much which holidays are the favourites of the people here.
In the unlikely event that I ever found a company, I promise I will create a system which allows people to celebrate their holidays equally.
This discussion has woken me up more to see how much Christianity affects the culture in which I live. So thank you, everybody.
Adding to the point about Aish and Chabad: they’re actually both useful sites so long as you know what you’re getting, but be careful to know what you’re getting. Aish is a fairly mainstream Orthodox site… it will not give you good information about what the bulk of relatively assimilated Jews do now, but if you want to know the original religious reasoning from centuries ago about something, or how Orthodox practice differs from what you’re getting elsewhere about Reform and Conservative practice, Aish is an excellent source for the Orthodox point of view.
Chabad isn’t even traditionally Orthodox. It’s the brainchild of an especially… unique… branch of the Chasidim, who are already an offshoot of Orthodoxy which broke away several centuries ago. Most Chasidim are considered a form of Orthodoxy today, but they’re definitely a very unusual form; and the Lubovitchers (who created Chabad) are even further afield from that, making them an offshoot of an offshoot.
Chabad does have some value, in that its purpose is to persuade non-practicing Jews to take up practice of the ritual commandments according to Orthodox standards. So where it’s talking specifically about HOW to do candlelighting or what’s the traditional purpose of a lulav and etrog, or that sort of basic factual information about Jewish tradition, it’s accurate enough. It’s where it gets into the theology and philosophy, especially around Messianic prophecy, that it gets deeply weird and not at all representative of any other form of Judaism.
I love babbling about Judaism with interested people, whether Jewish or gentile, and at any level of previous knowledge. So if you want someone to ask questions of, feel free to hit me up.
What I want is go to back in time and thank all the non-Christian children I went to school with for never once telling me the truth about Santa.
Santa is many a Jewish (and, I would assume Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, etc.) child’s first lesson in respecting other people’s beliefs and cultures. I had countless conversations with other kids where I said the elementary school version of “I don’t believe in Santa and you do and that’s A-OK.”
I do, however, remember getting really annoyed with the Christmas-celebrating kids who would mock other Christmas-celebrating kids for still believing in Santa Claus. They would try to recruit me as an ally in the ‘Santa’s not real’ debate.
Face-palming as I remember the time a young lady from the Jehovah’s Witness church came to my door on Dec 23rd. I declined her info politely, and then cheerfully and obliviously wished her a “Merry Christmas!” She hesitated and then said very quietly, “Merry Christmas.” I didn’t even think about what I’d done until after she’d left. *groan*.
I agree with CW – we all have our jerk moments, and the microaggressions can start to wear you down, LW, and I’m sorry for that.
No. Do not feel guilty about that. You are not the jerk in that story.
Someone who has interrupted a stranger at home, uninvited, in order to proselytize deserves to hear the most gentle possible “good news” back at them.
I mean, I’m not advocating hurling abuse at door-to-door evangelizers, but you don’t owe them any particular concern or deference to their religious beliefs, as they are specifically refusing to respect yours.
Yeah, no, proselytizers get what they get and they don’t get upset, as far as microaggressions go.
Jehovah’s witnesses are Christians. They don’t do Christmas so much I guess, but they are still Christian.
Yes, but they’re one of the branches of Christianity which considers celebrating Christmas to be against their practice.
Fair enough. (I reacted because I read the comment as implying they aren’t.)
If coworker holiday gifting is definitely a Thing, would you be comfortable with New Year’s cards? I do them at work at least 50% because I always forget until the last minute and then can look like I planned to do it after we all get back from break (I work at a university), but it also feels a bit like punting the whole winter holiday question — I’m not going “hi I’m Jewish and this random chocolate bar is definitely for Hannukah and not Christmas!” which sometimes feels weirdly defensive even though it *shouldn’t* be.
Am not OP but I (a Jewish person who feels similarly) would be fine with New Years cards. If someone wished me a good 2018, I’d think they were being nice. I actually think this is a really good idea.
We send Giftmas cards, because people should call it what it is.
As a Christian-raised atheist, we do New Year’s cards because I like an opportunity to connect to people but want zero religious accompaniment. And now that I’ve moved South, it’s Just. So. Christian.
We do New Years cards for almost precisely that reason. It is not controversial that the calendar year ends on December 31. Fin.
Unless the person you are writing to is not on the Gregorian calendar.
Many calendars do not line up with the civil calendar. But January 1 is the first day of 2018, pretty unambiguously.
Of all the hegemonies us minority folks have to live under, calendrical hegemony is honestly about the least bad, so I will absolutely take a “Happy New Year” card over “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings” or other euphemisms for Christmas.
The rage howls of “War on Christmas” types are pretty misplaced regarding that one; “season’s greetings” has been in use for over a hundred years as an expressly Christmas-related expression.
The French do not do Christmas cards. They send “Bonne Annee” (Happy New Year) cards.
Thanks for this!! Yay!
I’m a raised-Hindu-sorta-practicing-Buddhism person, and I had fun putting together “happy new year” cards. Yes, I wanted to include all the celebrants this time of year, but I also wanted to give my procrastinating self permission to not finish my mailing until mid-January.
I’m with the OP though and hope that subsequent Decembers get easier. It’d be nice if our cultural norms had more space for non-dominant ways.
I love doing the New Year card thing, because I’m still not participating in/supporting any Holy-Days stuff but still reciprocating.
Also, let’s be honest: I have cover for when someone unexpected plays Magi, and I have too much shit to do before the 25th that I’m much more likely to get my act together during my vacation time.
Happy Western Calendar Flip to all!
We’ve been known to send out Groundhog’s Day cards as we’re unorganized and procrastinate.
My family mostly does New Year’s stuff.
I come from a long line of non-practicing Jews, and somehow Hanukkah wasn’t a thing. Nor was Christmas really. So, we got vaguely around the New Year presents instead.
Once my brother and I were teens, the parents would say “Tell us now, and we will buy it during the January sales.” Yes, it was a joke. (But also true. Big presents often appeared in January.)
Part of my parents’ ambivalence can be laid at the feet of my father’s late December birthday.
Is your family Former Soviet Union? I know that is A Thing for Jews who immigrated here from the Former Soviety Union in the 90s and 2000s.
Some of my relatives came to the U.S. before 1880, the rest, between 1900 and 1910.
Most from somewhere in the Pale of Settlement, some from Austria.
(In fact, some around 1905 fleeing the revolution, some fleeing Tsarist reprisals.)
It definitely is a Thing; I once dated a guy whose family came from Ukraine in the 1980s, and they celebrated New Year’s as a holdover from the traditions there. He said that, because the Soviet Union wasn’t big on *any* religious holiday (even Russian Orthodox, which had been dominant before they took over), New Year’s was considered the secular holiday on which people of any religious background did their winter gifting and celebrating. They usually celebrated it pretty much like a Russian Orthodox Christmas except without the church bits, but it was on December 31/Jan 1.
“Tell us now, and we will buy it during the January sales.”
I just want to say that I LOVE this.
We do valentine cards, in the tradition of Julia Child (in “My Life in France” she says something like “we could never get our act together in time to send Christmas cards”). It only took two months for people to learn we didn’t do Christmas stuff, but were thinking of them when we were listing all our loved ones!
Hello OP – fellow tribe member here!
Admittedly, I am one of those Jews who love Secret Santa, tree trimming and all of that – but my mother is not like that (which perhaps explains me….). She’s worked for the same Midwest hospital for over 25 years and every year she just buckles into the refrain of “Thank you for inviting me, but I’m Jewish and don’t celebrate Christmas”. It’s definitely draining and has put my mom’s walls up very strong walls around Christmas – so I totally get it. In addition to there being no script to shut things down forever, it reliably will come up again every year.
Personally, I would not use the Captain’s line around only celebrating Jewish holidays, because I fear that it opens up more questions like “Then do you celebrate Thanksgiving? Would you go to a religious wedding or christening? Is this just about Christian holidays or would you go to a Diwali or Ramadan break the fast?” While obviously tone will impact if any of those questions are rude or not, even in the most polite sense of someone being curious and wanting to learn, I really wouldn’t want to explain why I celebrate Thanksgiving and/or Halloween (despite having some Christian traditional elements) but not Christmas.
With all that being said, I sympathize with you the most for the time when I actually lived in Jerusalem. As a Jew in Jerusalem with no extended family – and a nonobservant Jew at that…..being alone on holidays was a THING. And it was a thing that not only did people notice, but also apparently caused them lots of distress of someone being solo. There were always things I could focus on – like taking the time to call my parents back in the states, or finding time to connect with friends. But more importantly it meant standing up and politely saying “thanks, but no thanks” to many well wishers horrified by the idea of someone being alone. I found that being gracious to the invitation but also short and sweet with the “no thank you” was all that could be done.
well, Thanksgiving is based on Sukkot, so….
But you make a point I thought reading Captain’s advice: speaking as a Jew, I don’t want to ever open myself up to the weird pushing of “if you will celebrate this one very secular holiday, why won’t you celebrate my very religious holiday?” because that doesn’t ever go well.
I second this, that strategically the “I don’t celebrate your religious holidays” might not be the best way to shut it down. There’s too much chance for diversion into “well, it’s also a cultural holiday” (which is true) and “what about X” (which gets complicated and tiring). I’d either go with the Aggressive Hannukah technique some have recommended (because people seem to not mind what you’re celebrating so long as you’re celebrating *something*) or just go “I like to do a Very Lowkey Thing where I don’t do any presents or parties or decorations, and instead focus on quiet minimalist reflection – it’s just what works for me” (which also seems to work, for some reason).
Yeah. Because if you’re Doing Something about it, then you’re acknowledging the superiority of *their* tradition. 😛
*shrug* Maybe yes, maybe no. But it works.
I grew up Christian and converted to paganism in my early 20s. My family are all still Christian, including extended family. I’m also from the Midwest (now live in a Glasgow). It’s just so goddamned pervasive here. Like Christian is Default, you will be assumed to be Christian, everyone is assumed to be Christian even if they aren’t particularly devout, and 9/10 times telling someone that you aren’t Christian is met with either shock and confusion or just condescending amusement.
Then there are the people who will try to tell you about Jesus, and when you say you already know all about Jesus because you were raised Christian, they want to know “what horrible event happened to make you angry at God and how can we lead you back?”
I hate it. I really fucking hate it.
So, LW, I commiserate. The erasure really sucks and it makes me feel angry and invisible and disrespected.
While I still enjoy celebrating Christmas with my family, I get VERY tired of the attitude that my holidays are “made up hippy nonsense” that have to be “indulged” as one of my liberal “quirks”. Because obviously my religion couldn’t possibly be real and deeply spiritual and meaningful to me! It’s just some goofy fad lol that Cherries, always doing weird things like making vegetarian food and celebrating a madeup religion teehee!
The best advice I have is to follow the Captain’s scripts and to have at least one person you can saftely vent to about the pent-up frustration and anger that comes with being constantly erased by people who have very little interest in respecting that not everyone and their mother worships the baby Jesus for the entirety of December.
When really pressed by someone far past the point of politeness, I often say something like, “I am really happy with my religion.” In your situation, I would add, “I really need you to respect that and stop this conversation.” And if they keep pushing, THEY are making it weird, not you. And feel free to get more and more brusque every time you need to refuse. I had to work really hard at that (and still do), being a woman—feeling like I can’t be “rude”—but at some point it’s okay to meet rudeness with a firm “knock it off I am not kidding here” repeated as necessary without the couched politeness to soften the message.
Pagan high-fives to you. This whole post and thread are resonating so much.
The one I keep getting is, “You weren’t raised Christian. You were raised Catholic. That doesn’t count. Let us tell you the real truth about Jesus!”
Come December, I get utterly fed up with the ubiquitous Christmas music in every retail space. It wears on me and feels like an attack after a while. Not only are the songs overplayed and some of them downright irritating, but it’s a constant, merciless, unceasing, thumping message that the cultural hegemony decrees only one seasonal expression of festivity to be correct and valid, and my own identity and being and values are worthless and beneath respect. But let me complain at all, and I’m told I’m a Grinch with a heart three sizes too small if I can’t enjoy the music in the spirit with which it is intended. (Look, honey, the spirit with which the words “Merry Christmas” is intended is very often a gods-damned gauntlet thrown. War on Christmas, my ass.)
I left a Sweet Adelines chapter over this. One year, I raised my voice about how, if we’re such an inclusive organization, why the hell do we only ever sing songs about *one* religion’s holidays? The fallout from that included the conductor’s sad lament that I couldn’t just appreciate music as music, and the chorus member who called me at home to invite me to her church. The following year, the conductor, in a bed to appear to appease us religious minorities (I was not alone in my protests), renamed the concert from “Christmas” to “Holiday,” and added… more “secular Christmas” songs and a few more outright Baby Jesus songs… and also the Hallelujah Chorus. Which is traditionaly sung at Easter, but nevermind. He’d asked me the previous year for ideas about Hanukkah and Solstice songs to make it more inclusive, but after I gave him a list and several recordings on tape, he did… nothing. And every time we practiced the Hallelujah Chorus, the rest of the singers erupted in aggressively triumphant cheers that felt downright pointed. Like, “Yay! We kept Jesus despite everything the Grinch tried last year!” And the conductor was all, “We stopped calling it the Christmas concert, you won, what more do you want?” And shortly after that, I left. The group had made their point, which was that I and my non-Christian ideas of inclusivity were not welcome.
I’ve had to learn how to firmly but politely answer the innocuous but omnipresent question, “Are you looking forward to Christmas?” “Are you spending Christmas with your family?” “What will you be doing for Christmas?” My latest answer is, “Oh, for us it’s just another day off from work. Which we’ll need, as we’ll be recovering from our Winter Solstice festivities. That’s our holiday, you see, because we’re Pagan.” So far it’s gone over well.
This year, like many years before, my husband and I are holding an all-nighter open house for Solstice, with a Yule log to start the fire that will burn all night, and our door unlocked to guests from sunset Wednesday to sunrise Thursday. I am debating whether to add to the Facebook event page something like “Please understand this is not a Christmas party. This is a Pagan celebration of a holiday that looks similar in many ways, but it is not Christmas. Please respect the spirit of the gathering.” I mean, adding that feels like picking a fight–or risking inviting unwanted commentary, and jokes like the above, and tedious but-whys from people who might not have thought to do so otherwise. It’s probably not a good idea.
But I keep remembering the year I let my affection for a dear friend, and my wish to make her feel valued and welcome, sway me into acceding to her request to put on a Christmas playlist–with the result that I resented it, and (temporarily) her, all night long. I really wish I’d said, “I understand that this is part of your tradition, but you can enjoy that tradition at almost every other commercial/retail center in the U.S.A. Other than the Pagan bookstore downtown, there is literally nowhere else where my religious traditions are followed. So please understand why I am adamant that in my home, at my Solstice party, we will not be playing Christmas music.”
I just sort of want to head that sort of thing off before it starts. I think my best bet is to just be overtly Pagan about everything in a non-directed way, between how I talk about the event to how I decorate and the playlist I put on in the kitchen. Leaving out cookbooks with names like “Cooking Like a Goddess” etc.
And then, if unwanted interactions happen, I’ve got this conversation here to help me feel emboldened to protect my cultural, religious, and ritual space tomorrow evening.
Wow. Just wow on that story. (Fellow Pagan fist-bump, too and now OH MY GODDESS NOW I WANT A PAGAN/ POLITICAL PROTEST SWEET ADELINES GROUP THAT WOULD BE EVERYTHING SOUND YOUR FUCKING A.)
Any “Grinch” snarking has an easy out: Mr. Geisel originally wanted the Grinch to succeed in stealing Christmas, and the publisher made him change it (hint: the book is still called How the Grinch Stole Christmas, not How the Grinch Tried, but Failed, to Steal Christmas.) Plus, in the book as it stands now, the Grinch actually steals the crass commercialism and being obnoxious and disruptive to your neighbors of Christmas, so… kind of my hero?
(My first published fanfic, “Counting Down from One to Six,” was about how the White Witch probably rose to power on the platform “Always pumpkin spice latte/ no leg-shaving season but never Christmas music” platform.)
I have an easier out that you: I was brought up Christian-adjacent, but not Christian, so any celebration of the holiday feels like cultural appropriation from me. I don’t care if it’s the dominant culture, I can’t “get” it on a deep level, and though I suspect this makes me a horrible person, I don’t feel respect for a lot of aspects of it (performative homophobia and colonization, etc.). I don’t get why people want to shove their god’s name in my mouth and get my nasty heathen spittle all over it…
Homophobia and colonization? Not skeptical just curious: how does that work with Xmas?
Ugh, that chorus experience sounds absolutely awful. I did a stint in Sweet Adelines in San Francisco, which was like 80% lesbians, and we still only sang Christmas songs at the holiday concert. I’ve never met a Hanukkah song I actually liked (this is not a request for links to your faves, well-meaning commenters), and I was so used to this as a chorister—going all the way back to when I was in my elementary school chorus (at an extremely diverse school in an extremely diverse city) and we had one token Hanukkah song—that it didn’t occur to me to say anything about it. It’s just so… pervasive.
Shortly after that, I moved across the country and had a couple of very bad experiences with local choruses and quit singing for a while. If I get back into it, it’ll be through a local Jewish group: problem solved. I hope you can also find some friendly folks to sing non-Christian things with. Singing in groups is so wonderful and really should not be reserved for members of the dominant culture.
Yes! The music! Oh my god!! It just gets GRATING after awhile. By which I mean by at least Dec 5th.
I’ll never forget the time my Christian sister screamed at me that I wasn’t allowed to care about Christmas anymore because I “don’t even believe in Jesus anyway.” I just stared at her and asked if she wanted to run that by me one more time—that I, a pagan, am no longer allowed to care about Christmas trees and Yule logs. 🙄
I do the aggressively pagan thing too. Wear my pentagram, host my own holidays in my home, play pagan-style Celtic music instead of “Silent Night” on repeat. It helps, but it’s still so frustrating.
This thread is so affirming to me, too. Feeling all the pagan love and outrage here—thanks to all of you. xx
Jewish here, but married to a pagan and with a lot of pagan friends: just wanted to say your Solstice open house sounds abso-frickin’-lutely awesome. I’ve been to a couple of those, and they were wonderful. Kudos for standing your ground after that one year.
I’d love to recommend a Solstice song to my Sweet Adelines chapter. Can I ask what you suggested to yours? Also, sorry you had this experience. My chorus is “aggressively secular” (our director’s words) but I know they vary a lot on this dimension.
Midwestern Pagan here too. I feel you on the Land of Assumed Christianity thing. The thing that’s bothering me this year is finding a way to feel like I’m having a distinct holiday on my own. Especially when the traditions that I want to draw on got eaten by Christmas a long time ago. So I find myself constantly asking, “Does this feel like Yule, or just Rustic Christmas?” I’m fortunate that my immediate family is pretty chill about it, but then again, I’ve never really tried to make it A Thing, either. I’ll be pushing back on that this year, partially by being a bit more vocal, partially by being purposefully unavailable on Thursday.
“While I still enjoy celebrating Christmas with my family,”
Hey, I see and appreciate you, but can you please acknowledge the difference between “grew up Christian and now am something else but celebrate Secular Christmas” to “grew up something else and was never Christian”? I’m Jewish, and it really grates on me when pagans, Wiccans, atheists, and Buddhists who grew up Christian want to equate it to the experience of never having been Christian. When you grow up having fights with other kids about Santa and not being able to go to the band competition because it’s on Yom Kippur, and as an adult you have to defuse the assumption that you celebrate Secular Christmas hundreds of times during December (which is exactly what the LW was asking about!), it’s a different experience.
Yesssss seriously. There is a difference between “Christmas reminds me of my childhood” and “Christmas has zero and no connotations or memories at all except for the hassle of being Othered for a full month plus”
Yep, I fully acknowledge that and the way it made my childhood easier. That’s why I prefaced my whole comment by making it really clear that I grew up Christian and later converted, and that I’m not as Christmas adverse as the LW. Sorry that intent wasn’t clearer, but that’s exaxtly why I framed my comments as I did. Thanks.
I appreciate your response, but you did exactly the thing the Captain asked for people not to do. “If you grew up celebrating Christmas and have complicated feelings about it now for whatever reason (estranged family, atheism, whatever) you know I hear you and you know I love you but maybe this thread is more of a listening-and-nodding-along thread than a sharing-all-your-thoughts thread. There’s a difference between leaving a tradition and never being inside it in the first place (and still being expected to comply).”
Thank you. It really is a different experience to grow up not Christian, especially in a heavily Christian area. My family and I don’t have personal connections to these traditions. It’s not something I’ve sought to distance myself from–I never had the closeness.
I’m a bit dismayed at how many of these comments are from people who have family roots in Christianity. I get that these comments are meant as a show of ally-ship, but they’ve really overwhelmed the voices of those who’ve never been part of majority Christian tradition.
I grew up Hindu in Tennessee in the 1970s. I did not *decide* to be Other–I *was* Other. Huge difference.
Having grown up in a part of the midwest where there was actually a reasonably decent Jewish population, I can confirm that this is still a problem in areas that otherwise generally understand that Judaism is not Christianity. I’m sorry you’re dealing with it. My experience (which is from the nominally-christian side, with a heavy helping of having-watched-jewish-friends-put-up-with-this-shit-for-my-entire-childhood; I’m drawing on what I’ve seen those friends do here, hope that’s all right!) is that there are a couple common responses to non-Christian people not partaking in Christmas-centric activities.
There is a group that genuinely see Christmas as secularized enough to warrant inviting non-Christian people to cookie-making, ornament-and-wreath-crafting, song-singing, etc. gatherings. Alternately, sometimes they’re trying (failing, but trying) to do a more inclusive winter-holidays gathering. These people are generally just trying to be nice, and a “No thank you” is usually enough to decline their invitations.
There is also a group that is less well-intentioned about their holiday. They go big with their celebration, and they don’t take no for an answer very well. This is because their invitation isn’t really about including you. Sometimes it’s about showing off their hosting skills by throwing a big festive party with everyone they know in attendance; often it’s about making their own holiday The Biggest And Best Christmas Ever. Either way, by declining, you’re thwarting their motivation, which they don’t handle well. I’ve found that sometimes being super blunt/borderline rude with them can shock them into backing off a little. “Thanks for thinking of me, but no thanks” doesn’t get heard; “God, Susan, I told you a DOZEN TIMES that I don’t celebrate Christmas, BACK OFF ALREADY” (especially if said loudly in a public space) might get you labeled a grinch, but it’s also unpleasant enough that they may at least slow down on inviting you to things.
I actually think a part of Christmas traditions is very secular, but I come from a country where many of the Christmas traditions date to pre-Christian times, and Christianity just hijacked a bunch of stuff from our traditional winter solstice celebrations. Being non-Christian myself, I happily celebrate the parts that I know have roots running deeper than the relatively new religion that just happens to coincide with mid-winter.
That said, I totally get it if some people don’t want to take part in traditions, religious or not.
I mean, yes, there are definitely elements of HOW we celebrate Christmas that were not originally religious in nature–pulling trees indoors and decorating them, for example. You’re right that many of the trappings of Christmas that got incorporated over the centuries are based more in the cultural backgrounds of people converting to Christianity than in the religious meaning itself.
And there are lots of people who celebrate Christmas without intending to do so in a religious way. I’m one of those people myself; I’m not religiously Christian (converted away as a teenager), but Christmas is part of my family and cultural heritage so I celebrate it.
But the fact is, if it weren’t for the Christian celebration of Jesus’ birth, we wouldn’t consider the 25th a particular holiday. There’s no particular other reason to celebrate, that I know of at least. It’s several days after the Solstice, so we can’t even fully equate it to solstice celebrations (which many cultures have). It’s religious in origin, it continues to be linked to Christianity, and it’s entirely reasonable for people of other religions (especially ones who didn’t grow up with celebrating it as a cultural norm!) to not want to celebrate a Christian holiday.
The other thing is that, even where the specific elements of cultural expression predate Christianity, they are often — for Jews at least, and for other people whose ancestors didn’t originate in that culture — not elements of *our* cultural expression anyway. Even if they are stipulated as being ancient Germanic or whatever, instead of Christian, I’m still not of Germanic cultural roots, so they still feel alien to me, personally.
I think it’s fair to say that for many of these traditions, although it’s true they were introduced into christian traditions from elsewhere, they got passed into modern traditions primarily through the route of christianity, at least in many countries.
As a Jew, I love taking part in traditions. Traditions are huge in Judaism. I also take part in American cultural traditions like watching fireworks on July 4th and commemorating our fallen soldiers on Memorial Day. However, celebrating the winter solstice holiday of a polytheistic pre-Christian religion is no more traditional for me than celebrating Christmas is, and I’m getting really sick of people telling me otherwise.
Besides, Jews probably weren’t even allowed in your country when your winter solstice celebrations were evolving into Christmas.
Does it involve setting a straw goat on fire?
But wreath-and-ornament-making parties, caroling parties, ugly sweater parties, anything super-ultra-Christmasy, with people I’m NOT super close to? NOPE. It makes me feel like too much of an outsider. I’m lucky enough to be self-employed, so I can just tick Nope on the FB invites; no Enforced Fun. For ten years before I started working for myself, I was a professional baker, and Christmas was Intense Rush season, so that was a perfect excuse. When I was working in a corporate environment before that, it really sucked.
My son is cool with ugly sweater parties among his peers. He bought a Hanukkah sweater that says Let’s Get Lit. It works for him.
YES! And it’s terrible because I’m blonde haired and blue eyed (and so are my daughters), so on top of holiday awkwardness I get the “but you don’t *look* Jewish!” I have a menorah on my desk and I put up the gel cling “HAPPY HANUKKAH” complete with dreidels in my office window. Once the initial shock wears off, I usually answer a lot of questions about the holiday, so I talk about the donut & latke parties we have instead of going caroling…. and we do make cookies (but they’re shaped like menorahs and dreidels… and we get to eat rather than give them to a mythical dude). My older daughter is 6, so we’ve just started fielding questions about decorating our house… while she’ll tell anyone happily that she’s Jewish and doesn’t celebrate Christmas (OMG the pearl clutching we get!), the stupid secular things we’re still working on explaining. We haven’t decided to integrate or not, so it’s an on-going discussion with her about what makes Hanukkah cool too.
I have blonde hair and green eyes. It is so frustrating when people say “but you don’t *look* Jewish!’ My religion and my hair color do not have to match. One does not have anything to do with the other. I receive all the Christmas well wishes and sometimes I do not have the energy to get in a deep discussion about my religion and my beliefs. So, I say have a nice day when I am confronted with the gauntlet of Christmas cheer.
I look Jewish! Just not Eastern-European Jewish. Even though Mom grew up in NYC. Because we’re Russian Jews.
I still remember the first time I saw someone who looked like me, on a basic “grew up in the village next door” kind of way. It was shocking to know that I was a “type”.
I’m dark haired and olive skinned and also get “you don’t look Jewish” comments. Which – honestly, what were they expecting? Some sort of distinguishing mark? Horns? Oh no… ah yes, sorry, it’s my failure to have an enormous nose. Luckily, asking them if they’ve been influenced by Nazi propaganda tends to shake people out of that one. Grrrr.
Quick memo: King David (Jewish, wrote Book of Psalms) was a redhead.
Jewish =/= dark hair.
My sympathies to you, LW. I go through this annual annoyance too, and HATE it. I do have a suggestion for unwanted Christmas/Easter candy/consumables/decorations. If I work somewhere big enough, I simply discreetly abandon the item in the break room. That could be a problem if your name is painted on, but generally that’s mostly a problem with decorations, not edibles. Otherwise, in the trash on the way home. And I don’t thank people or reciprocate. That has hit my social capital, but nevertheless, it’s how I respond. You’ll have to read your situation and see if you can take the hit or not.
Fellow MOT here, this time of year is so exhausting and frustrating and tiring and NOT fun for me because I am just like you – I’m perfectly happy for people who like Christmas and celebrate it but I’m not one of them and guess what, I’m perfectly happy without Christmas in my life! I also basically spend the month in cranky mode – just because your holiday gets the most publicity doesn’t actually make it the best holiday ever in the history of ever, no.
Ok, anyway, to your post. This post hit really close to home because although I married a fellow Jew, his family is not Jewish and they celebrate Christmas and they love it and play Christmas music the whole month long and I kind of really really hate it and I have been forced to suck it up because they’re my in-laws and they’re from an area like yours with no Jews for reference and they mean well but they really don’t get it. I try to avoid us going to visit them for actual Christmas but I can’t avoid it forever so my strategies are:
1. Complain to my husband and complain to my like-minded Jewish friends when he can’t take it anymore. I surreptitiously text one friend in particular about all the little annoying Christmas things that annoy me while simultaneously checking out mentally while they are happening.
2. Don’t buy into it but accept that small parts of it are just part of my life now. Family is having Christmas lunch and we have to go? I’m enjoying seeing family who I like and getting quality time with them and that has nothing to do with the circumstance. Special traditional Christmas-only food? “Oh, this tastes really good independent of it being Christmas-related, maybe I will make it myself in (random month)!”.
3. Don’t accept the “Hanukkah is Jewish Christmas premise”. When non-Jews try to convince me that I should be as excited about Hanukkah as they are about Christmas, I make sure to smile and say “actually traditionally it’s not a very important holiday, I enjoy it, but my favorite holiday is Passover”. Done, end of that thread.
I will keep thinking but these are the three main things that come to mind. I’ll also be reading for other ideas for myself! Stay strong!
I think point #3 can go either way. I tend to make a production out of treating Chanukah **to gentiles who are bugging me about Christmas** as “Jewish Christmas” because it gets them off my back. If the LW’s primary intention is to get these people off their back, then this might be a good strategy. If it would be even *more* annoying to have to accept the warping of a relatively minor holiday into a Big Production because of the gravitational pull of the universalist religion next door, then yeah, you weird them out by telling them it’s minor. But you really run the risk there, when dealing with the kind of people who are bugging the LW, of getting the response of “OH YOU POOR BABY, YOU DON’T EVEN HAVE A BIG DECEMBER HOLIDAY OF YOUR OWN!!! HERE, HAVE GOBS AND GOBS OF MINE,” which is exactly what they said they *don’t* want.
That’s a good point, though in my experience employing tactic #3 it kind of deflates people and makes them leave me alone, but maybe I’ve just been lucky!
I think it depends a lot on the motivations of the person you’re dealing with, and the resilience of their motivation. I tend to attract Hospitality Addicts — the kind of folks who invite over everybody they pass in the grocery store to their party on the spur of the moment, because they just can’t stand it that anybody might be left out of anything. These people don’t get deflated easily… they are on a Mission to make sure that everybody has a good time in their personal, oh-so-extroverted, culturally myopic way, and they don’t get it very well that there exist other methods of having a good time any more than they get that this isn’t holiday time for everybody.
They’re good people at heart, but they really aren’t easy to dissuade so long as they don’t see you celebrating. If they do, then all is good.
Dealing with other vectors of Christmas cheer are going to be better done by other methods, and yours seems like it would be really effective for the low-investment clueless types who think office inclusiveness is a good idea but just don’t get how it works. Which the LW is dealing with, of these or many other types, I can’t tell from the letter.
I like to compare Hannukah to Fat Tuesday – a good time to get excited to eat pancakes and that’s about it.
I’m just here for the “bobbing for elves” that sounds like a tradition I can get behind 🙂
Everyone brings their most awful “Elf on the Shelf” and ceremonially drowns it.
Can we do it in front of the kids whom those elves have taught to expect surveillance in their bedroom as normal? Because that’s not creepy or anything, of course. Maybe if they see us drown the elves, it’ll help repair some of the damage.
As a Christmas-doer who is nonetheless very creeped out by the elf on the shelf, I fully endorse this.
Um, about elves… I live in Northern Europe and perhaps there is still enough local Paganism in me that the way elves are presented related to Christmas feels very weird. Here in my country and also in the neighbouring countries elves (or tomte (Swedish/Norwegian), tonttu (Finnish)) were traditionally considred very respected beings who took care of the well-being of the inhabitants of houses, the animals in stables, the grain… It is still a bit unclear to me how they became a part of Christmas celebrations since belief in them predates Christianity. Still, many people I know kind of a bit believes in them.
I can understand why drowning horrible elves is tempting but… It might not be a very popular thought among the people from this region. Even though I was raised up as a Christian I was also taught to respect tomte. Thinking about drowning a tomte just feels… wrong. I wonder if it feels like drowning a fairy?
Uh, what I am trying to say is that even though Christmas seems to be a patchwork of holidays every part of it has roots in somewhere and taking one’s anger to that part also inadvertedly passes that anger on to the older traditions. I cannot really speak for the local Pagans following the old traditions of this area but I am tempted to point out that they exist and that they are a minority.
Your point is certainly taken, Convallaria, but these folks are specifically discussing The Elf On The Shelf (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Elf_on_the_Shelf) which is…creepy at best and horrible at worst, honestly, and not related to the tomte or the fair-folk except by name.
Because, yeah. Drowning actual fairy-folk sounds like a disaster in the making.
sistercoyote, thank you so much for the clarification and the link. This is the first time I have heard of Elf on The Shelf and indeed it does sound… so very wrong. I fully endorse drowning it, or recycling it or reusing it as Halloween decoration.
If you are interested in the Scandinavian version here is a link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nisse_(folklore)
That comment, in addition to what I noted above, made me sad that I no longer have access to the computer with Bowling for Elves on it.
I’m a Jewish Midwestern high school teacher in a Very White School District (I see ~150 kids per day, in four years I’ve had 3 Jewish students total; actually our largest non-Christian minority is Hindu…)… anyway Christmas is Very Present for me and my students. And actually, it is a required part of the curriculum that I teach as well! Coming from an interfaith family and from a different but Equally White Christian community, this didn’t actually bug me that much. I always took the “religion and faith are private to me and don’t need to affect how I publicly get involved or not in holiday or not celebrations” tack.
… Until I started my kid at a Jewish preschool (which happened to have openings and no wait list, which was the main reason that we chose it!) and they started teaching my kid about Jewish holidays, and he started coming home with little menorah handprint Hanukkah cards… and I felt so… *seen* in my Jewish identity in a way that I hadn’t been before. It’s actually made the Christmas survival thing a little more challenging for me this year…
Only one coping strategy, unfortunately very specific to me, but still satisfying: the reading exercise on my students’ end-of-semester exam is about Ramadan. So there.
“Until I started my kid at a Jewish preschool (which happened to have openings and no wait list, which was the main reason that we chose it!) and they started teaching my kid about Jewish holidays, and he started coming home with little menorah handprint Hanukkah cards… and I felt so… *seen* in my Jewish identity in a way that I hadn’t been before.”
this made me sad. I’m sorry that you didn’t feel seen in your Jewish identity like that before. That has to feel awful.
There’s something magical about being seen, isn’t it? Something inside me whispers, “I’m real”. I loved this post, littleelittlee.
This is one of the things that makes me very angry. I am an atheist from a long family tradition of atheists, and while Jews have the (admittedly crappy) option of making a big deal out of Hannukah in order to assert visibility, THERE ARE NO ATHEIST HOLIDAYS, and for me every day feels like December for you, because I am a teacher and I have to listen to “one nation under god” every single day, which is not only anti-atheist, but was deliberately changed by congress to include the word god to discriminate against atheists on purpose.
I want religion out of public life. It burns me up that my son’s preschool is doing Christmas and Hannukah projects all month.
I think religion should be like sex: You assume most people probably have some form of it sometimes, but you don’t talk about it in public and you DEFINITELY do not talk about it to other peoples’ children.
Meanwhile schools could be doing a heck of a better job teaching kids about sex.
I would have a lot to say to the kids about it if I wouldn’t lose my job for it. You have to get the sex-phobic government officials out of the way if you want that to happen.
Interesting analogy, but sex (and I would argue religion) is something that while it is in some ways intensely private and personal, is also deeply embedded into people’s lives in a way that can’t really be walled off and compartmentalised and hidden. Yeah, people generally don’t talk about (or wish to talk about) the actual sex they have, but who you live with or marry or bring with you to parties or share stories about? Very much so, and I think many people would have a hard time with separating off parts of who they are to such an extreme degree that their partner was a secret.
That’s not a terrible metaphor when you factor in asexual people and people who have no interest in sex, and how terrible some people can be when they go on about how everyone has sex and adult relationships must have sex etc etc.
I really don’t see how it is appropriate to respond to someone saying they’re glad their child’s school acknowledges non-Christian religions with this “At least you Jews have holidays! Atheists are the only people who REALLY suffer from Christian dominance in America! All religions are equally oppressive to me, even marginalized ones!”
I didn’t see this as saying “All religions are equally oppressive to me.” I saw “The dominant religion is oppressive to me, too, and I’d appreciate it if the other marginalized groups would understand that.” Since there was some talk above about Christianity often treating religion as bilateral (either you’re Christian or you’re atheist, with no other ways thinkable), I would expect the people who participated in that conversation to understand when someone says, “It feels like I’m hearing, “Either you’re Christian or you’re some other religion, no other ways thinkable, and that feels pretty isolating.” It does feel isolating, no matter who does it or about what.
I’d like to see religion left out of structured public life (government, school, work, etc) and freely welcomed in any non-invasive form in unstructured public life (groups of friends celebrating in a public park; people holding concerts of religious music on their own dime in a hired hall, decorating the exterior of private property, etc) and avoidable by anybody who doesn’t want to participate in any of it. Of course, that’s also kind of the way I’d like to see sex handled, too, so I guess I’m consistent enough with the original request.
I had a similar experience when I moved to a predominantly Jewish neighborhood. They’re way more Orthodox than I will ever be, but after four years here I’m way more interested in Judaism than I was for the 35 years before that, and just joined a (very very progressive) shul for the first time in my life. Community really matters. I’m glad you have a little bit of that; I hope you can find more if you want it.
I moved a few years ago from cities that had large Jewish populations to a city where, outside of the university, I am often the first Jew a person is meeting and, LW, I have no advice but lots of empathy. It’s an uncomfortable place to be.
We just moved from a city which, while the Jewish population is relatively small, is at least progressive enough to recognize we exist, to a small town where my daughter is one of two Jewish kids in the middle and high schools. She knows this because every time someone new meets her, they say, “Oh! I know someone Jewish! He’s in twelfth grade; you should meet him.” Um… okay? Because a 13-year-old girl obviously has tons in common with an 18-year-old boy she’s never met, if they’re from the same minority group? After he graduates in June, I guess she’ll be the only one, until somebody else moves into town and they point to *her* as the Other Jew In School.
They’re not mean about it, at least, thank heaven. Just… clueless and a little clumsy. She’s handling it pretty well.
I grew up Jewish and in Israel and Hanukkah holds a very dear and special place in my heart. Moving to America was a huge culture shock seeing how Hanukkah was treated at best as an after thought or at worst “oh you are Jewish, like Adam Sandler”.
I found what works best (when I have the time and the person is not too boundary pushing) is to explain why I love Hanukkah so much. I love telling the story of Hanukkah and try and make it as epic as possible, I love explaining what each tradition means, I love telling my favorite memories of Hanukkah. (For me it was when I was in kindergarten and the teachers put on a play of the story of Hanukkah. And when the teacher dressed up as a Greek soldier kicked over the “temple”, it was just some wooden blocks in the shape of a square, I just balled my eyes out. At which point the teachers quickly decided that this is a special production that doesn’t have any more Greek Soldiers in it.)
People tend to respond really well to that and are less invested in pushing Christmas on me. And if I am talking with my friends who know my slightly competitive sense of humor I say “psh you think Christmas is so great let me list all the ways Hanukkah is better” (but that should only be done with people who get your humor and know that you don’t genuinely think one holiday is better than the other)
I still remember the time when I was living in rural Minnesota and a coworker mentioned Hanukkah. Another coworker – a well-meaning but rather dim woman – said cheerfully, “Oh ya, I’ve heard about that. They open presents for a whole week, just one or two at a time, instead of all at once! Makes a lot of sense. *Americans* should try doing it that way!”
And all the other coworkers nodded seriously and agreed. When I pointed out that, um, plenty of Jews *are* Americans, and vice versa, there was general confusion, and the coworker who’d said it in the first place sighed and said in irritation, “Oh, you know what I mean!” Yup, I sure did.
To me, the situation LW describes is the perfect time to employ the technique of just repeating a pleasant, general refusal again and again. If you give a bunch of different reasons, you’re only giving the person who’s hounding you points to argue against. Just say, “Oh, I don’t celebrate Christmas, but thanks for the invitation, you’re very kind.” And if they say, “But why not?” or “But lots of Jews celebrate Christmas in some way!” or “But everyone else is going!” or “But why are you mad at God?” just repeat, “I just don’t celebrate Christmas. But thanks!” Repeat as needed until the person leaves you alone.
And I agree with the Captain that if it gets to the point of harassment – if the person just will not take the hint – you can counter with a puzzled half-smile, half-frown and the comment, “I don’t understand…why is it so important to you that I celebrate this, when I’ve said I don’t care to?”
Good luck, LW!
I grew up in one of those Jewish households where we also celebrated Christmas and so did most of my childhood Jewish friends, and it STILL annoys me that people assume I celebrate Christmas (my family at this point celebrates “putting a tree up, in December,” and not much else, so the answer is mostly “I don’t celebrate it” when asked and “because I’m Jewish” when I’m pressed for an explanation even though “because I’m not 5” is more accurate).
I live in an area when most of the secular/Christians asking this are from Protestant denominations, and I’ve always wanted to ask the ones who respond with “but Some Jews Do Christmas” what they gave up for Lent this year.
Yeah, some Jewish traditions (like the one I grew up in) incorporate Christmas as a secular Thanksgiving-but-with-a-white-male-Toothfairy hybrid holiday for children. But just like some Christians have different religious and cultural traditions than other Christians, some Jews have different Decembertime traditions than other Jews do. A random Evangelifal’s Jewish cousin-in-law’s choice to celebrate Christmas is about as relevant to unrelated Jews’ actions around Christmas as my Catholic aunt-in-law’s participation in marathon Ash Wednesday service is to that Evangelical’s Wednesday schedule.
LW probably shouldn’t go with this one though
Hah! “Ask them what they have up for lent this year” is priceless.
It seems that many Christians can totally understand that Christianity is a varied and sometimes even fractured religion but other religions have to be monoliths. See also “radical Islamic terrorism” vs homegrown white Christian terrorists.
I like to take a page from our local Chabad rabbi. He told me they are taught to say “it is not our custom to _____” rather than “Jews don’t ____” so that they don’t inadvertently offend or criticize other Jews for doing things differently. It doesn’t matter what other Jews do, that’s just not MY custom.
Thanks for a great letter, LW, and a great response, CA.
This is something that’s irritated me most of my life, as an atheist Jew; I think most of the Christmas things wouldn’t bother me except for the fact that they’re so bloody intrusive, but the fact that for most of my life they were everywhere and inescapable has made Christmas nigh intolerable to me. I hate it.
(This has been mitigated a bit in recent years, because my partner is not Jewish and grew up celebrating Christmas, and we’ve spent time together around the holidays so on some level I associate some of the things with her now. Admittedly, she’s also British, so her traditions are also different enough from the American ones I grew up around that they don’t immediately evoke the same responses, and that also helps.)
Depending on the context, I find myself willing to do certain things – e.g. I find myself doing a work secret santa this year – but what really gets to me is the insistence by people that I adjust my attitudes. It’s not that it bothers them that I don’t *celebrate* Christmas, it seems to bother people that I don’t *like* Christmas. I don’t like the music, I don’t like the movies, I’m indifferent to the decorations, it’s just a whole lot of obnoxious intrusive stuff that the world won’t let me ignore and keeps insisting on reminding me how much it won’t let me ignore it.
One of the most obnoxious things I remember is that when I was younger, a friend of my mother’s wanted the entire neighbourhood to put these candles by the roadside on Christmas eve so that it’d make an unbroken circle, and she’d gotten pretty much everyone except us to participate so there was always a lot of pressure on us else we’d be the ones who ruined it for everyone. I think we even did once or twice, grudgingly, but that never made the pressure stop (and if anything made it worse). I don’t really think going along helps in any way, so only participate in things you actually want to participate in; if people keep pressuring you beyond the “thanks for inviting me but I’m not interested/I’m doing something else/I just want to eat Chinese food” it’s their problem.
I don’t really have much to offer here beyond solidarity, and to support the idea that you can opt out of events if it’s too much. And the more you opt out, the more people will get used to you opting out; honestly, I think the first time is the hardest (though this tends to reset with each new group of people you have to do this with, unfortunately…).
My husband and I are Jewish. He told me about one year when he and his family returned from a trip out of town a week or two before Christmas. They found that the neighborhood association had lined the streets with luminarias, including in front of their house. They considered luminarias to be Christmas decorations, so they moved them in front of the other houses. The next day, my MIL got a call from the head of the neighborhood association . . .
NA Guy: Why did you move the luminarias that were in front of your house?
MIL: We are Jewish, so we don’t want Christmas decorations in front of our house.
NA Guy: Luminarias aren’t Christmas decorations! They are just festive decorations for the season.
MIL: Ok. Then how about next year, we put out luminarias for the 4th of July? That’s a very festive time of year.
NA Guy: . . .
My in-laws never had to deal with the luminarias again.
I love that! I’ve long been thinking that if they’re going to do “seasonal” decorations in the winter, they should also do them in other seasons.
My grandparents got pressured to take part in a streetwide paper-bag luminaria thing. They noped out, as did their Jewish next door neighbors. Too bad, so sad, other neighbors, not our thing.
And Christmas movies. Ugh. I like Charlie Brown despite the Bible reading because of that poor scrawny tree, but that same sentiment makes me LOATHE Rudolph. Muppet Christmas Carol is fine because Muppets (light the lamp, not the rat!) but Emmett Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas is even better because there’s no Jesus OR Santa. Other than that, my Christmas movie is Die Hard, dammit. With an idiosyncratic need for Goldfinger, because my mother’s best friend had a laserdisc player instead of a VCR, and not very many movies for it, so the one we always watched was Goldfinger. Absolutely nothing to do with Christmas, everything to do with us.
I’m a Jew, in New York. On the one hand, lots of Jews, on the other way too much “But it’s the holidays!”
I’ve occasionally responded to “Happy Holidays!” with a confused “Thanks, but they were in October.”
Jedi hugs if you want them.
“I’ve occasionally responded to “Happy Holidays!” with a confused “Thanks, but they were in October.” ”
I LOVE THIS SO HARD! (Yes, I meant to yell. That’s how much I LOVE THIS.)
I’ve occasionally responded to “Happy Holidays!” with a confused “Thanks, but they were in October.”
Oh boy yes, my fellow Jewish friends and I have grumpy conversations about this every year. I find this time of year so alienating. I don’t enjoy your Christmas songs, they are annoying! I hate every commercial and TV special!! We were the only Jewish family in my tiny rural town, so I grew up awkwardly singing Christmas carols with my Girl Scout troupe and feeling super weird about it. And that’s without getting into the economic ramifications of being from a poor family around gift-giving time. UGH.
One thing that just really boggles my mind his how many people don’t seem to notice that things like the trees + music + ugly sweaters are… you know… Christmas-specific? I think that at least some workplaces really do think they’re throwing a generic “holiday/winter party” thing without even realizing that red and green tinsel has a specific connotation. Which can get really, really frustrating.
One thing I said a few years ago that seemed to flip a switch for a well-intentioned friend was, “I know Christmas feels ubiquitous to you, but that doesn’t mean it is _actually_ universal. When people act like it is, that feels very alienating to me.” And when I get pushback of the “but don’t you love the TREES and the MUSIC and and and…” I reply along the lines of, “Since I didn’t grow up celebrating it, none of that has any emotional resonance for me! I’m glad it makes _you_ happy but I don’t feel like I’m missing out at all.”
Oh yes! Perfect.
My kid’s daycare did school photos late this year, so all the backgrounds on offer were holiday-themed: one Christmas tree, one menorah, one candy cane, and three “generic” that were all stealth Christmas.
“What about the one that says ‘joy’? I like that one,” said my ex-Mormon atheist partner.
“That’s a Christmas thing,” I said.
They were very confused for a minute until they thought it through and realized what the joy was supposed to be joyousness for. (Which is good, as otherwise I would have started singing “Joy to the World” at them.) In their head, the joy of the Annunciation had been totally secularized. In mine… not so much.
We ended up going with a plain blue background.
I am just here to vote for the LEAVE ME OUT OF IT, GENTILES t-shirt idea.
As a Buddhist I am SO glad that I’m retired now and don’t have to deal with a lot of the workplace “voluntary” Christmas celebrating. I wasn’t really “out” to many people as a non-Christian when I was working at a very conservative law enforcement agency, but I tended to play the “happy Grinch” role. Like, ugh, I just can’t do one more party, I have too much to do at home, etc. I do still resent that I had to use vacation time to celebrate my holidays, and nobody ever gave me a Happy Wesak card. One poor Jehovah’s Witness co-worker resorted to making a little barrier card for his employee mailbox that said “Sorry, no Christmas Cards please–against my religion”. He was looked at as the department weirdo, which was sad, because he was a good person and worker.
Ha, this whole thing reminds me of the infamous “Hanukkah Balls” boss over on AAM. (#4 at this link: https://www.quickbase.com/blog/10-funniest-workplace-holiday-disasters) Hopefully your workplace doesn’t get that ridiculous, OP!
Fellow Jewish Person here. I live in the South and I married into a Christian family so I get it, oh how I get it.
I don’t want to celebrate Christmas. I don’t want to listen to your music every time I turn on the radio or go to the store. I don’t want to wear your sweaters. (I do want to eat your cookies; I am only human, after all.)
In most of my previous jobs I’ve been the only Jewish person on staff and it’s always really awkward when everyone else gets pretty red and gold bags of whatever decorated with blinky lights and I get plain blue? Because no one knew what to do? Or there was one job where a coworker took it upon herself to decorate my cubicle with menorahs and shit instead of Christmas things and I was like…but I didn’t want this either?
At home I’ve chosen to focus on Hanukkah as a time for quiet stillness in an otherwise tornadic existence. When we light the candles I sit at the table and watch them over the pages of a good book until they burn out. It’s an hour of bliss, truly. My family is Israeli and we never did the eight nights/eight presents thing, so my husband and I exchange small gifts once and call it a day.
I find it incredibly frustrating to hear, from all sides, almost all the time, that Christmas is secular so really I should just shut up and take it. Dare I say that’s…not very Christian?
Why is Christmas music so beloved when much of it is not good?
😦 my Tevye tags were eaten.
The part which annoys me most is that the bulk of the *good* Christmas music is older, which means it’s the overtly religious carols. In most public places, those aren’t played anymore because just barely enough inclusivity has sunk in that they recognize that there’s something off=putting about singing about the birth of Jesus for a month in the shopping center. So instead, they substitute all the modern junk which sings ABOUT celebrating Christmas, instead of being about the birth of Jesus long before any such holiday existed. It’s just as Christian, it’s just as offputting, and it takes away any of the decent music in the process. If I’m going to have to listen to music that screams “THE WORLD AROUND YOU IS CHRISTIAN AND YOU AREN’T, SO THERE!” all December, I’d actually prefer them to sing about Jesus; it would let them bring some of the good music back in. (I’m willing to admit that I may be unique in this, so I’m not actually asking them to do it. I just think it.)
It just reminds people of their childhood and happy family memories. At least, that’s my explanation, because yeah, most of it isn’t all that great.
I like some of the rock’n’roll ones. But for some reason retail establishments don’t seem to want to play the Kinks’ “Father Christmas”. GO FIGURE.
I can mostly grit my teeth through the classical stuff they pipe into the bathrooms and public halls at work starting December 1st, but the old office used to play THE CARPENTERS and everything else from the 70s and it was THE WORST. Hissss.
*hands Hlyssande a barf bucket and an unlimited supply of their adult beverage of choice*
I don’t want to listen to your music every time I turn on the radio or go to the store.
WHY why why why WHY do I have the lyrics of so many #notmyholiday songs in my head? Cannot declutter once they take up residence?
My favorite Xmas music horror follows.
Imagine a four cube cubicle clump. Mine was south east, north west was empty. South west and north east were occupied by lovers of Christmas cheer.
It’s important to note that you couldn’t hear what was happening kitty-corner. That is, I couldn’t hear NW, and SW and NE couldn’t hear each other. But I could hear them. Both.
One day they each separately put on a loop (instrumental) of Little Drummer Boy and What Child Is This.
They were not synchronized.
I lasted about half an hour before dragging them into my cube. They turned off the music. Forever.
(Not surprisingly, I can’t hear either tune anymore.)
As a Jewish person who Does Not Celebrate Christmas, I have had every single one of these conversations including with a non-Jewish ex-partner. I think the thing that some folks find tough to understand is that something that has so much strong emotion and memory for them is literally meaningless to me – they just cannot comprehend that their Christmas experience and feelings are not universal. I find something that helps is mentioning being Jewish at other times of the year so that it’s a thing that is known about me. This has the added benefit of reminding people that Jewish traditions diverge from Christian traditions more than just at Christmastime.
I will say that I probably have an easier time with this than someone like the LW who just wants to be left out of all of it. I personally do enjoy stuff like Christmas music and the chocolate/peppermint bonanza that Trader Joe’s becomes at this time of year! It’s when people assume that I must be doing something special (“No, I assure you, it is literally just another day.”) or ask me what I’m doing “for the holidays” three days before Christmas (“My holiday ended two weeks ago but thanks!”) that it gets annoying.
Just commiseration here – as a fellow Jew, I hate how people think that Hanukkah is such a big deal. It’s not! It’s one of the more minor holidays. I don’t know why it irks me. People are just trying to be nice about it. They’re just trying to share the holiday spirit with me. But like, my holiday spirit is in September and March (usually). Share it with me then.
This pisses me off too, and I think we’re perfectly justified: nobody bothers to give a crap around the high holidays or Pesach, they only bother with Chanukah because they think it’s Christmassy enough to warrant attention. I’ve actually heard people refer to Chanukah as “Jewish Christmas” and like, y’all. Nah. Not even close.
Yes! Agreed! I think it feels so bad when I hear/see this equivocation being made because it becomes obvious that the person saying it doesn’t think that learning anything about my traditions is important. By virtue of living in a predominantly Christian country I’ve had to learn about Christian things – if you really cared and wanted to make me feel accepted and understood, you would spend some time to learn about my things too.
It’s kind of like if you went around in September trying to “inclusively” wish your Christian friends a happy Michaelmas.
…. I am really tempted to start doing that next year…
I just cheerfully wish them a Happy New Year! and watch the confusion unfold…
Just because people forget that we are in the year 2017 –Anno Domini–, doesn’t mean that there are no other New Years around 🙂
I’m a Jew with a Christian gentile dad.
I agree with the Captain that people in your life are doing the same thing (pressuring you into celebrating Christmas) for different reasons (some are confused, some are thoughtless, some are antisemitic, etc.). For the people who are both genuinely trying to make you feel included and open to listening to your feelings, it might help if you frame your preferences as a way of including you. Like, “Thanks for inviting me to the Christmas party. I appreciate that you want me to feel like I’m a part of things. For me, though, celebrating my own holidays and not celebrating Christmas is what makes me happy, so letting me avoid Christmas gracefully is what you can do to make me feel valued and respected.”
Or maybe sharing a little of the story of Hannukah would help. It’s about resisting assimilation, and how no one could force us to give up our culture, right? If you frame your choices as a positive, active choice (I’m celebrating my own culture) instead of just a negative (I’m not included in Christmas because I’m an outsider), people might be more comfortable with that narrative and let you do things how you want to.
People with good intentions, anyway. Assholes are always gonna asshole.
I am one of the people who would (and does) invite everyone to a holiday party and do a Secret Santa and all that stuff, because I want to make everyone feel included. Your wording is great and would make me understand 100%. However, I can’t help but feel a little bummed that you would have to say all that in the first place – like, you have to do all this extra emotional labor just to turn down a party? How is that fair?
Ugh, I guess life isn’t fair. Nevertheless, I will try to be more mindful in the future of when people turn down party invitations that I shouldn’t press them. I don’t do that now, but I’ll admit that I do feel a little bummed that the person not coming will be “missing out”, so in the future I will remember that it’s just a negative RSVP to a party, not an emotional referendum on me or them.
Just as a data point, we celebrated Christmas in my household growing up. I hate Christmas for the same reasons a Christian might hate it, because of associations with bad family stuff. I wouldn’t feel slighted by being invited to a Christmas party.
One thing I found useful when I was on a work social committee was organizing parties and fun events based on something other than a Christianized feast (I quashed so many Halloween, Christmas, Valentines, and Easter celebrations in the making). “Everyone’s so busy in December!” I’d say. “Let’s have our staff party in January, when peoples’ schedules aren’t totally packed.” That way you offer more opportunities for fun things that don’t make people feel like they have to choose between their personal identity and you.
I’ve found explaining what Hannukah is actually about to be an effective strategy, too. Of course, I’m usually trying to explain to people who already understand that the holidays are not synonymous with Christmas why I’m not super-excited about anything but the excuse to eat a ton of latkes, so I can’t vouch for how well it works on people who are still trying to grasp religious pluralism to begin with.
I am Jewish but my family is split half and half and for a long part of my childhood my Christian grandparents lived with us. So I grew up with a lot of Christmas things, and I love a lot of Christmassy stuff…with my family. Only with them. And now that my parents have moved very far away from me and the older generation of my family is dying off, Christmas has lost a lot of its sparkle .
Especially because as I get older, I feel closer to Judaism and I’m reminded that Hanukkah is a holiday about resisting assimilation/outsider pressure. The more I feel like an outsider around Christmas, the more Hanukkah becomes important to me, and the more I get irritated by the pressure to do Christmas things.
I have a new job at a career college, and they made a big deal of putting decorations up for the holidays. Only, all the decorations are Christmas specific. It’s not even ‘winter themed’, it’s ALL Christmas. I’m sure to them it looks secular because there’s no Jesus, but it’s not fucking secular. For an academic environment that puts a lot of emphasis on professionalism, to me decorating in this manner is not professional at all. And someone apparently did clue office management in to the fact that several of the people who work here are Jewish, and students could be too….I wish I could take a photo of what they attempted. It’s laughable. Someone found one Hanukkah garland type thing and hung it up behind the reception with a Happy Hannukah sign printed in yellow. You can’t even read it from far away.
I was irritated by it and I mentioned it my coworker and she acted like I should be pleased they were doing anything at all. “It’s more than they did last year.” …I would rather they didn’t do anything at all than that because the difference in effort is so obvious and so insulting.
There were some hints that I should have helped them decorate. I just blankly looked at people and said “I’m Jewish. I don’t know how to put up a Christmas tree. Excuse me, I need to get back to work.”
What gets me is that even coworkers and friends who know I’m Jewish keep wishing me Merry Christmas. One of my friends tagged me on an advent calendar thing on Facebook and I just went ‘uh, you remember I’m Jewish, right?” she just went ‘but it’s chocolate! You love chocolate!” and during our discussion she acted like advent calendars weren’t religious at all, they were just about having a treat for yourself. This is a person who has many Jewish friends and has referred to herself as an honorary Jew, but still couldn’t wrap her head around the fact that when an calendar begins on Dec 1st and is counting down until Dec 25th, YES it is Christian and about Christmas, and she shouldn’t be tagging her Jewish friends in that. Because the quickest way for me to feel like an outsider is to be reminded constantly that I am one – what part of “I am Jewish and i will NEVER be comfortable with the thought of buying an advent calendar no matter what is inside’ is hard to understand?
I can enjoy Christmas carols and The Nutcracker, but that doesn’t mean I celebrate Christmas. It doesn’t mean I want to go your “holiday sweater” party. I go home and light my Hanukkah candles and I have passed up invitations this week to do so. I have gotten a lot of weird stares from my non Jewish friends when I pass up invitations to to go a party with “no thanks, I need to get home and light my menorah.” …”Can’t you do that later?” “No, I actually can’t and I don’t want to.” As if my celebrating my holiday when it is happening isn’t as important as going to a “holiday” party, where the holiday is really about Christmas.
All I can do is keep speaking up and being polite, but reminding them. Some people get the difference (my favorites are the ones who actually bring me Hanukkah cards or gifts on Hanukkah. I’ve had a few students do that and it was incredibly sweet), and some will probably need another decades’ worth of reminders that not everyone does holidays the way they do. A lot of Christians, practicing or non practicing (as in grew up but now consider themselves secular) are so used to looking at the world from one point of view, they can’t comprehend another’s. People don’t think Santa is religious, but the whole point of Santa is a reminder of Christmas. There is no such thing as a secular Christmas, because Christmas wouldn’t exist at all then.
The thing is, I don’t want to have to keep announcing to the world that I’m Jewish. I don’t want to speak up every time someone says “Merry Christmas” while it’s actually Hanukkah and that’s what I’m celebrating right the fuck now. When it happens so much, it gets exhausting to the point where I do basically become a Grinch, because I want my holiday to be full of light and fun as well but it’s oddly hard to enjoy something when everyone keeps saying you should be enjoying something else.
I’m not Jewish but your post resonated with me. Growing up Christmas was about music, family and food. Now there are too many empty seats at the dining table and it’s depressing. Jedi Hugs if you want them.
I have gotten a lot of weird stares from my non Jewish friends when I pass up invitations to to go a party with “no thanks, I need to get home and light my menorah.” …”Can’t you do that later?” “No, I actually can’t and I don’t want to.”
I’ve had similar problems before with “I need to go home and break my (Ramadan) fast” “Can’t you just eat a snack at the bar?” “. . . . . .” In my experience, most American Christians just profoundly Do Not Get the importance of religious observances that happen at a specific time of day. When I was in college my fraternity tried to have a small study break (low-key social get together with light snacks) full of pasta, pastries, etc. for Jewish members at the end of Pesach, but the person running it scheduled the start time to be about fifteen minutes before candle lighting time. And all the Gentiles devoured the tasty pastries and mac ‘n’ cheese before any of the Jews could eat it. It was such a head-desky moment, because despite trying they still fucked it up. And it would have been so easy to not fuck up if they had just. You know. Asked someone who observes Pesach.
(Full disclosure: I converted to Christianity as an adult, after being raised Muslim in the midwest.)
Oh my god my heart is raging for your Jewish fraternity brothers right now. What kind of jerks deprive Jews of their post-Pesach mac and cheese???
People who have never actually had a holiday in which they fasted or limited themselves. That’s something I’ve noticed is getting more and more divergent between modern casual Christianity and the more traditional praxis religions. Christians out of traditions which still give up something meaningful for Lent understand better what Pesach or Yom Kippur is about; semi-secular Christians who just see “holiday” as equivalent to “even greater self-indulgence than the rest of the year” don’t.
I’m a raised-Christian atheist and I am *baffled* by the people who say Advent calendars are not religious. Advent is a part of the liturgical calendar, like Lent. Advent calendars have been commercialized to hell and back, but they still damned well count down to Christmas! (Also, the way I grew up they were a thing for kids, and usually involved opening little doors with a picture behind them rather than treats or goodies. Adults who get super excited about them weird me out a bit – which didn’t stop me coveting the beer one I saw at the liquor store. My hangups, they are many and complex.)
Wow, yeah. Advent is a super big deal in my church, anyway, and always has been.
“Hanukkah is a holiday about resisting assimilation/outsider pressure.”
Yeah, this gets really lost in all the ITS JUST TINSEL WHY CAN’T YOU JUST SMILE.
Captain: “I know. Thanking people for doing annoying shit is awful. I know. I’m sorry. It’s just…It’s just the quickest way”
Lifelong Midwesterner here. The above is SOOOOOO accurate. So is this:
“If you say ‘thanks so much for thinking of me but I’m Jewish so nope,’ most actually-well-intentioned people will understand that the social circuit has been completed and they will back off.”
“Thank you” is Midwest Nice. It’s social currency. It will smooth so much. So is “I’m sorry,” FWIW, but no need to use that here, as its use is horribly gendered and being Jewish isn’t something you need to apologize for.
Anyway…. Good luck, OP. Cheers.
Lifelong Midwesterner chiming in–Oh goodness, yes. Smile, say “thanks but no thanks”, and most people will leave it there. For the rest, get a light-up dreidel or menorah you can put on your desk.
As an ex-Muslim I can identify with your struggle greatly, LW. I have had an endless number of circular conversations re: Christmas with well-intentioned Christians, especially ones who assumed Ramadan was the Christmas equivalent and then argued with me when I pointed out that a) no it isn’t and b) because the Muslim year is shorter than the Gregorian, Ramadan moves back every year is currently in June. This is especially irritating when people take your non-Christianity as a sign they need to convert you. (I do not want to come to your church. Yes, I have heard of Jesus. No, thank you, ma’am, I’m really okay.)
I don’t have much advice beyond the Captain’s scripts, which I think are great. I have noticed that being a little aggressively non-Christian in my daily life does tend to head people off (I’m not a practicing Muslim anymore per se but I still adhere to some religious practices for cultural reasons).
I was going to say the same thing. But even when Ramadan isn’t in December, EVERYBODY in the Midwest has to get you to eat food to be social, even in the middle of August. Even if I wasn’t Muslim and fasting, no, I don’t want your traffic-cone-orange cheese and potato casserole. Yuck.
I make sure to tell my doctor, who is Jewish, “Shana Tova” when I go in for my annual checkup at the end of September.
I have noticed that being a little aggressively non-Christian in my daily life does tend to head people off.
YES! I work with a lot of devout Catholics who assume that we’re like minded in our beliefs. We’re not. One of my co-workers told me that the bible should be the only rules people should follow. I left a copy of the constitution on her desk soon after with a note that said “this is my favorite thing to read.” She’s left me alone since.
I love it!
Just wanted to drop in and say Happy (last day-night of) Hanukkah to the LW and all other Jewish commenters!
I don’t fall neatly into the categories of commenters that Captain listed, but I wanted to share my experience. I am nominally of the Dominant Religious Culture, but I am also a grad student studying Religion at a state university (US). I basically talk about religion all day, interact with people of all different faiths, have professors of diverse religious and cultural backgrounds… And yet, Christianity is still basically the default in some ways, whether people realize it or talk about it. I recall a conversation around finals last year. A Muslim professor and two Christian/culturally-Christian professors were conversing over coffee. Christian Professors were happily chatting about when their families were going to put up a Christmas tree… and Muslim professor basically had to sit and nod and ask polite questions. On the flip side, around Eid and any other non-Christian holiday, I have yet to hear similar conversations. This of course doesn’t mean they don’t happen, but still… Even in places where you’d expect there to be a different culture, the Dominant Religious Culture still creeps in. Not to mention the fact that university calendars are scheduled around Christmas… Sigh.
Definitely recommend Ask a Manager for strategies about dealing with gifts from coworkers and office food you don’t want to/can’t eat, especially if the Christmas culture goes up through your management. My anecdotal experience is that–outside of an organized gift exchange (which should be optional, but in practice sometimes isn’t)–reciprocating gifts from coworkers and thank-you notes for small gifts like you describe are not necessary, particularly if you thank them in person. It’s certainly not unheard of for individual office cultures to be weird and toxic about this kind of thing, though.
For your Christmas-celebrating friends and social circle… turning down an invitation for Christmas-adjacent activities from people who consider themselves more than extremely casual acquaintances is likely to make them worry that they’ve offended you, causing a panic cycle in which they try to “fix” the offense or (more obnoxiously) somehow dismiss it to convince themselves it wasn’t offensive. It’s absolutely not your job to soothe their feelings! However, if these are people whose company you enjoy and who you want to make time to see, it would be kind to follow your graceful declining of their invitation with a social counter-proposal like, “but I’d love to see you and catch up, how about lunch/a movie/competitive moose-wrangling/[whatever it is you do socially with them under normal circumstances] next weekend?”
For bonus points – Alison, the woman who runs the site, is actually jewish. From what she said in her posts she doesn’t consider herself religious, but she definitely understands that your holiday tradition and the dominant cultural holiday tradition may not be the same.
Solidarity. I’m going to my partner’s parents for Christmas for the first time this year and so much of this world is… strange! Christmas! Flying across the country for it! I do Diwali and Solstice and I have always been very happy skipping Christmas (or, The Stupid Christian Captialist Holiday, as my friend calls it) and just resting and eating Chinese food while all the Xtians freaked out. It is so weird, this day and the hubub around it.
I will say that my favorite coping strategy is pretending I don’t know what Christmas cookies are. It works every year. I find someone who has been talking about baking Christmas cookies and I go “So are Christmas cookies just tree shaped sugar cookies?” And then look at me like I’m a poor sad child who needs to be taken care of, and next thing I know I’m getting boxes of delicious family recipe cookies all to myself.
I have no shame about this, and no regrets.
That is hilarious and awesome! I’m glad you get to enjoy so many delicious cookies.
This is brilliant. 🙂
I love you so much right now.
double high five!
Reminds me of the scene from the Addams Family – “Girl Scout cookies? Are they made from real Girl Scouts?”
Bahahaha I do this too!
Hi, OP! I’m also MOT, but from the East Coast and in a very Jewish major city. Even with those factors, I still sometimes get grumpy with all of the Christmas songs/movies/ads, etc. so I feel you.
Since you mention that you want to develop good relationships with your coworkers, just not over Christmas, what about a script that says: “Thanks for the invite to XXX. I know you must be swamped with family events/obligations, and I’m focusing on celebrating Hanukkah with my friends/family/cat. Could we meet in January to grab coffee/tea to talk about your work?”
I think this strategy will deflect their attention away from the Christmas stuff while still showing that you want to get to know them and build a relationship. Good luck!
It’s such a relief to hear from all of you. I get really uncomfortable when the (tax-funded) PUBLIC elementary school in my area goes nuts with Christmas. One year, “Jesus” was on the spelling list. Yipes!
It wasn’t until well after I moved away that I realized how messed up it was that my public elementary school did an annual mandatory sing-along. Around a giant Christmas tree. With religious carols. (We’re talking “O Come All Ye Faithful” and “Away in a Manger,” not just the snow-and-santa ones.)
Practicing Jew from the Midwest here. The struggle is real. I spent a large chunk of my upbringing trying to get my PUBLIC SCHOOLS (there are laws about this!!) to recognize that other religions exist and there are easy, tactful ways to accommodate everyone around the holidays. Or–what was harder–getting accommodations for the high holidays, which are in the fall and far more important than Chanukah, but of course the school system wasn’t gonna let us have those days off.
I got the “Well I have Jewish friends and they have a Christmas tree!” from an 8th grade teacher.
And I got the “You killed Jesus and are going to hell” from classmates, capped with a bonus 9th grade teacher who one time watched this happen in her class and did nothing to stop it or defend me or punish the other kids.
While there’s a difference between those two incidents, for me they all melted together into a giant vat of exclusion, suspicion, and contempt. In small or large ways, the people in my town wanted me to know that my religion and ethnicity were invalid.
I’m all for saying as little as possible to move people along as fast as possible. I also wanna just take a sec to validate that people pushing Christmas on their Jewish friends and acquaintance is legitimately gross and you have every right to hate it and resent it and not want to have to deal with it.
oh ugh I remember the “you killed Jesus” thing from public elementary school (I went to private school after that so I have no idea if it would have persisted). I had the weird experience of having been the only Jew any of these children had ever met, yet of course they insisted on trying to ‘splain my own culture and beliefs to me. Very frustrating.
We were also pretty secular so at the time I had almost no idea who Jesus was meant to have been. “What do you mean we killed him? Who the hell is he?”
Jesus is considered a boddhisattva, so we know about him. The other day my daughter said, “I believe in Jesus.” I said, yep, he was a real human who lived a long time ago.
Growing up, neighbors would say things like, “you’re nice people. It’s too bad you’re going to hell.”
Growing up non-Christian in the South, I got “you are going to ‘H’ ‘E’ double hockey-stick”! Lol, original use of spoken emojis 🙂
Good Christians don’t use bad words, but they will cheerfully consign their neighbors to eternal torment.
I was in kindergarten the first time Christians told me that me and my whole family were going to hell!
I grew up in the Midwest, in an Old Testament Christian/Messianic Judaic cult (it’s complicated) so observing mostly Jewish (ish) holy days and no Christian ones at all–and not Chanukah or Purim. I was called into the principal’s office in high school once because we were late out the door for services on the Feast of Trumpets and my parents forgot to call the school, and he told me he was going to suspend me for being absent without excuse. When I told him it was for a religious observance he scoffed, said he’d have to confirm it with my parents, and then told me I’d never amount to anything in life if I was constantly missing school for “weird religious holidays”. Sigh. I left the cult but it’s hard to forgive and forget all the shit that happened to me in school because my parents thought being in a cult was a great idea.
Just out of curiosity, is the Fest of Trumpets Yom Kippur or Rosh Hashanah? And were all of the holidays translated into English?
Yom Kippur is Day of Atonement. Feast of Trumpets is Rosh Hashanah.
And yeah, pretty much. We did Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles), which culminated in Shemini Atzeret (the Last Great Day), but not Simchat Torah. Pesach, of course (Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread) including the deep cleaning of chametz (leavening), although we didn’t follow gebrochts and we weren’t allowed to sell our chametz to a non-observing neighbour–it all had to be destroyed or thrown away. Pesach began with a seder (Night To Be Much Remembered), and we also did Shavu’ot (Pentecost).
Making Jewish friends in grad school did a lot to help me come to terms with the religious abuse I suffered as a child in a cult, by the way. Talking about our mutual experiences of celebrating the high holy days, albeit in different contexts, really helped me reframe my experiences of the ritual year and feel more comfortable about my participation in it as a child and teenager, and feel a part of a community of rational people. I never found that in childhood, because, well, *cult*, but I felt so welcomed by my Jewish friends’ acceptance of me as someone who was observant, even if it was in a strange and sometimes unpleasant way. It felt good to have someone say to me “I accept our shared ritual history”. I had never really felt that before and it meant a lot to me.
Yeah I’m a rabbi and the English translation of Jewish holidays feels both very familiar and very foreign. I’m sorry that your tradition of origin was a source of abuse and hurt.
In the five or so years before I left home at 17, the cult was undergoing a period of upheaval that ended in a giant schism a year or two after I left, and so there was a period of time when our holy days were more closely identified with their original names and there was an effort on the part of the leadership as a whole to pull us into closer alignment with some non-cult, mainstream faith. They first tried to pull us toward Judaism, which was a better fit observance-wise, but a lot of the local ministry revolted, so then there was an effort to identify more with mainstream evangelical Christianity. That former period is most of the reason I have what little understanding I do of how the observances of my childhood and proper Jewish observances aligned and differed. 🙂
Thank you. It was not optimal, but I survived. 🙂
I am so sorry.
I grew up in a small, predominantly white, predominantly wealthy private school… which was super liberal and inclusive on all fronts, weirdly enough, and had probably a 60/40% ration Christmas (secular and religious) to Hanukkah music set list in its Holiday Caroling event. And they taught the Hanukkah story, and taught us how to play dreidl using chocolate money for betting, and everything.
While this did have the unfortunate effect of giving us non-Jews the impression that Hanukkah was Jewish Christmas (and I still blunder there from time to time), it had the excellent effect of normalizing Judaism and elevating it to an equal status with Christianity in our school. Especially the elementary grades. That goes a long, long way in a small kid’s worldview.
(For us non-Christians and future non-Christians, this treatment also carried the strong message that “non-Christian religions aren’t weird or wrong, they’re just different, and equally OK.” So that gave me a foundation of comfort down the road when I converted to Wicca–I never got the impression that my early teachers would have spat on that, either.)
It did mean that once I got out into the world, it was a shock to discovered that, outside the inclusive bubble I had the great good fortune to go to school in, antisemitism is real and present and happening now, and that there really are people who grew up believing stupid shit like “Jews have horns under their hair” and crap. And I am so sorry and can only offer my sincere sympathies and my renewed commitment not to be silent in the face of it.
Jedi hugs for all who could use them.
“And I got the “You killed Jesus…”
I would counter with “well technically if he hadn’t died wouldn’t you all be going to hell? So… you’re welcome?”
I have said this before. I’m lucky the first time I heard it was as an adult.
“You killed our lord” he said.
“Seems like we did you a favor.” I replied. It was spontaneous then but is now my canned response should I hear it again.
When it was coming from my fundamentalist “friends,” I absolutely responded with “But if Jesus died for your sins so you could be saved, where’s the problem?”
But when it was coming from multiple bullies who were shouting and sneering at me, my instinct was to make myself small and not make eye contact or respond. I don’t think engaging would have helped in those situations.
(In case it’s not obvious, “I would have said…” or “You could just…” or “Did you try…” don’t generally make people who were bullied feel better about being bullied. I’m not being bullied now, I can’t go back in time and do it differently, recommendations aren’t helpful.)
I grew up in New York City and I still got beaten up by a kid in my elementary school because I made a Chanukah card instead of a Christmas card when we were doing artwork in third grade, and that obviously meant I was “insulting his religion.” My Catholic teacher said I deserved it. A lot of people think that the big cities that are heavily Jewish are better, and in some ways they are in that there are groups of Jews among whom one can hide from it some of the time, and more people who know what we are and don’t think we have horns. But when I was nineteen I found myself doing impromptu street patrol during the Crown Heights pogrom when the New York City mayor ordered the police not to defend the Jewish population from rioting and murder, and I learned the hard way that there’s no entirely safe place for populations without dominance, even if you make up a hefty percentage of the population.
I spent most Decembers until recently being very, very cranky. It just sucks that Christmas in particular seems to bring out the forced cheer and YOU MUST CELEBRATE in people. One thing that has helped me has been to focus on celebrating my holidays and tell other people about them. I cook things and invite them to watch YouTube videos of celebrations I’m far away from, which makes me feel a bit more seen. That and finding a way to be unapologetically not-caring about Christmas, because it is okay to feel how you feel and be who you are and anyone who gives you a grinch look needs to take their egg nog elsewhere.
Buddhist here! Just a couple of hours ago explained to my seven year-old daughter why we don’t need a nativity scene under the death glares of two older women. Saying, “We’re not Christian,” in a store at Christmastime is practically a sin.
I’m on the front lines in the war on Christmas, because that’s totally a real thing. Not wanting to be involved in Christmas is somehow considered wanting no one to have Christmas. It’s like saying a celiac person wants to close down all Cinnabuns everywhere forever.
Honestly I’m at a complete loss for how to navigate with my daughter all of these SONGS and CARDS and random strangers saying, “Jesus is the reason for the season!” out of nowhere.
So I’m not helping. Just commiserating. Grrrrr
Oh yes…the war on Christmas. People believe it’s a real thing and are willing to fight over it.
I am not religious. I made my communion because we lived with grandmother at the time and she insisted on it as part of us living with her. My husband has fond memories of church…mostly the songs…and two years ago he got the idea to try to get our kids into religion classes. I sat through the informational meeting where other parents there for the meeting angrily talked about how “it’s time we take back Christmas. This happy holidays stuff needs to end!” The priest was actively involved and supportive of this talk. I gave my husband what I thought was a “wow, can you believe these people?” look. Apparently he saw that look as “these narrow minded bigots can eat my shit!” We didn’t go back. My daughter is pagan, my son is unsure, my husband is a lapsed catholic and I am agnostic. I’m also incredibly sure that those people were the most hateful people I’ve encountered in real life.
Speaking as someone who was primarily insulated from aggressive and omnipresent Christmasing by a great many Hanukkah parties, the best thing you can do for your daughter is to actively seek out Buddhist things to do, and Buddhist (or any non-Christian) company, as a counterweight. Perhaps you could start a tradition of late December gatherings at your house for any friends who need an excuse to avoid Christmas parties and want to spend time with people who won’t Christmas at them. Having something to actively participate in and make happen is often more sustainable than being focused on ducking and dodging and avoiding, and is a great way to get kids engaged.
That sounds like a good idea, but, jeez, how? We make a huge deal about Buddha’s birthday and the Parinirvana, but December is just sit down and shut up like the rest of the year. This year our temple is even closed on the Sunday before Christmas, which has me really bummed out.
Multi-culti Jew here but boy howdy have I re-embraced my faith in the past 14 months For Some Strange Reason. I got to teach my new boyfriend’s two kids about Hanukkah this year. I am posting pictures of my menorah every night. I made latkes. And every cashier who has told me “Merry Christmas” for the past two weeks has gotten a cherry “And Happy Hanukkah!” right back.
(Side note, I haven’t found a new synagogue since I moved but when I was attending Shabbat services every Friday at my old synagogue, I was showing up in a ball gown because I was just very angry at the world and defiant and I was going to be Jewish VERY loudly as a form of protest)
Solidarity hugs offered. I think next year I’m going to build a Hanukkah box fort for everyone who wants to hide from Christmas.
Your story of the ball gown made me want to share the following story:
When she was a little girl, one of my neighborhood friends asked her parents sadly, “Why can’t we be Jewish like Ishkabible’s family?”
When her parents very gently inquired as to why she wanted to be, she said, “Because then we could get dressed up like they do every Friday night!”
LW, it could almost be like I wrote this letter (except I’m lucky enough to live in an area with enough Jews and Muslims that it petered off faster). The people I always found most pushy were the Christmas celebrators who were from Christian-heritage families but who weren’t themselves Christian — it took me *years* to realize that they were being pushy because they took my non-celebration of Christmas as if I were saying, “well, you CLAIM to be not Christian, but I bet you are TOTALLY CHRISTIAN.” That realization helped me improve my scripts to make them much less likely to provoke that sort of pushback
Key parts of this script, only to be used with people who don’t identify as religious Christians:
1. I have to identify as Jewish, in order to head off incredibly offensive “grinch” comments at the pass. This is true even though I’m an atheist, and even though my religious parents were always very careful to downplay Hanukkah as an unimportant Jewish holiday, and my Hanukkah observance consists entirely of lighting candles alone and eating things that I have fried.
2. I have to be very careful not to identify Christmas as a religious Christian holiday.
My current scripts:
Q: “What are you doing for Christmas?”
A: “I’m Jewish, and I observe Hanukkah, and I [light candles / call my mom / go to a Hanukkah party / do nothing]. Do you have big plans for Christmas?”
Q: “Merry Christmas!”
A: “thanks. I hope you have a great holiday. [smiling sincerely]”
Q: “What time will I see you at the Christmas party?”
A: “Thanks for the invite! Because I’m Jewish I’m not a big Christmas celebrator, but I hope you all have a fantastic time.”
Q: “Whyyyyy don’t you celebrate Christmas? It’s a secular holiday!”
A: “Because I don’t.”
Q: “X is Jewish, and she celebrates Christmas, though.”
A: “Yep, all people are different.”
I stopped putting in any explanation at all about the religious background of Christmas, or about being part of a minority religion, because all of that ended up evoking the Fragility of the Privileged, and I just needed to stop the conversation.
I also figured out a particular thing to absolutely love about the Christmas season, which helped me dial down my resentment to the point that I can now enjoy the parts of December revelry that I feel like participating in (In my case, it’s some percentage of the parties, a certain amount of gift exchange). I adore BEING LEFT ALONE on Christmas day. I started paying attention to my Christmas-celebrating friends and coworkers and realized how many of them are super tense about juggling family obligations and travel and spending more on presents than I would expect. so I started really enjoying December 24-26, and turned it into a time when I do my own thing and don’t let anyone else drag me into social obligations. It’s very relaxing knowing I have that to look forward to.
Your post reminded me of the year Schindler’s List came out. It appeared in December, a mega-hit it was next to impossible to find tickets for, and it was of considerable interest to a lot of Jews. We waited the first weekend out and then we all descended on the movie theaters on Dec. 25, when there was no competition! It was an incredibly useful piece of timing, and we laughed about it for weeks as we watched the rest of the population trying to scalp tickets even weeks later.
Personally, I am fond of the Jewish tradition of spending Dec. 25 with takeout Chinese food and video movies. There are some Chinese restaurants which team up with movie rental places these days to offer combined specials, it’s such a thing.
Little-J jewish person here – on my father’s side, traditions yes, religious practice no, married to basically my mirror image though my mother-in-law is increasingly frum with age – and when I was a kid Hanukkah was routinely identified at school and elsewhere as “the Jewish Christmas.” I’VE GOT A FAIR FEW NOTES ABOUT THAT as you might imagine. And I’ve never been super happy about the Compensatory Hanukkah solution – as others mention upthread, making a giant fuss about a minor festival feels a lot less inclusive than learning what the major holidays are and allowing people to make a fuss about them.
I had a whole analogy here that I’m cutting because I was working too hard to be clever. In my own life, my solution has been to take a side gig with a Catholic church choir and then be available for all the Christmas and Easter (as long as it doesn’t clash with Passover) stuff my colleagues often beg off on because of family commitments. And then make the point that the solution to Big Goyish Holiday absenteeism is to hire more Jews. But this is not a solution that would suit everyone, I know.
Don’t know whether anyone’s said this, but it’s also worth remembering that you never have to give a reason for missing parties beyond ‘Sorry, won’t be able to make that, but thanks so much for thinking of me’ (with repetitions of ‘I just won’t be able to’ for EVERY TIME they do the ‘But whyyyyyyy?’, plus a finale of ‘I just won’t be able to. Thanks. Gotta get back to work now/go do X now, so see ya’ if variations on the the ‘But whyyyyyys’ are continuing repeatedly).
I agree that if these are people you’re going to deal with in future years, it’s probably (slightly) easier in the long run to bring in the I-don’t-do-Christmas now so that they eventually get the message that they just don’t ask. However, if you get any such invites from people who are likely to be one-off interactions, it may well be easier just to do the above and not get into *any* reasons – and, if at any time you choose to go that route, it is absolutely 100% OK.
Throw a latke party! Seriously! I bet a bunch of people will come and be super respectful, and who doesn’t love Latkes?. I’m not Jewish and I’ve already been to 3 separate Latke parties in the last week (but then I live in NYC, where you end up a bit Jewish just living here).
As others have said, Hanukkah is a pretty minor holiday, and playing it up can feel just as depressing as all of the Christmas stuff.
I myself to some extent cope with this by throwing events for a bunch of the holidays — I do a hamentashen baking party for Purim, a big Passover Potluck (it’s like Iron Chef!), an open house or a dinner for Rosh Hashana, and sometimes a latke party. I like sharing my culture and traditions with friends, and the events have become my own traditions — I’ll usually do a little educational spiel explaining things, and I happen to love cooking absurd amounts of food. Anyways, it means definitely none of my friends are unsure of whether I’m Jewish, and a lot of them have hopefully at least learned a few small things from them.
I really wish we could find a way to get Purim to catch on with non-Jews. Yeah, it’s even less important than Hannukah in the grand scheme of things, but it’s so much more fun.
You could try calling it the Jewish Mardi Gras.
Convince people to try hamantaschen. I think most people will do anything if it involves hamantaschen.
(The first time I bought my lapsed Catholic fiancé hamantaschen he was like “where have these been all my life???” which I think is a reasonable reaction.)
but then I live in NYC, where you end up a bit Jewish just living here
New York Jew here to tell you that no, you really don’t.
Thank you for saying this.
Ditto. You do, in my experience, end up knowing a bit more about what Judaism entails than you do in most places — at least if you *want* to know — but that isn’t the same thing.
My ex-boyfriend is Jewish and from a pretty religious family. Of course they celebrated Hanukkah, however they celebrated Christmas to a degree as well. He said his mother didn’t want them to feel left out of the decorating, festivities, presents, etc. I found it odd, but who am I to judge?
His family invited me to various Jewish holidays and events, even though I made it clear I was an atheist. I was actually very touched they were trying to include me and welcome me. It did make me a little uncomfortable, because, yes, atheist, extreme atheist, and while I wanted to be respectful, I didn’t usually feel I could be – I could take part, but in my head I would be shouting “I don’t believe!! This is silly!!”. But I saw it as more of a pleasant family gesture to invite me in the first place.
Anyway, ex’es aside, I would say to the letter writer it’s perfectly all right to defend how much you want to get involved in Christmas or not. And I would say you’re perfectly in your rights to be frank about it – “Hey, thanks, but I’m Jewish, and it makes me uncomfortable to receive this gift / be asked to take part in …etc”.
I’m also gonna suggest that many people generally celebrate Christmas without the Christianity aspect. My family do and we are all generally lapsed Christians or atheists, in fact I can count the number of people I know who actually identify as Christian on one hand. This is also why you may get the ‘but it’s Christmas! Come on!’ treatment. Because the religious aspect may not matter at all, to that person.
But the religious aspects of Christmas matter to many Jews, and people should be sensitive to that.
I find it a bit icky to be telling members of a long discriminated against minority group you don’t believe in their thing. Jewish people have kept their traditions alive through hundreds of years of persecution. To many Jewish people, celebrating isn’t about God. Many Jewish people (myself included) are atheists/agnostics – and to many practitioners of Reform Judaism, it doesn’t conflict with being Jewish at all. To people like me, Judaism is about tradition, community, and history, and when I invite non-Jews to celebrate the holidays with me, it’s to teach them and show them my culture, which was very nearly wiped out many times.
It REALLY bothers me to see someone call another religions traditions “silly”. Just because you don’t believe in something doesn’t mean you can’t have respect for the traditions, and recognize their importance to the believers.
Yeah that chocolate and those candles are actually deep protest against the dominant cultural paradigm. Not being sarcastic, I’m a religious Jew in part as a protest against toxic American values, and in order to re-inforce for myself the miracle that I, and my people, even still exist.
And the person you are replying to is, like me, an atheist who lacks visible symbols to use as equivalent armor. It sounds to me like she is describing the experience of the very type of erasure you are talking about (sitting in a religious setting, feeling out of place and invisible).
Look, it’s like sex. Describe any sexual act in the absence of hormones and a desirable partner, and it is gross and/or ridiculous. That doesn’t make it less alluring/important in context. All religious traditions are silly in the absence of belief or cultural forces. That doesn’t make it less important.
Spud_trooper, rootlesslily, it looks like you are suggesting I am being disrespectful, effectively because I am not Jewish myself. Like I said, I’m atheist. I have no belief in God, nor religious traditions. I actually was a Christian when I was a child but I ceased to believe. I have never said anything disrespectful to anyone about their religion, I would not stand in their way, nor argue them to think like me. If my boyfriend and I had continued, I would have given a lot of thought to whether our kids should be raised Jewish or not, because I can see the community benefits and historical richness. And like I say, I saw the kindness in the invitations, and I appreciate the good I see in the way religion brings people together.
But I am allowed to think what I like, and to me, religious practices actually have no justification based on there being some ‘God’, and as such I do find they have no meaning for me. Why can’t I remove myself from religious events that would conflict with my own beliefs? Why does your religion have to have priority over my beliefs? Can’t we find middle ground?
I’m also well educated about the persecution Jews have faced and continue to face, I have gone out of my way to visit many memorial sites and historical museums, please do not assume that I am not. That’s also why I say the letter writer should just reply, thanks, but I’m Jewish. Maybe I’m naive but I don’t think there should be any reason to feel awkward about doing so.
And I mean I haven’t said anything disrespectful out loud. Maybe I’m digging a hole here but do I think it’s silly many religions follow anachronistic traditions and unbalanced rules written by a bunch of men several centuries ago? Yes. I’m afraid I think it’s ‘silly’. I can of course write or say a more nuanced response.
Yes, you are digging a hole. Stop. You literally said, on a thread predominated by Jews, that you find our traditions silly, and then turned around and claimed that you never SAID anything disrespectful, you just THOUGHT it and except that you just said it to all of us right now. Also, who the heck said you have to attend Jewish celebrations? No one! Why are you turning us into strawmen? The middle ground has already been reached–you don’t have to attend Jewish celebrations, and please leave us alone to celebrate them in peace. Dude, read the moderation note. It is directed at you! The Jews of the World do not need your opinion on our traditions, nor do we need you to let us know, without us asking, that you’re very glad to offer us a nuanced explanation of why you think we’re all so silly. STOP IT. THIS ISN’T ABOUT YOU. Having a Jewish ex and visiting sites of Jewish persecution doesn’t excuse you!
I am very curious why “I haven’t said anything disrespectful out loud” is a defense when said directly to the faces of the people to whom you just said something disrespectful. Out loud, or at least in print. Do we not count, because we’re at the other end of a computer link instead of in your living room?
I’m also gonna suggest that many people generally celebrate Christmas without the Christianity aspect. My family do and we are all generally lapsed Christians or atheists, in fact I can count the number of people I know who actually identify as Christian on one hand. This is also why you may get the ‘but it’s Christmas! Come on!’ treatment. Because the religious aspect may not matter at all, to that person.
Yeah, we know that some people can do that.
I was raised atheist, so I don’t have any of the religious background (no church, no Sunday school, etc). But Christmas is still Christian. It’s a Christian co-option of a pagan winter holiday that has been running for a very long time, so it’s really not fair to try to pull the “But all the trappings are really pagan/everyone has a holiday about inclusion when it gets dark all the time/it’s totally secular/etc etc.” No. The barn door is open and the horses are gone.
It is not secular to tell someone “Your holiday doesn’t matter, come celebrate on my holiday, don’t worry, it’s totally not religious.” Regardless of how much Jesus winds up in someone’s Christmas celebration, it’s a Christian holiday happening on the Christian religious calendar with holiday symbols associated with a Christian holiday. You’re not saying “Come celebrate my winter holiday that happens to fall on the 25th, we’re going to be drinking wine and hanging phallus charms and have a drum circle and jump over a bonfire”, you’re saying “We’re going to be exchanging gifts and hanging a shining star upon the highest bough.”
Yes, for some people, having the trappings of the holiday without the holiday means getting the best parts without the religion. For everyone who wasn’t raised in that religion it’s like having your face rubbed in the fact that you can’t get away from the dominant religion because it’s so dominant even atheists think it’s normal to celebrate its major holidays.
For years I marked the solstice with a party with all my cultural traditions (and I’m not talking yule log or holly and ivy; I’m talking pomegranates and jumping over a fire in the driveway and reading Sufi poets) (although I suppose if Wikipedia is to be believed ancient Iranian Christians coopted solstice the same way European Christians coopted Saturnalia/Yule/whatever) and people would STILL send me RSVPs to my “christmas” party. Augh.
All right, well that’s just my atheist interpretation and it seems to be annoying a few people. Well, quite honestly, would it help if we all just didn’t wish a merry Christmas to anyone who may be from a different religion? I guessed my classmates who wear headscarves are Muslim and didn’t wish them a merry Christmas, but I rarely ask anyone first if they’re religious or not.
Moderator here. I specifically asked atheists to hang back from this one. Maybe start a thread at the forums or find an atheism discussion board? “I’m allowed to say Judaism is silly b/c I’ve visited The Camps” IS NOT MAKING YOU LOOK GOOD HERE.
Also “dating someone Jewish” doesn’t give you honorary status to comment on Judaism.
Or…you could just not treat Christmas as the default for anyone? Because that’s the underlying assumption that’s annoying people in your interpretation. Sure, lots of folks just pick and choose the Christmas traditions they like and ignore the stuff they don’t, and that’s great for them. But that’s not a solution for those of us who can’t ignore our not-so-fuzzy feelings about the thing it’s named for, and that’s exactly what has the LW so frustrated.
I come from a very secular but still Christian* country. Most of us celebrate Christmas as a secular holiday and it’s a very integrated part of the culture. But. It is still a Christian holiday and it’s a public holiday for the very reason that it is a Christian holiday. I would also urge most western atheists to realize, that even if they don’t believe in God and are vehemently non-Christian, most of them were still raised in Christian culture. By Christian culture I mean people who celebrate Christmas and on Easter they eat chocolate eggs and bunnies and marriage ceremonies/burials look like the ones in Christian churches and stuff like that. European and White North American culture is so heavily affected by Christianity, it is almost impossible to separate the two. And this is not a Bad Horrible Thing, but as people raised in the Christian culture sphere, we need to be extra mindful of people who are not from the same sphere. What to us might be “yay winter holiday with presents!”, to them is a holiday from another tradition, another religion.
We need to be mindful and believe that people don’t want nothing to do with our cultures holidays. As someone said up-thread, celebrating Christmas doesn’t make you necessarily a True Believer In Our Lord Jesus Christ -type Christian, but it almost certainly means that you were brought up in a Christian culture, and that you have certain privilege that comes with being brought up in the mainstream culture. Saying that “but I celebrate Christmas as a SECULAR HOLIDAY!” when someone says that they don’t want to celebrate it because of their religion, is obnoxious and tone-deaf at best, erasing and very hurtful at worst.
*(I would like to clarify, that I use here Christian as an adjective that means “has to do with a religion that has Jesus in it’s center”, not as “is a firm believer in God and Jesus. I feel like I as a secular European Christian have often very differing views with many Americans on what that word entails.)
+ 1 to all of this. As a cultural Christian who celebrates Christian as a cultural rather than religious festival, along with the majority of my country, this thread is a real eye-opener as to the situation in USA.
I feel “secular” Christmas can be misleading and uphelpful and think it’s more accurate to call it a cultural festival. Christmas isn’t secular IME, it’s a religious festival that people celebrate as a cultural heritage without believing in the religious parts, but it isn’t secular and calling it that provides a route to pressure people into it. I love Christmas because it is my cultural heritage and I have a lot of positive associations with it, but I wouldn’t expect someone without those to join in and enjoy it any more than I personally have a personal engagement with Diwali. It’s more honest to accept that Christmas is a culturally Christian festival, albeit one celebrated by many people who are not actually practicing Christians, and that means that for lots of people, it won’t be for them.
As a secular Jew, I celebrate Hanukkah and Passover without the religious aspect. That doesn’t make those traditions any less Jewish. I would be careful about equating “not explicitly religious” with “not related to religion.” They’re not the same thing.
I’m gonna not so gently suggest that you’re wrong.
Other people have laid out how Christian Christmas is, so I won’t belabor that. (And yes, I know the 25th was the birthday of Mithras as the Sol Invictus.)
Instead, I’m going to tell you why your comment irked me.
When a Christian or former Christian announces she thinks Jewish traditions are silly, this Jewish atheist hears more than 1500 years of contempt and abuse.
I doubt if I’m unique.
That’s exactly how I felt. To us, it’s way more than just someone thinking it’s silly.
You’re definitely not unique, Mrs. Morley. I am a relatively secular Jew — agnostic, semi-kosher, and married to a pagan — but one of the quickest ways to get my back up and show me that you don’t care about me as a human being is to go out of your way to dis my people when we didn’t do anything to you.
Sally, nobody here asked you to believe what Jews believe. But you were explicitly asked by the Captain to keep your opinions out of this thread, and this kind of thing is precisely why, I suspect. Telling people that you don’t personally wish to join in their cultural practices is just fine; telling them that their cultural practices are absurd is not.
If your purpose is to communicate that something isn’t a good fit for you, personally, you might try “That didn’t resonate with me,” rather than “I kept thinking “This is silly!””
For some of those invitations, a vague “thanks for inviting me, but I already have plans” might work. If it’s a party on a random night, they (still) don’t need to know that your plans are to read a book and feed the cat roast chicken. Similarly, I just answered a cashier (at the butcher shop) who ended the transaction with “enjoy the holidays” with “you too” rather than “thanks, but I’m not doing anything holiday-related.”
Also, I’ve had reasonable success with answering random “Merry Christmas” wishes with “Happy New Year!” It’s slightly off the script people are expecting, but only slightly: “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!” is enough of a thing that people who might criticize you for saying “Happy holidays!” are less likely to notice, or mind, that you didn’t say “Christmas.” And the secular New Year holiday is something most people are okay with, whether they go to parties or not, make resolutions or not.
Solidarity, LW. I’m Jewish (thoroughly secular, but I don’t celebrate Christmas in any form), and I sang in choirs all throughout childhood and college. For a Jewish choir kid, Christmas season is THE WORST. I hated being forced to paste on a smile and summon a convincing level of cheer while singing cheesy, saccharine songs about things I firmly don’t believe. (I also had the privilege of singing some stunningly beautiful Christian liturgical music, and even some lovely traditional Christmas carols. Most choral-performance-gig Christmas music is not that.)
Ironically, now that Christmas cheer is no longer (as) mandatory, I have more patience for it. I still hate the cheesy songs they pipe into every public establishment, but at least I don’t have to partake in them myself. I still get lots of questions from folks who are baffled that I know more Christmas carols than they do, yet I’ve never once put up a Christmas tree. My strategy is to make the conversation as uninteresting as possible–silent shrugs, one-word answers, etc. It’s not perfect, but it’s a start.
Also, I’ve seen many an epic argument about whether Christmas trees are a religious symbol or not. It’s always the Jewish folks insisting that it is, and the Christmas-celebraters insisting that it’s not. GEE I WONDER WHAT’S GOING ON THERE.
Banging my head against the walls here. I don’t want to do Christmas (in my own house – I do enjoy celebrating with friends in their homes). I don’t care if your friend Solomon Epstein had a Christmas tree (actual story I heard once).
I hope this counts, because I’m not Jewish by birth, but Jewish by choice.
I just recently moved to a new state, with the same job, but a whole new place to do it in, with a huge number of new co-workers who just don’t understand why it’s NOT OKAY to have a holiday lunch and serve only effing HAM, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, and rolls. I’ve found that some people, once they find out that I’m not Christian are cool with it. One place I worked I did an electric Menorah, dreidels, and gelt, along with a fair amount of glitter (because I really like glitter), and that was enough to keep all but the most relentless from trying to force Christmas on me. Since you’re just starting out, this will be a good visual reminder to your new co-workers.
I’ve found the most relentless Christmas-ers aren’t necessarily the most religious, but the people who can’t manage to wrap their heads around someone choosing something else. The message that Christmas is SO AMAZING is so thoroughly soaked into American culture that people can’t imagine any other holiday matching up to the glory that is Christmas and by opting out, you’re opting out of EXTREME JOY. Except that operates on the idea that nothing could measure up to Christmas, and that’s just not true. When the inevitable “missing out” comments pop up, I tend to either go into detail about all of the fantastic plans that my friends and I have made, and how on this night we’re going to do this, and on that night we’re going to do that or I’ll just look at them and say “I’m not missing out on anything at all, sorry you have to cram everything into a single day.”
I once accidentally said “the first night of Christmas” (my brain blanked on it being called Christmas eve) to someone. They thought it was funny, and getting something so fundamentally wrong about their holiday made it really sunk in that this was NOT my holiday.
Good luck with your new job LW!!!
Side note, but all of my Jewish friends and I call it “Erev Christmas” as in “What movie are you going to see Erev Christmas? I kind of want to see the new Star Wars!”
It’s nice for me to read the words of someone who is Jewish by choice, since I hope to be able to say that about myself one day. So thank you.
It’s so weird being surrounded by the noise and bustle of Christmas, when I feel so drawn to Judaism, and yet I have no place in it either.
A glitter menorah sounds amazing 🙂
Fellow Jew, of the observant type. Admittedly an east-coaster, but definitely cognizant of being in the minority, especially where I work. What about the invitation feels so obtrusive? I totally understand the position of privilege non-Jews come from when they blanket everything in red and green, and how diminishing it feels as the Jewish recipient of that barrage. But for them, it really is just a party, and they want to celebrate with you/not exclude you. If you don’t want to go to the party, don’t go, and use any excuse you would use in July. If the event were explicitly Christ-worship-y, I would totally get it. I personally would never attend Mass, just as I’d never invite a non-jewish friend to shul. But I have frequently invited my non-Jewish friends to seders and other observations in my home; in fact, I love introducing people to how I practice my religion. Never, ever has a single one of them said that they couldn’t because of their religion/agnosticism/atheism. Nor would the vast majority of Jewish practices disallow you from going to a party–just don’t eat the shrimp cocktail. Unfortunately, nothing will make Christmas go away, short of making Aliyah.
Ehhhh. On the one hand, yep, go to parties if you want to go to parties! I do tend to go to my friends’ Christmas parties because I like spending time with them and don’t feel that bothered by the tree trimming or whatever. People’s mileage will naturally vary on that.
On the other hand, I imagine you don’t introduce the invitation to Passover by gasping “You mean you don’t even have a SEDAR PLATE??? You’ve never EATEN MATAZH???? You didn’t look for the afikomen, your childhood was deprived!!!!”
“Deprived” is not a word I would use for a person who’s never had to eat matza, but I have definitely exclaimed in shock when midwestern friends told me that they had never been to a seder. Like, I understand there are fewer Jews out there, but I think I still don’t understand how few. Same friends recently went home for a wedding ON YOM KIPPUR. Who has a wedding on Yom Kippur???? People who don’t know ANY Jews. Still mind-boggling to me.
Ha, it’s definitely not the word I would use either. (Though for some reason all the non-Jewish folks I know love matzah, which I find baffling.)
The thing I was trying to get at, though, is that even if something isn’t directly Christ-worship-y, it can still make people uncomfortable. When you invite someone to Passover, they haven’t grown up with the message that *not* celebrating Passover is weird. In fact, it sounds like you’re explicitly saying, “You haven’t been part of this before, let me share with you!” (Which is rad.)
But Christmas is something a lot of us *have* been told, constantly, that we are weird for not celebrating – that we’ve been deprived. Or we feel erased totally by how dominant it is during this month. It’s an othering, alienating feeling, and it sucks. So even if a friend is just issuing a casual invitation for a tree-trimming, sans actual worship, the “come celebrate Christmas with me!” message still echoes all of that alienating baggage. For some folks, it may not be a big deal, but for others, even just hanging red and green tinsel is alienating. So suggesting that people “just don’t eat the shrimp” isn’t really helpful, because it isn’t just the shrimp that’s the problem.
I just flashed upon the memory of discovering a song with a title something like “How come Santa doesn’t go next door” in the Sweet Adelines catalog, and thinking delightedly that it was going to be something like “Here In My House” that we sang at my school (one verse about Hanakkuh, one about Christmas, a chorus about peace and harmony across religious/cultural lines) and how the answer would be “Because they do different holidays, which are cool!”…and then reading the lyrics and realizing that, nope, it was a song about how next door the kids were too poor to get presents and so the singer resolved to bring them one of her presents to make up for it.
I mean, generosity, I get it. Economic inequality is real and serious. But I could do without the add-on message of WITHOUT SANTA YOU ARE DEPRIVED.
I like matzah… but I also love eating uncooked oatmeal and as a kid would occasionally sneak spoonfuls of plain flour out of the bag. I don’t buy it for myself, because as a non-Jewish person it feels a bit weird and hipster exoticism fetish-y? But I eat it gleefully when it’s offered.
I remember being surprised to learn that people eat matzah with butter or other toppings instead of just plain.
Out if nesting, and I can’t speak for any other Jews than myself, but, KayEss, if you like matzah, and your grocery store carries it year-round, knock yourself out! I’m not super-observant, but I think I remember that the year-round stuff isn’t made under the same strict time limits as Passover matzah anyway, so it’s not QUITE so religious? It doesn’t feel any worse to me, personally, than all the diners that serve challah French toast with a side of bacon (omnomnomnom).
And it’s definitely not like when a Christian pastor giving the invocation at Obama’s first inauguration included the English translation of the Shema. The FOUNDATIONAL prayer of Judaism. A declaration of absolute monotheism. You have a trinity, dude, get those words out of your mouth. I was pissed for WEEKS and I’m still not really over it.
I feel like, if you’re not saying the blessings, matzah is just food. Food which, in MY opinion, has its true purpose as a base for chopped liver. My paternal grandmother’s all-chicken-liver recipe, far better than the all-too-common ones that also have calves’ liver. I need to hunt through her recipe box soon.
My dad loved matzah. Ate it all year, even right after Pesach. It’s made me feel much less hostile to matzah, since his death; eating it makes me feel closer to him.
Also the gluten-free matzah tastes like potato chips. That probably helps.
One problem is that it’s hard to know ahead of time whether, and to what extent, a Christmas party will be about Jesus and Christianity, rather than about gifts or egg nog or just an excuse for board games.
Partly that’s because definitions vary. Yes, Midnight Mass is religious, but is it “Christ-worshippy” when my friend invites me to a party, and there’s a Nativity scene on the mantelpiece next to the Christmas tree? For that specific friend, my answer is tinged by my knowledge of her somewhat idiosyncratic beliefs, but I’m not about to quiz a coworker about whether they really believe that three wise men brought expensive gifts to a baby.)What about if the hosts put on music, or people decide to sing carols, and some of the songs are specifically about Jesus rather than about winter (or the why-is-this-a-Christmas-song-even standards like “My Favorite Things”)?
It might be awkward to decline an invitation to invitation to a co-worker’s not-framed-as-religious party, but it would be more awkward to announce “OK, I’m out of here” and put on your coat if someone starts to sing about Jesus, or saying aggressively Christian things about what Christmas means.
Is it any less religious when my friend enters my home and walks past mezuzot?
We’re not asking them to touch it and kiss their fingers, though? So it’s more of a creche-on-the-mantelpiece rather than join-in-while-we-sing-about-Jesus.
Does your friend know what a Mezuzzah is? #notmyholiday but I know exactly who to expect at a holiday creche.
Just an observation, but I think it’s more that Christmas becomes A Symbol of all the ways you’re an outsider and a minority – and that matters more when you’re more of a minority. When you’re somewhere where there’s more of your own people around, it’s NBD, because you’re like “yeah, you do your thing now, and I do mine another time, and it’s all good, just more food and fun for everyone.” But when you’re a very small minority, it’s like the one glass your spouse always leaves out that becomes The Symbol of all the ways s/he bugs you.”
This, right here, is why Hanukkah Balls is a Thing over on Ask A Manager. Although it’s funny, it’s also frustrating and a good example of how clueless people can be.
No advice from me, just a fist bump of solidarity. You aren’t alone in this.
Jewish person here – I do two things
1) I bring in apples and a pot of interesting honey for the first day back after Rosh Hashannah – in my work place it tends to prompt a discussion about how Hannukah isn’t such a big deal, I mostly just light candles and use it as an excuse to eat fries. I see my family at the big ones — you know the important holidays in Fall and Spring. I use it as an opportunity to let the people I work with know that I am OK with sharing snacks to celebrate holidays but that’s it.
I find this works because it lets me do the ‘I don’t do christmas’ to the important people in my work place early enough that they can act on it and late enough that they mostly don’t forget when the time comes.
2) My biggest problem with the scripts given above have been the people that insist that Christmas isn’t a Christian Holiday, that it’s secular, and that if I’m happy with the 4th of July, I should be happy with Christmas. These people tend to be argumentative – which you can walk away from with a long pause if you’re in a position to do so.
To someone who you actually need to talk them I have 3 arguments in quick succession –
1) New Years is the secular end of year celebration;
2) More than 1/2 of American would disagree that Christmas is secular- feel free to continue the argument with them but… (http://www.pewforum.org/2017/12/12/americans-say-religious-aspects-of-christmas-are-declining-in-public-life/) so the argument is disingenuous.
3) Why does this matter so much to you that you’re jeopardizing your relationship with me to prove you’re right?
The number of people who can’t tell the difference between “some traditions strongly associated with Christmas in our culture originated in other cultures (which also were not Jewish culture)” and “the only holiday that literally shares the first syllable with ‘Christianity’ is not really a Christian holiday” is mind-boggling.
“New Years is the secular end of year celebration”
Yes. So very much this.
I’m overjoyed I get to be the first to recommend this really redemptive book to you, LW. Even if it doesn’t solve your problems, I bet it’ll make you feel at least a little better. Well, it does for me, anyways.
Totally redemptive. I’d never seen it before. Thank-you.
I’m Jewish. I usually go with the flow about Christmas but I totally understand it that you don’t want to. A lot of people don’t understand that “Jewish” isn’t some kind of label. It’s a whole way of life. It’s who you are. I hope it isn’t too hard for you this year.
I am Jewish and also get frazzled sometimes around December. My two biggest pet peeves are:
1. I am not a fan of “Chanukah things that are copying Christmas things.” For example, ugly Chanukah sweaters instead of ugly Christmas sweaters, or Mensch on a Bench instead of Elf on a Shelf. I don’t have a problem with other people using these things. My general feeling is that I belong to an ancient, rich religion and culture that has its own beautiful traditions, so I don’t feel the need to copy other cultures.
2. “You’re Jewish, so I guess you’re going to be eating Chinese food on Christmas, har har!” No. No. I didn’t grow up doing that, and I hate the implication that it’s the way “Jews celebrate Christmas.” I’m not celebrating anything. I’m just trying to get through a normal day.
I’ve mostly worked at Jewish organizations. The last time I worked for a non-Jewish employer, my boss tried to force me to work on the High Holidays–already knowing that I was Jewish. When I pointed out that my contract said I got two weeks of vacation days, he claimed that I was only supposed to use them during Christmas and New Years, when our organization was shut down for the holidays (contract didn’t say this.) I explained that asking a Jewish person to work on the High Holidays was like asking a Catholic to work on Christmas. He responded, “Well, I don’t know about that . . .” and then said he told me about the vacation days policy during the hiring process (no, he didn’t) and it was “unethical” for me to ask for more. I ended up taking the days off, but I spent all of Rosh Hashanah worried that I was going to be fired for taking my religious holidays off of work. Our working relationship went downhill from there. There were also times when we had conversations and I had to explain things in a way that made me very uncomfortable. For example, when he implied that there was something ethically wrong about synagogues asking for membership dues. “At my church growing up, we just passed the hat and that worked out fine!” Cue me having to explain that “passing the hat” doesn’t work at synagogues because they get their highest attendance on Shabbat and holidays, when we are prohibited from handling money . . .
Needless to say, I am now working at a Jewish organization again, but I am more excited to be working for a boss who, so far, is not an abusive asshole.
For me, the best way to counteract constant Christmas talk or invitations is to turn things down in a cheerful tone of voice. Talk excitedly about your own traditions (for the rest of the year, too, not just Chanukah). If there are opportunities to contribute to an office holiday event, contribute something about Chanukah. When my husband’s office asked for people to bring food to their annual holiday potluck, he offered to make a kugel. I wear my Judaism on my sleeve and tend to bring it up in conversation, so gradually people know not to extend certain invitations to me. (I am also willing to educate people who have questions, but that is certainly not an obligation for everyone.)
“At my church growing up, we just passed the hat and that worked out fine!”
I can tell he was never on the finance committee.
Captain, thank you so much for creating a space where us Jewish folks can talk about this. We don’t normally get this kind of opportunity in secular spaces, and it means a lot to me to hear I’m not the only one struggling to figure out how to navigate this time of year.
I’m lucky to have grown up in a Jewish community, and still live in an area with a large Jewish population, so I usually see Chanukah being represented in some way. Christmas only started bothering me as I neared adulthood, but as I started making friends with people who celebrate Christmas, that became harder to express in the same way. The pressure to enjoy Christmas started growing, especially once I started dating my non-Jewish partner. It’s really weird getting invited by my Jewish friends to their tree-decorating and Christmas dinners (though both are also dating non-Jews).
I’ve become a bit more…complacent about Christmas this year, but reading these comments is making me remember how complex my feelings are about my Jewish identity, and how much I still have to figure out. Now that I don’t live with my family I finally have the space to do so on my own terms, and it’s a bit overwhelming. It’s really comforting to know I’m not the only one.
Oh LW, do I feel you! I grew up in a very similar situation, and let’s just say I have always thought that the Grinch wasn’t in the wrong (except for how he treated his dog, obvs.)
This year I moved to Japan, where no one is Christian and EVERYONE loves Christmas anyway. Almost no one has met a Jew before or knows what Hanukkah is. For my teaching job, I have to teach Christmas-themed lessons all week. It makes me feel so awkward and invisible. I was thinking of how I could explain Jewishness to my little baby students, but it turns out that when a six year old looks up at you with eyes full of concern and asks “can Santa speak Japanese?” you forget about erasure and antisemitism and yelp “Yes!!! Santa is real and he speaks every language!!!”
Before I got my current job, I was teaching English online to children in China. There was a unit on Christmas, and teachers would discuss how to answer questions from students like “What do you do for Christmas” if they didn’t personally celebrate Christmas, but in a way that didn’t confuse the kids. One suggestion is that this is a good time to teach and use the words “some” and “many.” “Many Americans celebrate Christmas. Some Americans celebrate Chanukah.” It plants the seed of an idea that this isn’t something that 100% of Americans do. When there was a unit comparing Christmas and Chanukah, I busted out my fancy menorah and dreidel as props.
That sounds awesome! What a good learning opportunity for your kids. (Sadly, it’s way beyond the language ability of most of my students.)
Heh. I spent a good chunk of my childhood in Japan, and yes, trying to tell someone there “I don’t celebrate Christmas because I’m not Christian” makes about as much sense as “I don’t celebrate Halloween or Valentine’s Day because I’m not Christian.” That being said, it has different connotations in America, and I can get why non-Christian Americans might not want to celebrate it.
Actually, I don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day because I’m Jewish, too. I gave in on Halloween when my children were young, and I’m now married to a pagan so we treat that day differently anyhow, but for many of us, it makes a lot of sense to say those things.
It’s slightly ironic because some christians refuse to allow their kids to participate in Halloween activities because they see it as a pagan holiday deeply incompatible with christianity
Nothing to add, but some Jedi hugs if you want them. Hopefully things will work out for you with the scripts the Captain gave and you’ll make it through the rest of the year unscathed. AND hopefully everyone will remember *next year* and not bug you again.
There’s a set of people I’ve encountered who get hostile or defensive that as a Jewish person, I don’t celebrate Christmas. If I can recognize them beforehand, I find my non-religious excuses work better on them: “sorry, I used to work retail, so now I celebrate this holiday by sleeping in and having no obligations!” or “when I was a girl scout we did fundraising nonstop from October thru December and it was so exhausting so now I celebrate the end of fundraising season by having quiet nights at home, and bubble baths!”
I guess they feel judged by “I don’t celebrate your holiday” but not by “I celebrate this holiday totally differently than you do”?
I go to the parties because I mean, there’s booze at the parties.
Then I passive-aggressively draw star of davids and menorahs on the ornaments during tree trimming “decorate your own ornaments” time.
When my wife was in grad school and her lab-mates played incessant Christmas carols, she retaliated with “Moshiach Moshiach Moshiach” (lyrics), and a truce was quickly negotiated. However, I do not recommend this course of action to anyone who has just started a new job.
The irony is, Hanukkah specifically commemorates a Jewish revolt against non-Jewish rulers* who tried to impose their hegemonic religion over the Jewish population.** “Oh, come on, can’t you just make one little sacrifice to Zeus?”
*and their Jewish collaborators, but let’s not get into that
**and the Jewish victors imposed their religion on the population they ruled, but let’s not get into that
Your wife is truly a champion, both for her cunning and for willingly sitting through Ani Ma’amin willingly 🙂
Desperate times sometimes call for desperate measures. 😉
I’m not religious at all, and don’t celebrate Christmas. I’ve been this way since I was a teen, and I learned early on some people are freaking weird about enforcing Christmas traditions on you.
In one of my earliest encounters, an instructor said we all had to do the secret santa thing. I said I wasn’t interested, but she said my participation was mandatory, and made me sit at a different table by myself to make a point about my refusal to participate. I was 17, it was awkward, and she was petty.
A few decades later my strategies with work are to be unavailable. At my current job, they offer telework, so I telework on Christmas celebration potlucks. Funny enough, nobody has noticed my absence in two years. If it’s not specifically within working hours, I will always unfortunately have something I need to do that day. Doctors appointments usually because nobody asks about that in my office. Obedience training classes that are “already paid for”, and whatnot. I don’t make it known I can’t attend until it’s too late to reschedule for me. I wish everyone well, and smile a lot, and sigh a breath of relief I got out of it.
In the office? I try to get by as best as I can avoiding them. I can’t just say I’m an atheist, because I work in a very conservative environment. “I’m not that religious” get’s the point across the most, but they still think we must celebrate Christmas. I’ve even scheduled days off for “appointments” just to avoid these things.
I don’t try to argue these days. I just make myself scarce, and “Oh, sorry. I wish I could, but I’m booked out.”
Ugh, I think I offended my co-worker. She’s Jewish but non-observant, according to her. Anyway, last week I brought in lights for another co-worker’s mini tree, and had extras – plain ones, santa lights & snowman lights. I put some across the top of my cube & gave some to the rest of our group. She said the lights were pretty and she really liked them, so I asked if she wanted any & she put the plain ones around the top of her cube. No pressure, plus she always complains about being left out of things.
So Monday she comes in, takes the lights down, boxes them up & gives them back to me saying she doesn’t want them anymore. I said ok, didn’t ask why and didn’t want to make a thing of it. Should I apologize for being insensitive or is that just making things weird(er)?
Since you asked for advice, my suggestion is to let he matter drop. Your co-worker chose the plain lights (without being pressured by anyone, it seems); so your apology doesn’t seem warranted. Her returning the lights may be due to something unrelated to Christmas (eye strain if they flickered, for example). Letting the matter go without comment or apology allows life to move on.
I hope that this helps; and that you enjoy the Winter Season !
LW, I really love that your letter was about dodging unwanted Christmas and not about seeking equal time for Hanukkah. (Jews who are into Hanukkah, go for it! But many of us are not). Below is something relevant I wrote on FB on the first night of Hanukkah, which mostly received a positive and grateful-for-guidance response from my friends:
“A gentle reminder for well-meaning Christian friends: Hanukkah is an unimportant and uncomfortably militaristic holiday, which is in no way comparable in significance to Christmas and which has been inflated out of proportion due merely to falling at the same time of year as Christmas, which is really because lots of cultures have thought it was a good idea to light candles and eat yummy things and placate small children with presents around the darkest days of the year.
“I can’t speak for all Jews obviously, but many of us feel weird seeing y’all bend over backwards to give equal time to Hanukkah in your greetings and concerts and office parties and animated shorts and official announcements as though Hanukkah was our Christmas or as though Jewish was the default not-Christian position; personally I know my ideal would be a norm of recognizing that only some people celebrate the Christian parts of Christmas but that the secular/Yule bits are up for grabs for all takers (yes I have a tree don’t @ me), and also everyone should have latkes and jelly donuts at all of their December parties because why the heck not?”
I hear this line of reasoning a lot (“Hanukkah is not a Big Deal actually”), and while I’m glad if it helps folks get some Christmas-pushers off their back, personally I’ve never loved hearing it. I’m Jewish, born to a Jewish family, and Hanukkah has always been one of my favorite holidays, and the one I spend the most time celebrating. My family is not religious but we always spend lots of time with friends and family, lighting candles and singing songs and eating fried foods. When we lived in Israel it was definitely in-your-face on the same level as, say, Passover or Rosh Hashana, even without the shadow of Christmas. Sure, it’s not a big deal from a religious standpoint, but we should be allowed to define personal importance irrespective of religious significance. Stating point-blank that Hanukkah is ” unimportant and uncomfortably militaristic” (to whom?) is a very black-and-white approach to something that’s not that simple.
Same here. It may be complicated historically, but all traditions are.
There’s an interesting history there, at least for American Jews, that gets elided by the “Hanukkah is not an important holiday” line of thinking. Hanukkah has more significance in the United States partially because of Reform Judaism, where Hanukkah was emphasized deliberately. partially to keep children engaged, partially to assimilate, and for other reasons. Which doesn’t mean anyone needs to celebrate it if they don’t want to for whatever reasons. But for Jewish Americans who do celebrate Hanukkah there is a depth of tradition there beyond it simply having temporal proximity to Christmas.
Yup, this. I initially fell in love with Chanukah because of its associations with Israel, long after I was past the childhood stage beyond which many American Jews stop considering it a big deal. I loved it for its nationalist storyline, its jubilant assertiveness, and its in-your-face “We will be ourselves, whatever you try to do to us” message. I get that not everyone appreciates those things, and I don’t want to make anyone feel that *they* have to make a big deal out of Chanukah just because *I* love it; but it’s my favorite Jewish holiday for reasons having zero to do with Christmas-equivalency, and I’m glad to see that I’m not the only one.
There are other people who would be offended at *not* being invited to an event related to Christmas just because they’re Jewish, so I think sometimes it’s hard to win.
That being said, if you said no, that you don’t want to participate, people should heave you alone and not try to force it on you! That’s weird.
I think the key there is “invite once, accept disinterest, do not invite again”, from an attempted inclusion standpoint. Or kick off (if you know they’re Jewish) with “Hey I know you’re Jewish but I did want to extend an invitation to you if you were interested.” and then accepting it if they say no thanks.
The problem LW is running in to is less “someone trying to cover their bases” it seems like and more “someone determined to convince them to participate even though they said they didn’t want to”
Jedi Hugs for everyone who wants them! I am a catholic who worked at a Jewish organization for a few years and now in my new workplace have been appalled by the level of “but Christmas trees are secular!” I am nodding along with all of you vigorously.
It’s interesting that this came up. Last night I was watching the latest episode of The Goldbergs and it was their Hanukkah episode. The mom on the show was trying to make it a big deal (part of the plot) but her daughter kept saying things like “we barely celebrate this every year” and “seriously, we call this the sock holiday” kind of comments. The show ended with the lighting of the candles and the family just sitting around the table with friends, laughing and having a sweet moment. (Again…part of the plot)
After the show was over I said to my husband that I didn’t ever remember seeing another sit-com family celebrate Hanukkah regularly and without the “its the Jewish Christmas” idea. In fact the first year they did their Hanukkah episode it was about how the mom was jealous of her neighbors holiday decorations so she tries…and fails…to make Hanukkah like Christmas. They don’t have a tree. They don’t do the lights or decorations. Growing up (and still today) just about every show did a holiday themed episode and it was always Christmas. Occasionally there’d be a Jewish friend who would share his holiday traditions, but yeah, it was always an afterthought.
I’m sorry LW. People suck a little bit more this time of year. We tend to wear blinders that leave us ignorant to everything except our own celebrations. It’s not okay. Get your t-shirt! Wear it with pride! 🙂
Jedi hugs, LW. I grew up Jewish in a state with a tiny Jewish population and a lot of Evangelical Christians. Christmas was-interesting. And very frustrating.
I now define myself as a Jewitch, which makes it even MORE interesting. Working from home helps. And most of my friends are clued-in enough to not drown me in Christmas stuff. I’m still tempted to wear an “Axial Tilt: The Reason for the Season” tee shirt from December 1 on, though. I refrain because I know it won’t really fix anything and will incite the annoying “there’s a war on Christmas!1!1!” types.
I’m Jewish now, but converted as an adult and grew up in a Very Christian Home, so my experience with the “no thank you, I’m Jewish” is very different. I can definitely attest to it being a pain in the ass from time to time, though, and while I don’t necessarily have any advice for you (Cap’s was very good) I can at least say that you’re not alone. I understand this feeling so well that a good friend messaged me to ask if I’d sent this question in.
Personal experience with pushy Christians in the Midwest makes me say that the “prolonged awkward silence” option is the one that’ll make them the most uncomfortable in the least amount of time, and I have definitely used it, so maybe it’ll work for you?
Anyway good luck, especially with Chanukah ending soon and Christmas still looming.
A few tools in my de-Christmasization toolbox that I haven’t seen mentioned yet. (I’m a non-Jewish ex-Christian, so take this with as many grains of salt as needed.)
1. One thing I’ve found useful for analogous problems in some contexts (but not all, so use your judgement for your workplace) is to use tone and delivery as though you’re quietly confiding in someone and asking their advice (lean forward, very serious facial expression, speak a bit more quietly as though you’re having a confidential conversation) and say “You know, you’re the 11th person to try to convince me to do Christmas stuff, and to continue to try to convince me even though I’m Jewish…so what do I have to do around here to get people to leave me alone?” They’ll probably counter with something to the effect of “They’re just being nice!”, to which you respond something like “So how do I get them to realize that it’s not a kindness to me?”
2. If your workplace has overtime or on-call, and there’s discussion about who needs to do overtime, you could mention that you’re available to work Christmas. Even if the overtime discussion isn’t for Christmas. “I can’t do it tonight because of Hanukkah, but if you should need someone to work on the 25th please do call me first – I have no plans or obligations whatsoever that day.” Sometimes what it takes for people to believe you don’t actually celebrate Christmas is for you to work that day.
3. Sometimes (but, again, not always, so use your judgement), an effective counter to “Christmas is secular!” is to name other things that are secular but undesirable or irrelevant. “Our Christmas party is secular!” “So are orgies, but they’re not my thing.” “Christmas trees are secular!” “So’s that painting of dogs playing poker, but I don’t want to decorate my space with it.” (And if they say Christmas is really pagan, I enjoy looking baffled and saying “I’m not pagan either.”)
+1 on the vociferously volunteering for Christmas coverage or to be the token person in the office / on-call on other Christian-related holidays like Black Friday, Christmas Eve, the week after Christmas, etc
I’ve always made it a point to do this. Your primarily relationship with these folks is work, so it is a very effective form of communication to say, “Yes, I will BE AT WORK on your holiday” to help them realize it has no meaning for you. Those times/shifts can create so much conflict between the rest of your colleagues that volunteering to cover them often engenders a deep feeling of appreciation and taking-one-for-the-team that actually cuts though the holiday nonsense the following year.
This is a great strategy that I have employed myself. Whenever I have worked somewhere that’s open on Christmas, at the point that people are starting to share their time off plans, I say, “I actually don’t celebrate Christmas, so I’ll be happy to come in and cover the phones Christmas Day so you can all have a nice time with your families. If you need Christmas Eve or the day after Christmas I can do that too. But the day after Solstice and New Year’s Eve, I won’t be in.” In addition to convincing them I’m serious, it’s also a nice way to generate goodwill.
I’m staying with my non-Jewish in-laws this month, trying to navigate being loving and friendly with not getting steamrollered by their holiday. The sticking point right now is that I will not wear antlers for pictures. (Either that or do a full Patrick Bateman cosplay…) It’s so hard to convey to well-meaning people “I love you and appreciate you, but this little thing that feels like harmless fun to you is one more thing I have to put up with this time of year that feels like an attempt to smother out my identity.”
And just try telling people you don’t eat bacon! Everyone tries to convert me on the spot, which makes no sense to me. I guess we’ve made it gauche to try to openly proselytize, but nevertheless, heaven help you if you don’t want to conform.
Anyway, good luck! All I can say is that if people truly love you they’ll (eventually) understand, and the more pushy someone is about this, the more you should avoid them in general.
Ugh, the bacon thing. It’s everywhere, and people get all horrified when you say, “No, thanks.”
Bacon, and keeping kosher in general. People just LOVE to tell me how it’s an archaic practice and therefore irrelevant/inappropriate/foolish/misguided. I’ve had a lot of chef bosses who seemed to take my eating practices very personally.
Ugh. I don’t keep kosher, which makes it extra confusing for people (most of my Jewish friends don’t either), but I have friends who keep halal and some who just can’t eat meat or don’t like it, and it’s really annoying when people take food choices personally, as though you’re choosing to not eat meat AT them.
Yes, I personally became vegetarian just to make meat-eaters defensive /s/
Ugh god yes. “You don’t know what you’re missing,” in reference to bacon gets REALLY REALLY OLD. And also the obnoxious way people use my dietary choices as ammunition for telling me how awful all religion is. I.e., assuming I think I’ll anger God or something if I eat bacon and that I’m restricted by my archaic choices. NO. There are many reasons why I don’t eat pig but being afraid of lightning strikes from God is not one of them.
Also, bacon? It tastes good, just like most meats taste good, because protein + fat = tastes good. But it’s not like, EARTH SHATTERINGLY GOOD. If all the bacon in the world suddenly disappeared, I’d have to rejiggle some of my recipes, but I could live without eating bacon again. People who don’t eat bacon aren’t wandering in a barren wasteland where everything tastes like sand.
Maybe just tell them this:
It’s so hard to convey to well-meaning people “I love you and appreciate you, but this little thing that feels like harmless fun to you is one more thing I have to put up with this time of year that feels like an attempt to smother out my identity.”</ita.?
it's pretty good, actually!
My husband’s best friends have a running gag of, “If you stop keeping kosher, your first food needs to be lobster/baby back ribs/etc.” He laughs about it and brushes it off. However, he got REALLY pissed off when we had our rehearsal dinner at Best Pizza Restaurant in Chicago and offered many types of cheese and vegetarian pizzas . . . and his best friend repeatedly asked him if he could order a pepperoni pizza. The best friend continued to ask, even after my husband told him “no” repeatedly. He finally let the friend have it. We were paying to have a rehearsal dinner with a wide variety of wonderful food, and the friend was annoyed that he couldn’t have one specific topping that one night. He was basically implying that our hospitality wasn’t good enough for him. They are still best friends, and the friend loves to cook and accommodates our dietary needs when he invites us over.
Ugh, yes, this, the tyranny of the treif / meat eaters. I was brought up shomer kashrut and now am vegetarian, so I’ve never not gotten this. Some of my former coworkers would go on long rants about how *one* of the myriad food trucks near our office served only vegan tacos. Meanwhile they continued to try to take me to the truck that only serves chicken and rice.
This time of year the “you’d love bacon if you could have it!” squad is out in *force*.
Thank you for writing this! My sticking point is also pictures — my in-laws wanted a photo of my husband and I decorating the Christmas tree, even though I have no interest in decorating the tree, and the tree was already decorated. Then I apparently had a faux pas because I gave them presents wrapped with “Happy Birthday” wrapping paper rather than going out to buy Christmas themed wrapping paper. Sigh.
The first time I encountered a Christmas tree, in my twenties, I discovered I’m allergic to live pine! I get little welts on my hands where I’ve touched the needles, so I have a convenient excuse for not being able to help.
Oh my god. Oh my god. Thank you so much for this post and for your sensitive advice. I haven’t read the comments because I need so desperately to say that I went through the same thing. I lived the midwest for a little over a year and Jewish people were SO CONFUSING to the people I’d interact with on a daily basis. The day I started my position at my new job, I was told I probably wouldn’t get Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur off — the high holidays, basically a Christmas/Easter level of importance of Judaism — and that I should be fine with that because the boss was okay with working on Holy Saturday. It was awful to begin my move there with that battle, and it didn’t get much better. On Passover I couldn’t find matzah at the grocery store and when I asked for it the clerk looked at me like I was an alien. Everyone “had a Jewish friend,” — oh my god if I hear that one more time. But. I get it.
Here’s what helped me bear that shit. I joined the one synagogue within a hundred miles (seriously, a hundred miles). I’m actually…not really a regular synagogue-going person and I don’t belong to one now and didn’t before. I think it’s because I don’t *need* it where I live — a major Northeast city with plenty of diversity — but my goodness was that synagogue in the midwest a true sanctuary for me. I’d show up on Friday nights and suddenly every Jewish person in that hundred mile square radius would emerge from the woodwork. I met local artists, symphony board members, farmers who drove 70 miles to attend services, bringing bags of fresh produce that they gave away. My first night there, an elderly gentleman gave me a cucumber and welcomed me to the community. It was such a relief, and just knowing there was a community to which I belonged made unpleasant interactions more bearable to me. If you don’t already, it may be helpful to find Jewish peeps in your area, even if they aren’t at a synagogue — just for meeting up or baking Latkes or making challah or something, to give you some grounding this time of year.
Beyond that, “I appreciate the thought, but I’m Jewish,” has usually worked for me. When it hasn’t (“but Jesus was Jewish,” “but sooooome Jewish people,” “but [insert annoying argument here]”) — here are some replies:
“Thank you again, but I’m not comfortable.”
“If you have questions about my traditions, I’m happy to answer them, but please respect my kindly-meant ‘no’ on this.”
“I’d rather not argue with you. Thank you again for your kind offer but I really can’t.”
“I actually don’t feel left out at all [why do people feel SORRY for us??? like there is a deep unfulfilled hole that can only be filled by Christmas]. I am really proud of my heritage and traditions.”
“I’m busy that night with my own traditions.”
[in response to “ruining” the holiday party if you don’t go] “That’s actually very unfair of you to put pressure on me to engage in activities that make me uncomfortable. It’s not personal, and I hope you’ll respect my feelings on this, as my friend.”
Sending solidarity to you from the East Coast!!! You’re not alone.
I’m staying with my non-Jewish in-laws this month, trying to navigate being loving and friendly with not getting steamrollered by their holiday. The sticking point right now is that I will not wear antlers for pictures. (Either that or do a full Patrick Bateman cosplay…) It’s so hard to convey to well-meaning people “I love you and appreciate you, but this little thing that feels like harmless fun to you is one more thing I have to put up with this time of year that feels like an attempt to smother out my identity.”
And just try telling people you don’t eat bacon! Everyone tries to convert me on the spot, which makes no sense to me. I guess we’ve made it gauche to try to openly proselytize, but nevertheless, heaven help you if you don’t want to conform.
Anyway, good luck! All I can say is that if people truly love you they’ll (eventually) understand, and the more pushy someone is about this, the more you should avoid them in general.
“I love you and appreciate you, but this little thing that feels like harmless fun to you is one more thing I have to put up with this time of year that feels like an attempt to smother out my identity.”
I think that is actually a reasonable thing to say…especially when you’ve been pushed and pushed on an issue.
I’m not Jewish. I don’t have dietary restrictions due to my beliefs. But want to chime in about bacon. Can the Bacon thing be over??? I am so tired of people claiming bacon is some kind of magnificent food. It’s not. I just went to a restaurant where literally every item on the menu had bacon in it and according to the waitress, it was just a happy accident not the theme of the place. She then acted like I was altering a long treasured family recipe when I asked for the bacon to be left off my burger.
“I love you and appreciate you, but this little thing that feels like harmless fun to you is one more thing I have to put up with this time of year that feels like an attempt to smother out my identity.”
I am tempted to write this on a placard and hang it around my neck for the next week and a half.
It’s telling that the social workplace hype and pressure doesn’t happen at Easter, which is the most important religious, sacred Christian time of year by far.
It’s a tough time to navigate this stuff, just beginning a new job. Good luck!
I grew up in the Midwest as a Hindu. My parents celebrated Christmas, but most out of fear. (see we have a Christmas tree please don’t hit us or damage our property).
Now, as an adult, I never ever want anything to do with Christianity. So when coworkers ask or get pushy my scripts are.
“no thank you”
“I’m not Christian nor am I interested in celebrating other pagan holidays” this is for Christmas tree decorating
“wow do you have a problem with Hindus”
“you’re ruining your own time by trying to force me to celebrate your religion”
Honestly though I usually just repeat “No thank you” (my highest record is 10 times) I very rarely say anything else.
“No, thank you,” is such a good tactic! It’s polite but doesn’t give anyone an entry to negotiation or interrogation. I love it!
“My parents celebrated Christmas, but most out of fear. (see we have a Christmas tree please don’t hit us or damage our property).”
Yes. Grew up with a secular family in Trump country. This resonates HARD, and I’m sorry that was part of what your family had to do. You’ve come up with some really gracious but firm responses, and I really admire that. Thanks for sharing!
I am a pagan and have been for over half my life and this sort of thing makes me So Cranky. An occasional person will go, “Ohhh, so you celebrate the Winter Solstice?” and yeah, I celebrate it but it’s not even a Major Sabbat, it is strictly a minor holiday. Come talk to me at Samhain or something.
Anyway, on to how I cope. I bring in New Year’s cards for everyone and small pieces of fruit or muffins or something. I’m in higher ed so the day we came back from winter break tends to be a little glum, it’s nice to brighten things up. Plus, it pays back anything that people have done for me “in the spirit of the holidays.”
When people talk to me about Christmas I act like I’m sort of a clueless yet single-minded anthropologist. “Oh, so you’ll have your whole family over? Huh, neat! I’ll be at a matinee. Oh, you made gingerbread houses? I don’t celebrate Christmas, so I’m at a matinee. Oh, yeah, great tradition, sounds fun! I’ll be at a matinee. Wow, you have to go to four different houses in one day? Good luck! I think the matinee will be really fun. Oh, that’s ok, I’m really looking forward to that matinee, but you can tell me all about it when we get back!” Broken record.
If anyone pushes me (“why would you do that, don’t you have family in the area, it’s not a religious holiday, you can come to my house”) I start to get really detailed. “Yeah, we’re thinking of seeing The Shape of Water this year! It’s been getting really good reviews! There are only a few theaters open on Christmas Day, but they don’t release the movie times until a few days before… yeah, we’re going to get sushi afterward! There is this one restaurant where we really like the sushi…” Then people either get really bored and change the subject, or they start to look kind of wistful. A few say things like, “So you don’t have to do ANY shopping?” or “Actually, that sounds kind of nice” and then I feel as though I’m contributing to a small rebellion. 😉
Finally, here is Erin McKeown telling it like it is:
“You wish us a Happy Holidays, but you really mean a Merry Christmas, you wish us a Happy Holidays but we know it’s not true!”
I loved this. Thank you.
Seeing her perform live on the tour of that album is one of the best things I have ever done in December.
I was brought up mixed but very, *very* secular (probably had more Jewish culture things than Christian ones, but not many of either and no education in the religious aspects of either)… and now I’m a Wiccan. I’m finding the Christmas stuff more and more annoying as I get older and more Wiccan, in the “It’s just *everywhere*!” sense, especially when I’m trying to figure out fitting Yule into a time of year when everybody’s taking vacations and so time off is extremely tight. My willingness to be charitable to people enforcing Christmas on everyone has gone way down after the number of people who’ve tried to use it to talk me out of being Wiccan– they seem to go up this season, as do the number of people who want to obliquely imply that I’m opening portals to hell. I have no good solutions here, since I’ve never figured out how to make people stop doing this, but it is quite frustrating!
I used to love my Muslim co-workers Ramadan buffets full of delicious curries. He always shrugged off reciprocating Christmas cards, gifts and messages because its not like anyone gave him reciprocal samosas at Ramadan. He was well established and this was a pointed and laborious, if cheery effort to say ‘why look there are other cultures too!’ But the point he made is worth considering. If you did hand out gestures from your tradition, do you think they’d agonize as much about reciprocity?
My Ex and I are agnostic/atheist. When we moved into our new house in the Bibliest of the MidWest at the beginning of November we met our fundamentalist Christian next-door neighbors. They were non-plussed but ok with our lack of interest in their religion. After Thanksgiving, all our new neighbors in their new houses were putting up Christmas lights and asked when we and our FC next-doors were going to put ours up. There was apparently some kind of contest for which neighborhood decorated the best.
My FC neighbor asked if we were putting up lights. We said nope. We don’t do holidays She breathed a big sigh of relief. It’s against their beliefs to decorate or make a big deal over Christmas (besides it’s too commercial!). Our two homes, the most and the least on the scale of religiousity, stood out unlit against all the rest of the crawling lights and icicles and blow up dolls til they moved out, and we got Hindu neighbors. Who also don’t decorate.
You can stand up for yourself, but it helps if there are other people who are not Christmas celebrators as well who would be happy to join forces. Just because there are few Jews in the Midwest, doesn’t mean there aren’t people who don’t do Christmas around who would stand with you, if only on this one thing.
Our neighborhood has never won the decorating contest, and I don’t know if they hold it anymore.
Jewish here in a similar situation– though I’m not new at work- I’ve just been Jewish, observant in my own way in a place where there aren’t many other Jews, and I’ve been here for many many years.
I’m going to recommend NOT bringing up the Jewish excuse. In my experience that only leads to people jumping in to interpret your religion and your religious observance for you in ways that range from the well-meaning to the stupid. People will tell you what you are and aren’t allowed to do, what the true meaning of Chanukah is (it’s the Jewish Christmas!), or go all out to convert you. I’d especially avoid the “Jesus was Jewish” statement. They’ve heard it before and have an answer for it. Trust me on that one.
Much better is to say that you don’t celebrate Christmas. A follow-up explanation can be that you never did as a child (mysterious- maybe you come from a strange Christian cult that doesn’t celebrate) or that you don’t prefer to. Stick to those 2 explanations: You don’t celebrate Christmas because you never did as a child and because you prefer not to. If someone figures out that you’re Jewish, don’t deny it, just nod assent. If they ask questions about Jewish belief and practice, refer them to a book that can answer their questions.
Now on to the particulars. If someone does you a small kindness, one that’s appropriate that you like, like hot chocolate if you like hot chocolate now and then, say thank-you, and return the kindness some time in the next year in an equally appropriate way. You could wait until summer, then bring in garden fresh zucchini when you have extra, for example. If someone brings you an actual store-boughten gift, and if you don’t want to get into a gift-exchanging sort of relationship (ridiculous for work), say thank-you, write an old fashioned thank you note, and don’t reciprocate. You will be left out of gift exchanges forever after, and that’s a good thing. If a superior gives you a gift, consider it a bonus, write a thank-you note, and report it on your taxes. If the whole office is asking for you to chip in for a gift for the boss, that’s tricky. I suggest knuckling under and making the contribution.
If someone says “merry Christmas,” say thank-you. It’s just the December version of “good day” and doesn’t merit an argument. You can also say “you too.” Think of it in the same category as how “how are you” just means “nice to see you” and isn’t a literal question.
If you’re invited to a party and you don’t want to go, say no thank you and refer back to the fact that you don’t celebrate Christmas. If you’re invited to a party and you do want to go, attend and treat it like a party at any other time of year. Participate in the parts that are fun for you. For me that’s eating and mingling. I sit in the back during tree trimming and smile. I listen to the singing of Christmas carols– or I duck out of the room for that. I loathe Christmas carols. For future, I note the Christmas carols and avoid that party in the future (because I loathe Christmas carols that much). If there’s a secret santa or yankee swap type gift exchange (gack), tell the hostess that you’re not participating, then grin broadly as everyone else opens their gifts.
After the disaster (oh, um, holiday) is over, people will ask you about yours. Say that it was very nice and that you had a chance to see your sister from out of town which is always nice. Just come up with some bland, pleasant, basically true thing. If asked if Santa was good to you, say that you were very pleased. If absolutely pressed, name a recent purchase: I’m delighted with my new snow shoes.
Thanks for these suggestions. I am learning, identify with, North American Indigenous practices. I plan to use some of your ideas. Enjoy the Winter Season!
What tribe in particular?
Me too! Do you find it hard to escape the pervasiveness of Christian traditions in your community? I find I really struggle sometimes with having compassion for people who adopted Christianity (for all the colonial reasons), and get so aggressive about it. They aren’t big in numbers, but their enthusiasm is a little overwhelming.
These are great tips – for those who are Jewish and those who aren’t. I handle the month of December in my office pretty much like you’ve listed. I skip out on the gift exchanges but offer my thanks for the treats left on my desk by bringing in a treat (usually muffins or donuts) sometime in late January or February (when life in the office seems gray and endless!!). I do celebrate Christmas but don’t do anything with extended family so I’ve learned that bland comments work best when asked about how I enjoyed the day or else I get the “But Faaaaaammmmily” comments. I mention the movie we saw (a tradition we started when our kids were young), say something about how the weather was cold, or say something about how I was happy to sleep in.
A note about the gift giving aspect: there are people out there who love to give gifts to everyone and expect no reciprocation. If, after the first year of not reciprocating, you notice that the same person has given you another gift it’s possible that this is one of those people. I work in an office with a few of these creatures. They really are happy just for the thank you note and the idea that you enjoy the gift.
Fellow Midwestern Jew here! I’m fortunate to live right outside of Chicago, where there’s at least a thriving Jewish population and it’s a lot less weird to see Manischewitz and Mogen David in displays here, and we also have a growing Muslim/Sikh/Hindu population out my way, so there are parts of the Midwest that have gotten the memo that not all of the peoples of the earth are interested in Christmas, I promise! I have run into a fair share of clueless people, and my coping mechanisms have been one of two ways… either I make a ganze megillah out of my religion… dreidels and menorahs during December, matzah in the spring, Stars of David everywhere, or I reveal nothing, and respond to all invitations I don’t have the spoons for with a simple “Sorry, can’t.” No additional details, even when pressed.
I’m feeling this question personally right now, since I’m getting married to someone who was raised Catholic, and his mother is still extremely Catholic, and just. doesn’t. understand. why the microwedding (which my parents PAID FOR) isn’t being blessed by the Catholic Church. Ummm… perhaps because I CAN’T due to the Church’s own rules, and because I DON’T WANT TO BECAUSE I’M JEWISH, and HE DOESN’T WANT TO BECAUSE HE’S NOT CATHOLIC ANYMORE. It’s not a relentless barrage, but every time we talk to her, I’m just dreading the soft sigh, and the “I wish you’d get married in the Church.”
ARGH. Sorry for the derail. It’s rough, but at least you’re not alone.
Oh, the part I forgot to mention in that long post– If you can step up to take extra shifts, do so. “I don’t celebrate Christmas so if you’d like me to work Christmas eve, I’m glad to. Give someone who does celebrate a little more time with their family.” If someone takes you up on the offer and thanks you, this is the time to give a vague reference to being Jewish: “There are holidays I like to celebrate so I may ask you to return the favor come spring or fall” (Passover, Yom Kippur).
Tangentially related note from another Midwestern Jew (formerly from NYC) – I am so so so exhausted of being asked questions around this time of the year about my faith (or lack of it), my customs, if I “can” or “can’t” do certain things. THIS IS WHAT GOOGLE EXISTS FOR. It’s so incredibly draining, frustrating and demeaning that these questions are put on me to answer, on top of having to already swim against the tide and all the Christmas hubbub. It feels like there is no way to really excuse myself from all the Christmas things – either I go and get more and more grumpy, or I duck out and then have to answer dozens of questions about what I do. Urg.
Oh I feel you on that. (I’m a Buddhist/Druid.) It’s so much emotional labor! I’ve taken to joking that “thank goodness we all have supercomputers in our pockets to learn all the details!” and then nope-ing right out of the conversation. They can look it up if they really want to know. Nice people get the hint and stop the interrogation.
Try recommending a book. This will take a bit of research as you go to the library and find one that answers most questions about Jewish history and modern Jewish practice, but it’s worth it. Bonus: It doesn’t matter if you find the perfect book as no one is going to read it. That’s what makes recommending a book better than recommending google.
People who grill you about your beliefs and customs might be coming from one of these places:
-They’re being friendly by showing a genuine interest in you.
-They don’t know, are curious, and don’t know how annoying it is to be on the receiving end of these questions.
-It’s a particularly insidious conversion plan. They keep asking questions about your belief. You try to answer, but they don’t understand. By making you delve deeper into trying to explain, they hope you’ll reach the point where you’ll realize a contradiction, see how wrong you are, and magically decide their religion is the right one after all.
Luckily, the answer to all these is to recommend a book. If someone’s genuinely curious, here’s the title of a book that will satisfy their curiosity. If they’re politely interested in you and want to get to know you better, the book is a gentle way to redirect the conversation without insult. It lets them know that it’s not something you want to talk about but you think their questions are okay. It’s just saying here’s a way to get the answers. If you’ve got a stealth converter, well you’re just the party pooper, aren’t you, refusing to play their game.
If you want a book recommendation for that purpose, I can tell you that, as a teenager desperately searching for more information on Judaism, I found Blu Greenberg’s ‘How To Run A Traditional Jewish Household’ fantastic – very readable, incredibly informative, wove together her own experiences with the reasons behind each practice and each festival. Don’t know whether other people have better ideas, but certainly seems to me it should fulfil the ‘I just want a title suggestion to give to people to get them to go away’ criterion as well as actually being a good book just in case anyone does take your advice and decide to get it.
If all else fails, you can get some free VistaPrint business cards with “jewfaq.org can answer that for you” and leave a stack on your desk, to be handed out as necessary.
(This may or may not work in your local office culture.)
It is so strange. It’s like the internet doesn’t work if they type in “Jewish Holidays” or something. I am not beneath suggesting Wikipedia. Or Google. Or a library. It is exhausting, I agree.
Non practicing Jew here who is sick of Christmas at work. I have complained about Christmas carols being played at our offices (no music the rest of year), but I really lost my shit once when my boss talked about the “war on Christmas.” I said “poor you, you holiday only dominates the airwaves one quarter of the year!”. Our relationship was icy after that.
I feel for you sooo hard. I recently told a couple people that I don’t like Christmas and they want on a long tirade about how that’s offensive to them and how they are “Catholic, like Ca-tho-lic. That’s like me saying that I don’t like Judaism or Hanukkah.” …No, no it’s not. Just because I don’t want to celebrate a holiday or have it shoved down my throat every year doesn’t mean other people can’t celebrate it. I’m not stopping them from celebrating Christmas (or “doing Christmas” as I usually hear people refer to it, because apparently it’s a verb), but the fact I don’t like the highly commercialized holiday is “offensive. You need to be careful who you say that to because that’s offensive.”
It’s amazing how if you don’t celebrate Christmas you have to have a reason or else people interrogate you. When I say I’m Jewish then suddenly it’s okay (except for the above case apparently).
I digress. On another note, Happy 8th Day of Hannukah. May your night be filled with latkas and gelt.
I’m Jewish, and I hate plenty of our holidays, including ones that actually matter. It’s almost like people have varying tastes and interests and wants, but are more likely to have a reasonable opinion about something they have more exposure to.
Honest question here. As a non-religious person who celebrates Christmas, should I invite a Jewish friend to a non-religious Christmas celebration? Is it okay to extend the invitation as long as you are gracious in accepting their “no” the first time?
Me: Hey friend, I’m throwing a Christmas party–drinks and dinner at my house on Saturday. I know you don’t celebrate Christmas, but you’re welcome to come!
Jewish Friend: Thank you for inviting me but I’m Jewish and it’s really important to me to focus on my own holidays at this time of year.
Me: Okay, cool!
This is confusing to me because most of the Jewish people I know are (a) not religious Jews and (b) have been fine with partaking in fun, secular Christmas traditions. Some of them put up trees, listen to Christmas music, etc.
But I also know some Jewish people who really do not do anything related to Christmas and stick solely to their own traditions.
I wouldn’t want to NOT include a friend who might be disappointed if they didn’t get an invitation, but I also don’t want to make them feel like their identities and traditions are invisible.
This all seems fine.
It’s fine to ask. It is not fine to not take “No, thanks” for an answer or try to negotiate (I.e., bully) someone into changing their answer. You’re asking a straightforward question and OK with a no, so ask with a clear conscience. I would remember their answer for next year, though.
Should you really assume that the no is a global no if not stated? I’ve turned down a number of holiday invitations of all sorts, but I have never meant to refuse future invitations in the process.
I’m not who you’re replying to but “remember their answer” includes the why of their answer. If they said “no thanks, I have plans” that’s obviously very different than “no thanks, I actually don’t do___ because I’m Jewish”.
If you’re good friends and you find that they’re “too busy” for white elephant year after year, my opinion is that it’s okay to ask once if they’d rather you stopped asking, but generally I try to take people at their word.
(source: am Jewish, don’t celebrate Christmas)
I imagine what’s said with the no would matter. “No; I’m Jewish” is one people should remember for next year; “No; I have to iron my cat” might well be an actual conflict of plans.
“I have to iron my cat”
This is my favorite reason-not-reason now. Thank you.
It’s fine to ask as long as:
1) you’re respectful about a no for religious reasons and don’t press
2) you’d be willing to attend a similar event with the title of their holiday if they invited you.
I go for an enthusiastic discussion of what my movie options are and where I’m going to get my traditional Chinese food.
Or if bowling is open.
Bonus points for a “But… that’s my family’s TRADITION” with sad eyes/confused face if they ask for/insist on your presence elsewhere. Throwing in something like ‘and it makes me feel like I’m with them and reminds me of being a kid again, even though I’m away from home/can’t go back this year’ can usually, in my experience, shut people up.
Dec. 25 was known as National Jewish Ski Day among my Colorado-based family and Jewish friends!
Pagan here. It took me years to disassociate Christmas from Jesus. Once I was able to do that, along with getting educated about the pagan nature of Christmas trees et. al., that holiday became much easier for me to celebrate.
Hey, this probably wasn’t your intention but this comment comes off a bit as trying to convince the LW to just try harder to enjoy Christmas, when what they asked for is specifically how to make it clear to people that they *don’t want* to celebrate Christmas. As someone in a similar situation to LW, it can be kind of frustrating when we say “I don’t celebrate Christmas” and the replies are “actually it’s not about Jesus”.
I apologize for being offensive.
I know I have a friend who was getting some essential work done on their fence by this contractor guy and he kept like, talking about his Catholic Passover seder and it was really weird, because people do that? And inviting them? Constant doubling down on this shit. My friend is Jewish and Was Not Having It but couldn’t make him leave because they needed to contain their goats. People can be weirdly pushy if they’re of the mind that you are judging their religious traditions or something like that. When I reblog holiday stuff on tumblr I make sure to stick any remotely xmas stuff in its own tag so people avoiding the holiday for any reason can just block it out. Plus there’s lots of great Chanukah stuff and general winter stuff to put up.
I hope you get through this year okay and are able to fend off the Christmas Crusaders. c:
I have noticed a weird revival or uptick in the last ten-fifteen years in Christian interest in Passover and “the Last Supper was a seder, you know” stuff. It’s very uncomfortable. But it’s not something I remember hearing about growing up–though it may have only been something I learned about from my college Jewish friends who watched televangelists as a hobby.
(Not all of my college Jewish friends engaged in this practice, but a couple of them did and I learned much from their observations.)
It wasn’t uncommon in the town where I grew up, but I grew up in a really unusual town. (Didn’t realize that until much later in life.) It’s somewhere between large town/small city, but was founded by Quakers and thus has a large Jewish population for a Southern town. There’s a big synagogue right downtown that has close relationships with nearby churches; when I was a kid we once had a huge interfaith Seder in our church’s parish hall.
These days, I tend to feel like it’s fine to attend a Seder if invited, but weird and appropriative for Christians to decide to hold one “because Jesus was Jewish.” It’s not my observance, not my meal, not my holiday and not my story. Commemorating escape from oppression my people didn’t experience feels intrusive.
“interfaith Seder” sounds like a perfect example of something that, done right, becomes cross-cultural support and fellowship; but when done poorly, becomes appropriation and anti-Semitism.
Oh yeah. “Christian Seders” are one of my Berserk Buttons. I have a whole argument prepared in my head about how they are cultural appropriation and ignore the long, violent history of how Passover was a time of increased anti-Semitic attacks in Europe.
Yep. I’ve had Christian friends ask me for Passover recipes, then proudly tell me about their Seder and how they made a ham and talked about how each of the four cups of wine is about an aspect of Jesus and how it was the Last Supper. And…I just…with the history of Passover and the church and anti-Semitism and it’s just like…”You’ve taken so much from us, can’t you let us keep one of our most important holidays without trying to usurp it/twist it into yours?”
(I love love hosting Seders – which are usually attended by way more gentiles than Jews – I’ve even been the only Jew at my Seder. I love sharing religious holidays with people as a cultural information exchange, but taking one set of traditions and turning it into being about yours, especially with the history between Judaism and Christianity? Please no. I have a really hard time handling/trusting the fact that after ~1900 years of trying to kill us they are suddenly fetishizing us instead)
They are so super creepy. Hi, us Jews? We still exist. Stop getting all gross and trying to add your Jesus friend to our Pesach. (He isn’t hungry, he doesn’t need to come and eat, and this is NOT how we share our Passover. Stooooooppppp iiiiiiiiit.)
Turns out this is probably a beserker button for me too. Good to know.
I’m a Buddhist/Druid in a somewhat conservative part of the East Coast, surrounded at work with mostly Christian or secular-Christmas celebrators, and this year I took some advice I first read on Ask A Manager and basically deputized my gossipiest coworker to tell people that I wasn’t going to the (very Christmassy, including saying of an explicitly Christian grace before the meal) Christmas party because I had already made plans. And it worked! I basically didn’t have to talk to anyone else about my decision to skip it this year.
And ugh people can get so CONCERNED when you tell them you don’t celebrate Christmas. It’s like, I’m not sad! I have other holidays! I enjoy the lights and the trees and the music because they’re pretty! I like the food, and the fact that we’re not in the bullcrappiest part of the year for this fat liberationist, the “new year, new you forcing yourself yet again to conform to societal standards of self-flaggelation in response to all that food you ate during the holidays how dare you,” time of January. If I seem stressed out it’s because I’ve had to grit my teeth through too many people going “awwwwww,” or worse, expressing shock, over my admission that I don’t celebrate their holidays, not to mention the endless pressure to spend money I don’t have for contributions to multiple secret santas and party contributions. I just want Christmas-celebrators to BACK OFF. I feel your annoyance, letter writer.
Being forcefully indoctrinated into Christianity/Catholicism (depends on which side of my family we’re talking about) I feel parts of this letter hard. All I have to say LW, I hope you find people who are awesome and understanding and make that effort to wish you happy holidays for all the holidays you celebrate (and I wish that for all the commenters who aren’t in dominant religions as well).
You are all superheroes for dealing with people like my family. -hugs to any/all who want them-
I am a Jewish atheist, which was, like, the worst of all worlds when I was attending high school in a large public school where there were nonetheless only four or five other Jewish kids and a large and vocal majority of devout Christians. Christmas and my non-interest therein weren’t a big deal, oddly enough, but I spent four. years. fending off “friendly” invites to youth group meetings, sermons, worship retreats, etc. I can’t exactly offer good advice, because the harder and more directly I said “fuck off” (which it sounds like you don’t want to explicitly say anyway), the harder and more directly they offered to pray for my wayward soul (and, therefore, issue subsequent invites).
I have a more complicated relationship to Christmas as an adult. I have participated, but most of those times were with my ex’s family, and that, uh, did not do anything to soften my Grinchy heart toward the holiday (quite the opposite, really). My most recent experience was with my dad (Jewish) and stepmom (former Catholic). My dad rolled with it to humor his wife, and I rolled with it because he and my stepmom were/are stuck in a town that’s a bad fit for them that’s at least 500 miles from their nearest family members (and the ones that are closest are the most problematic) and really wanted to have as many family members as possible up there (the grand total wound up being four visitors), plus I knew my dad would want to have someone around who wasn’t expecting him to be All Christmas Joy, All the Time.
But it’s still not my favorite holiday overall, so while I still can’t offer you advice on how to gracefully turn down invites to do Christmas stuff, I can offer you all kinds of solidarity for being in the, shall we say, interesting position of feeling the minority-ness of our religion and culture super-hard at this time of year.
Hello, fellow Jewish Atheist! High school was definitely…rough. I actually got more shit for the Atheist part than the Jewish part—my Judaism was just “exotic.” I ended up getting a reputation for hating Christianity, since I stopped hanging out with the people who continued to try to drag me to church with them, and infamously questioned a teacher who let a girl do a Bible-based history project for class (in a public school.) Fuuuuun times. Sorry you’ve also been there.
Oh my Captain and Awkward readers, thank you for this letter, response and thread! This is the first year I’ve decided to celebrate Yule (I’m Buddhist and pagan/Druid) rather than paying lip service to Christmas because it annoyed me so much last year so I really appreciate reading how people who aren’t Christian are navigating this season. Thanks, everyone!
I do not celebrate religious or secular X-Mas. I sympathize with the LW greatly, in that work situations have always been the most fraught for me. I’d politely excuse myself where possible and firmly explain myself where necessary, but there is no doubt that I missed some important social networking opportunities as a result.
Now my child is school-aged for the first time, and the amount of indoctrination she gets every day is making me anxious enough that I am getting physically sick over it.
In prior years we used Solstice as a way to anchor her perceptions of winter holiday celebrations. We explained repeatedly (to a very tiny kid!) that some people have adopted traditions from Solstice and other holidays for Christmas to merge them with their own beliefs and that it has become quite popular in the world as a result.
I hoped that would help inoculate her against seeing other kids celebrating Christmas, but this year she has come home from school every day singing religious holiday songs, informing me of the Christmas countdown, and talking about Santa Claus. I gently nudged the school about this [I am not in the US], and they basically said, “Oh, it’s all in good fun, and you wouldn’t want her to be excluded, would you?”
I am all ears if anyone has good tactics to share with trying to water down Christmas indoctrination for children without just screaming, “SANTA IS JUST A SERIES OF FAT MEN IN BADLY FITTNG VELVET SUITS” (not my proudest parenting moment).
Find the other kids whose families don’t celebrate it. If there are none, find the families who celebrate it religiously, not in the secular sense. You’ll have to pick your battles on this one, I’m afraid. There’s a tradition I keep hearing about at this time of year where children who are getting too old for Santa get taken to lunch with a special older family member, and the truth is broken to them that ‘Santa’ is an idea; that it’s about the spirit of giving, and that now they’re old enough to be entrusted with the responsibility of being a Santa -encouraging a kid to come up with things to do to help other people and then going and doing them can help in that vein -and there are service-type activities small children can do. (That’s also potentially something to bring up with her school, going forward -if you can volunteer to help out or get some other parents on your side for it first, you’ve got a decent chance). It also helps to have a competing tradition (this is how Hanukkah made its resurgence, incidentally) -if all her friends and classmates are doing fun activities, and getting cool presents, and playing new games, and singing pretty songs and she doesn’t get to do any of it, you’ve lost before you start.
PICTURE BOOKS. There are a ton of great picture books about all sorts of holidays from all around the world. Get your kid a stack of them (looking for ones written by and for people who observe those holidays, not outsiders) and read them a lot. Then read them again. (If your kid is like my kid this will not be difficult; every book has to be read through at least three or four times.) Talk about what a holiday is and why people do it and all the different kinds of holidays there are. Then move on to world myths. Do comparative religious studies at a grade school level, basically. It will take a little time, but encouraging an intellectual, “this is a thing other people do, let us respect it from a distance” approach to all religious celebrations will help counteract the disproportionate weight given to Christmas in your part of the world.
^I’ve always liked also discussing Winter Holidays as a concept that shows up in multiple religions – it’s a great opportunity to look at Diwali and Yule, for example. “Hey, humans realllly seem to like/need to feel kinship and light during the long dark winter days. Why do you think that is? [cue discussion of seasonal depression, the need for light, the effects of living pre-electricity and how then sunset was a Big Deal, maybe transition in slightly older kids to how wars very frequently start in the summer because heat apparently makes people VERY IRRITABLE…]” I digress but anyway Long Conversations With Kids About Holidays is how I grew up and why I knew pretty much everything covered in my college comparative religions class long before I got there. +1, Do Recommend.
*raises hand* I can recommend a bunch actually, if anyone wants. I only know one about Solstice, but I know a fair few about other holidays.
Her enthusiasm will pass if you are non-reactive and focus on your family’s traditions. Yes, kids hear about everything from their school mates, but actual studies show that their enduring habits come from their families.
My 10yo – I asked him what he ‘wanted for Christmas’ this year, because he’s my parents’ only grandchild and they like to give him a present. He said, ‘to play [current board game enthusiasm].’ So that’s what we’re going to do.
Taltos: Don’t know whether this works for you, but, for their homework project for the last couple of weeks of term, my daughter’s class had to put together presentations reporting on a tradition they had at this time of year, with specific mention of the fact that “as we’ve been learning, different people have different traditions…” (not an exact quote, they’re going from memory). I don’t know whether this suits you or whether it feels too token, but I appreciated the fact that they made the effort and that they did it in a way that left it open for the children to talk about their religious traditions if they had any and wanted to, but meant they could just as well talk about how it’s their tradition at this time of year to see family, or go ice-skating, or do something fun for the holidays, or whatever.
(My daughter made her presentation about a religion she invented a couple of months ago, called Potatoisum. I thought that calling this a tradition was really pushing things, but she wouldn’t be dissuaded and her teacher didn’t seem to mind.)
Potatoism was a religion on an episode of Dinosaurs. It didn’t end well.
O… M… um, P.
I had no idea this was there and I have GOT to show her this when she wakes up. Thank you.
Just a note to say I appreciate the heartfelt replies to this missive. A lot of them highlight things I’ve been doing incidentally but not consistently, and it’s probably time to make those into ongoing habits and studies in 2018.
Minimally observant Jew here who lived in the Midwest for awhile.
Every year Christmas seems to surprise me. It shouldn’t, because it always comes after Thanksgiving, but every year I feel like it is new problem I have to solve.
I draw a distinction between Christmas, which is a nice holiday that many people celebrate, and I wish them well, and Obligatory Christmas which is a problem that needs to stop.
The years I lived in the Midwest, I was often only the only Jewish person my coworkers had ever met, which made it weirder. Not only was I surrounded by Obligatory Christmas but “I’m Jewish” was a novelty inviting more questions, not a simple explanation. The time we admitted a Jewish patient, I ended up basically in-servicing our nursing staff. They weren’t anti-semetic, just. . .struck by the novelty of it all.
Also I basically boycott Hanukkah for Reasons including the way my family observed/didn’t observe and the fact that I’m tired of having it handed to me by Christians as a consolation Christmas. I don’t need a consolation. I need people to stop filling the perceived void in Obligatory Christmas with a minor Jewish holiday that wouldn’t get much attention if it occurred any other time of year. I do make an annual batch of Latkes.
My general approach when asked about Christmas to talk about my actual holiday plans.
“Are you going to spend Christmas with your family?”
“No I’m going to a ball on New Years that I go to every year and I’m taking the train there and [excited words here]”
Depending on how much of a future relationship I am likely to have with the person, and how safe I feel, I may first say “Well I don’t celebrate Christmas” before gushing about my actual plans.
My response to gifts and Merry Christmas depends on my relationship with the person. For those I do not anticipate a long-term relationship, I say “thanks” or “you too.” I do not typically give gifts although there was the year I left all my coworkers on nightshift secret stockings at midnight. I may or may not participate in events or accept invitations depending on the specific event and the specific inviter.
Also I created a holiday, Winter Holiday of Choice (WHOC) and sometimes I try to get it to catch on. Mine is New Years.
I really relate to this. I converted to Judaism with my mom at a really young age, so I mostly grew up Jewish in the midwest. I still celebrate Christmas with my Christian/Christian-ish family members, but I get so frustrated with Christmas being shoved in my face everywhere. I kinda feel like I don’t have the right to because I *do* celebrate it, but America is just already so Christmas-normative in so many ways and it just goes into overdrive during winter. Even when people are willing to listen it just takes so much, and it can be so tiring. I guess that’s what scripts are for, thanks Captain.
Even now I live with a bunch of atheist/agnostic people who were raised Christian and despite the fact that they’re not Christian anymore they can be tiringly Christian-normative, joking about hell and Jesus a bunch. I don’t know how to articulate discomfort with that when they’re not actually Christian.
I know Hanukah is a minor holiday, but I still lean into it in some ways against Christmas. When I feel safe to, if anyone says “Merry Christmas!” to me I respond with “Happy Hanukah!” I think it’s okay to bring up Hanukah as a defense against Christmas even if you don’t really celebrate it/celebrate it only in minor ways. If anyone tries to bring up the fact that it’s been commercialized to force you to celebrate it because “It’s totally secular now!” it can be easier to remind them that you’re still NOT obligated to celebrate secular holidays than trying to argue this them about the fact that Christmas is Christian. Like, you celebrate the 4th of July because you want to (or have other reasons to), but you don’t have to. Ask them if they would feel justified trying to force you to celebrate Columbus Day- it’s a national holiday, it’s secular, but you still don’t have to celebrate it.
There’s so much stuff in this thread that shouldn’t even really be legal, like trying to force Jewish employees to work on the High Holidays. I’ve definitely had trouble with that in the past, growing up my state once scheduled an important standardized test on Rosh Hashanah. There are some people America who really believe and/or act like “Freedom of Religion” means “Freedom to be Christian” and it’s so tiring.
There’s probably some legal precedent out there regarding people getting to celebrate their own religious holidays without fear of being fired. I’m not a lawyer and I know bringing up legal stuff or threatening to sue is a kind of nuclear option, but if you actually get fired/feel like your job is at risk over celebrating/refusing to celebrate a holiday then that is religious discrimination (in this case antisemitism). Also, does your work have any HR people you can talk to? Since it potentially could become a legal issue regarding discrimination based on religion this feels like something HR might be willing to help you handle. Depending on the circumstances that could do more harm than good, but hopefully your HR department could be able to handle some cases if you need them to. (I’m not actually knowledgable in this area.)
I’m an atheist and I’ve found it a great relief to ditch the (supposedly secular) trappings of Christmas, and it actually makes me feel LESS excluded to not celebrate at all than to be on the fringes of other people’s traditions.
I live in Australia and all of this is made a little easier by the fact that the Christmas break runs into New Year and the January school/summer holidays, and no-one blinks an eyelid if I say that I don’t celebrate Christmas and then steer the conversation toward “but I’m going to the fireworks display on New Year’s Eve, isn’t it awesome how the public transport is free on that night etc etc” or “are you going away for the holidays?” or commiserating with not being able to find a tradie for your home renovations because they’re all off surfing during January. Also, the field in which I work has a lot of people of other faiths and seems to be better than average about accommodating religious needs eg dietary restrictions, religious holidays. They are totally on board with people saying that they don’t want to participate in particular things for religious reasons, and end of year parties are often just that, with no Christmas element to them at all.
In a less tolerant environment I still find that deflecting as many things (greetings, cards, gifts) as possible from “Christmas” to “New Year” is the way to go, along with accepting a small number of invitations from people I want to spend time with anyway.
Just a minor point of etiquette, since LW brought it up: no, unexpected Xmas gifts from strangers or acquaintances with whom you are not on regular gift-exchange terms, (especially pro-forma gifts to a group) do not impose an obligation to give a gift in return.
There are people who feel pressured into an arms-race of reciprocal gifting, but that is a comedy trope, not a real rule of manners. And it most certainly has nothing to do with the religious aspect.
A quick “Thanks!” the next time you see them is sufficient.
Fellow Jew here! I share your frustration with the dominance of CHRISTMAS, and my father was so frustrated by it that he banned anything with Christmas in the title from our house (so one of my illicit activities as a teen was sneaking viewings of The Nightmare Before Christmas on the sly).
One of my most vivid memories from college took place in a course about the Middle East. In one session, we were discussing the way that daily prayer structures time in Muslim-majority spaces, and many of the Christian students started making noises about “theocracy” and “repression.” Those of us in the room from different religious backgrounds had to, ahem, *gently* remind them that the US American work-week and school year are organized around hegemonic Christian religious observance; I’ve certainly never gotten the High Holidays off, and in grad school one of my professors tried to pressure me into coming to class on Yom Kippur after services. It also kills me the way that politicians appeal to their constituents by emphasizing their Christianity–like, in what world is “being Christian” a credential for government? Erasure is erasure, even if it’s couched in holiday cheer and “no-one should be alone on Christmas.”
I don’t have too much advice beyond keeping it out of your space, but (as the Captain suggests) it might be helpful to really stress your Hanukkah plans and then deflect when people pester you:
Other person: “You really don’t have Christmas plans??!”
You: “As a matter of fact, it’s Hanukkah this week, and I’ve been enjoying lighting the candles/eating fried food/talking to my family/etc. My favorite holiday is actually Sukkot/Rosh Hashanah/Passover, though; Hanukkah isn’t a major holiday! What’s your favorite tradition?”
You could also expand this approach by using another technique (whick also works on my Bubbie when she tries to pry into my life): namely, talking until the other person loses interest, but feels like they got the connection or information they were seeking. This might involve describing in detail the process of lighting the candles, or making latkes, or some other holiday tradition or observance that makes it clear you don’t NEED Christmas at all!
Happy Hanukkah, and keep your lights shining bright!
“It also kills me the way that politicians appeal to their constituents by emphasizing their Christianity–like, in what world is “being Christian” a credential for government? Erasure is erasure, even if it’s couched in holiday cheer and “no-one should be alone on Christmas.””
THIS. It’s so alienating to hear this kind of talk. I can’t bear it. So many of my well-meaning liberal friends even do this, in an effort to reveal hypocrisy of various politicians — i.e. “so-and-so isn’t REALLY Christian because he does THIS” — tbh I don’t really care if the guy’s Christian or not. It’s not something I look for as a voter, because it’s not what’s important to me, a non-Christian and a resident of a country that separates religion from matters of state (at least it’s supposed to). It is indeed erasure and I wish it would stop.
Sorry for the tangent…
As a non-Jew who worked for an orthodox Jewish woman in Crown Heights for two years, Sukkot is my favorite by far!
Non-christian living in Canada here. This comes up for me a lot. I don’t really mind the office gestures. I figure those who want to give everybody a card/cookie/cupcake are welcome to. I don’t do anything in return, and don’t worry about it. I do lots of nice things for coworkers. It all evens out.
It’s much more my social circle that bothers me. Having people feel sorry for me because I didn’t do anything for Christmas really sucks. So I started answering “what are you doing for Christmas” with things like “On Solstice I’m doing blah-blah-blah, and seeing a show with my sister in Wednesday and having a dinner with friends on Thursday, etc.” Basically just answering the question I wish they asked instead of what they did ask.
If I wasn’t busy with general plans, I think I would just respond with “I don’t celebrate, but I’ve been really busy with [some hobby or whatever’s going on in my life].”
People I’m close to get it. And those that don’t get it don’t get close to me. I once tried to explain to a boyfriend went the expectation of Christmas was triggery. He told me that I should try harder to be part of Canadian culture. (I’m an immigrant.) I broke up with him right after that.
It sucks that not everybody is going to get it. I’ve accepted the fact that some people will see me as a sad lonely person during the winter holidays. And they can have their story about me. It’s not mine.
“And they can have their story about me. It’s not mine.” What an excellent reminder, thank you for sharing this!
I’m so sorry your ex said that to you, what a terrible thing to say!
I am also a Jew in a Christian workspace. I have so many sympathies, because I am also annoyed/feel left out by the Christmas stuff going on at my work. I work at a library and after pulling all their Christmas books in adult fiction I felt left out. There weren’t any Jewish adult fiction books at all but there were tons of books about Christmas cookies, Christmas themed romances, Christmas books where everyone gets together around a tree etc. Also the uberboss is kind of oblivious that not everyone is Christian. I’m hoping I don’t have the awkward conversation where she asks about my christmas plans. I personally kind of like the Christmas season but it’s more about the decorations than the religion.
My solution to the invisibility was to put Jewish books all over the children’s area. I’m usually in the children’s room and they have a rack of holiday books and little hanging shelves around the room so I put the Jewish books on the hanging shelves. The books are kind of 50/50 Christian and Jewish now, even though in terms of quantity the Christmas books outnumber the Jewish books and the other religions put together..
Christmas season, also known as “grumpy Jewish anti-assimilation time!”
As a Jewish person in a very, very gentile heavy city, married into a Christian family… I feel you there.
I don’t have much advice, but you do have my sympathy.
Hello OP. A slightly different take here. I grew up in a devoutly Catholic family. Christmas was a really important *religious* festival for us, but it also wasn’t the most important (that would be Easter for Catholics). The excess and extravagance around Christmas was actually considered not appropriate from my family’s perspective. I not longer identify as religious but because of my upbringing I feel like celebrating “secular Christmas” is actually really disrespectful to my family and their religious traditions. It’s a bit of a weird perspective, but might be useful for you when people pester you about it. “No, I don’t celebrate Christmas. I feel like I am disrespecting other’s traditions if I do.” Sometimes I try a redirect by commenting on other cultures that don’t have these traditions ie Aboriginal Australians don’t have any “end of year” marker because it doesn’t make sense in terms of their “calendar” and traditional concepts of time. They recognise key changes ie the change of seasons (the Whadjuk Noongar – the nation of my home town – have 6 seasons) but it’s not a “celebration”, more of an observance? Sometimes that helps and it has the dual purpose of reminding people that we live on stolen land 😉
I don’t celebrate any of the “major” holidays in Australia, which so many people find really upsetting. They rarely ask me why and usually I just get a barrage of accusations about me being a “party pooper” and a “humbug” and all the other cliches people can think of at the time. Some I am explicitly anti (Australia Day, Melbourne Cup Day) and others I am more indifferent (Queen’s Birthday – wtf?). People really don’t like it when you remind them that their belief structure is not universal.
Incidentally, I identify as a Possibilian – which is really confusing for people when I say I’m not religious and they reply “oh so you’re an atheist”. No, not atheist. “So, agnostic?” Nope. Not agnostic either. It can get weird sometimes.
I’m not interested in educating anyone about Judaism in general or my personal Jewish beliefs and practices in particular. For me, there are 2 reasons, almost contradictory ones, to object to the Christmas madness in December (and starting in August). One, as so many have noticed, is that it’s about a religion that’s not mine. But the other is the crass commercialism. I believe I object to that more than I do the Christianity. I have respect for sincere Christians and Christian scholarship and the best of progressive Christian practice. I hate to see the good stuff reduced to gaudy lights and fake snow and stupid songs and the idea that everyone is obligated to buy, buy, buy. Add the business of gift exchanges and arguments over gift exchanges. I don’t know if LW feels the same, but it’s possible to use these objections as a workplace strategy. When people try to engage you in an unwanted Christmas ritual, hint at the idea that it’s too commercial for your tastes. Say something about only buying gifts for the children in your family.
Jewish person here! I grew up in a predominantly Jewish community, to the point where the public schools gave us days off for the high holidays. It was a real culture shock when I moved to a city where I was suddenly the ONLY Jew in my friend group, and in some cases the FIRST Jew they had ever met in their lives. I have had to field all sorts of heinous crap, everything from “how did you get out of the oven” to “why don’t you believe in Jesus tho”. I have definitely had to act as the Voice of All Jewish People when gentiles ask well-intentioned questions about religious beliefs or holidays or Israel or Chasidim in a way that makes me SUPER uncomfortable. So, solidarity from another member of the tribe.
….was… was the oven one real? I’ve had people walk up and check my hair for horns, but…
Oh my god, the “Happy Llamakkah” sweater. If that wouldn’t feel horribly inappropriate for me (atheist, ex-Catholic) I would want one so bad.
My son is obsessed with llamas. I also want this shirt.
Just chiming to add a voice to the yiddishe chorus of what a delight and relief it is to read this thread. Thanks all. I just moved to Maui and, can I just say, I am feeling EVEN MORE HELLA JEWISH THAN USUAL on this little island. It’s a triple layer of disorientation, and kind of bleak, to wander through a Christmas-decorated grocery store in the warm Hawaiian sun while Jewish and far from friends and family (with the added layer of family of origin dysfunction that so many here are familiar with).
My slightly tangential contribution: I’ve taken a strange amount of joy recently in reclaiming “Jew” as a noun. Like so (actual recent exchange):
Random friendly human: “Merry Christmas!”
Me (cheerfully): “Happy Hannuka! I’m a Jew!” (Emphasis on “Jew!” Long “uuuuuuuu” vowel! Wide open sunny smile!)
I don’t know why this delights me so. There’s a slightly illicit kick of pride in shamelessly self-visibilizing. Anyhow, I highly recommend. Thanks tribe and friends.
Not the same exact issues as LW, but…
This time of year really makes me feel like there is no way I can start to explore my Jewish heritage without going 150% committed because that’s what it would take to push back against the supposedly secular christian cultural stuff that’s all over the place. My mom rejected religion in the 60’s and my grandparents are dead, and I would like to be able to have some connection to my ancestors without having to move to New York City.
Might I recommend seeing if you can find a book club? It requires no faith and only as much time/effort/commitment as you feel like putting in, and if it’s online (I know the ISJL has one of these), you can make it as personal or as public as you want.
If you’re interested in the religious aspect, many synagogues of varying stripes livestream their Shabbat services, so you can “attend” as often or as rarely as you want and try all sorts of different types of observance from the comfort of your home.
Also Jewish, and I go to school in a small town in Alabama. My defensive strategies tend to involve playing up the Jewishness to the point of caricature (sometimes playing stupid to the point of making someone just give up out of hand because they think it’s not worth it to start has worked. “So, Easter’s coming up.” “[long blank stare] That’s the one with the ducklings, right?”) -and then making it very clear through a comment about theology that I actually *do* understand perfectly well; I just don’t _care_.
Responding to ‘Merry Christmas’ with ‘Happy Hannukah!”
Obnoxious Hannukah sweaters/jewelry.
Periodic religious ramble with an ‘oh, wait, sorry -I forgot you’re not Jewish’ and an abrupt subject change.
Ranting about people trying to draw the Hannukah/Christmas parallels.
I’ve got a lot of the stereotypical ‘Jewish look’, and I always wear a Jewish symbol as a necklace. This time of year, I let my hair fluff out into the curls and switch my necklace to my largest, shiniest star.
I lost it at “That’s the one with the ducklings, right?” LOL!
For clarification on that one, there’s a store on the main corner of the town that does a window display with ducklings? goslings? chicks? Small, fuzzy, yellow-and-brown baby birds of some sort or other every year at Eastertide, and people (especially children) can come in and pick them up and play with and cuddle them and buy some, and the person I was talking with grew up in the town in question. It was not a completely ‘out of thin air’ bit.
Heh. Here’s a new, timely religious ramble to baffle them with: the question of whether Porgs are kosher. There are arguments either way. The biggest ones hinge on foot structure – do they really have a back toe? Design drawings yes, toys no, I wasn’t looking closely in the movie – and what they themselves eat. Of course only a HEARTLESS MEANYPANTS would do it, but cuteness has no weight in halacha.
Ooooh. I’m not much of a Star Wars person, but cursory googling says that that looks like a FUN one! I’ve been using pokemon for the last year-and-a-bit. Specificity on kashrut is mostly a conversation I have to have with myself, because with most people, I tend to have to start those with an introduction to the concept. The advantage to that is that if I start with the minutiae for a debate like this, the other person’s done talking about anything religious before I get three sentences in.
Yes! I have also taken the “polite but clueless anthropologist” approach to this and act as though Heathen Me has never even HEARD of these wacky Christian traditions that get shoved in my face every single year. It works really well.
Most Midwestern Jew here. I’m in the middle of Iowa and have vast experience being an Only Jew and object of perverse fascination.
There isn’t an answer. There is no magic script that will clue in your new colleagues to kindly let you alone and drop the matter.
Which leaves you with what’s a comfortable reaction for you? I can tell you that after a life spent mostly pre-“let me Google that for you” I for one am done with polite pretense.
There is always a mix of “war on Xmas” types, “let me Google that for you”, “please stfu about Hanukkah”, “please stfu about Jesus”. I have opted for what shuts people down the most quickly so I don’t have to play teacher year after year.
War on Xmas= silent stare with unmasked disdain, comment mileage varies.
“Oh wow how exotic I’ve never met one of you before here are my million thoughts”= “okay? I’m not interested in explaining/having this conversation”
“blah blahHanukkah”=”this is not an important holiday and I’m not interested in discussing it”
“jesus was Jewish!”=”I don’t care.”
People have not held my lack of Iowa nice against me year after year fwiw. I’m in a slightly more diverse workplace now (though the Christmas is still strong here) and find some solidarity with Muslim colleagues. As an added bonus, sometimes letting more clueless coworkers overhear conversations minorities are having amongst each other sometimes drops a free clue they are welcome to pick up without Making It About Them As A Person.
I absolutely love this reply — “perverse fascination” and “Making It About Them As A Person” — absolutely gold. Thanks 🙂
War on Christmas, in my world = “I didn’t declare war on Christmas. Christmas declared war on me.”
Before I wade through 300+ comments, fist-bump of solidarity. I spent 13.5 years living as a (mostly-deeply-closeted) Pagan in Indianapolis. I worked at a state university where coworkers spent an entire work day, on the clock, decorating a “holiday tree” with ornaments, while Christmas carols played over the PA system. I then worked at 2 different government agencies. At one, coworkers talked about church on Sunday, regular conversations with Jesus, and “witnessing” throughout the year. I complained to my supervisor about a hostile work environment, and he genuinely did not understand what I meant.
Naturally, there was no way to get days off for my own religious holy days. Or even mention that I had any.
At a later job, I worked for 2 Jewish women, who aggressively played Christmas carols in their shop during December, because customers expected it. Anyway…
I feel you, LW. I lived in a small town in Missouri for a few years and I got the same. I was also aggressively recruited to people’s churches, which do they have a quota or something? I’m not Jewish, I’m Buddhist. After a while, when people pushed on Christmas or church or whatever, I’d say, “Well, I’m still Buddhist. But if that changes I’ll let you know.” Or simply, “Yeah, No. Still Buddhist!”
Oh, this is a GREAT one which I am totally stealing. Thank you!
It reminds me of something I do when people are trying to convert me – people on the street, or door knockers or whatnot. I say, “I have a different spiritual path, but I would be grateful if you pray for me in your tradition, and I will pray for you in mine.” For some reason this seems to both make them happy, and make them go away.
That’s lovely. I might try it.
“I don’t seem to be able to convince people that their holiday feelings are their problems and not mine.”
I’ve been amazed with how powerful the silent sympathetic nod can be. Friend goes on about the difficulties of getting the tree home and how no one appreciates her decorated the house. I swallow the impulse to point out that trees and decorations aren’t actually requirements in any religious tradition, and that if you don’t like it, you don’t have to do it. I don’t point out that I got off the gift-giving bus 40 years ago and still have friends. I don’t say that with a little judicious planning and by not buying gifts for anyone I can avoid retail establishments in December. I therefore don’t wait in long lines while worrying about time for the tree decorating because … I’m not doing any of that. No need to say any of this. I just go with the silent sympathetic nod and let them talk themselves out.
Remember a few letters ago when we were talking about people who complain at length about problems with obvious solutions? Like the friend who’s sick but hasn’t gone to a doctor, and you want to scream “Just Go To A Doctor!” Holiday complaints are like that. I want to scream “Just Don’t!” But really, the silent sympathetic nod is better.
(Hasn’t there been in the past an open thread for holiday complaints and one for happy holiday solutions and what we’re looking forward to? Judging by the 300+ comments here, we could all get into that again.)
I’m a Jew in the Midwest. I very much understand the frustration of erasure. This Hanukkah I wanted to buy some gelt and dreidels so I could teach my roommates how to play. However, none of the stores around my apartment had any in stock. In fact, most of them didn’t have any Hanukkah supplies at all. I had to buy everything on Amazon. I’m not asking for as much shelf space in stores as Christmas gets. I understand that Christmas is more widely celebrated in the US. But would it kill people to acknowledge that other religions besides their own exist?
That being said, I usually accept invitations to Christmas parties on the condition that I can bring some Jewish food. I’ll say something like, “Thanks for the invite! I’m a Jew, can I bring latkes/ gelt/ kugel to share?” Having to do this is a little frustrating because it puts the burden of inclusion to me when it should be on the party host, but at least it makes any other Jews there feel a bit better. And honestly, the happy feelings I get from being invited to parties tends to overpower any negative feelings anyway.
Midwestern Christmas-hating Jew here. My sympathies LW. This entire season sucks, and it sucks even harder up here where it’s cold as balls and there aren’t very many of us.
To add to the Captain’s scripts, what I find most effective is a simple, “I’m Jewish,” combined with the Awkward Stare Of Silence if that doesn’t seem to do it on its own. My goal is generally to make them feel exactly as uncomfortable as they have made me feel, if they aren’t dropping it.
One thing that is an absolute necessity to me (ESPECIALLY this time of year but I’ve found, increasingly, how great it is year-round in this age of rising anti-Semitism) is my Jewish Backchannel Support Network. I have a group of online friends who are all Jews that I can safely go to to privately rant that Regrettably, I Must Announce The Goyim Are At It Again when I need to. It helps a LOT, especially in a situation like a work environment where you don’t necessarily want to socially alienate the people making you feel uncomfortable. Ranting to people who Get It can help so much.
This may not be a tactic to take while you are still new at the job but at a previous job I had a co-worker who was Jewish and she told us about each and every Jewish holiday and the traditions behind it. I found it fascinating and it gave me and others a great respect for the Jewish traditions. And she was never given any hassle about Christmas.
“They are also thinking about themselves as individual nice people with good intentions and not thinking about the gauntlet of individual-totally-separate-not-oppressive-at-all-interactions that the person outside the dominant group has to run.”
…Dear Captain, you’ve also just given voice to something that every person with a strong non-local accent goes through, in the US. Thank you for this.
Not to mention the gauntlet of smile/hey baby/I was just saying hi/you’re beautiful that women have to go through. “I was just paying a compliment.” Yeah, you and the other 20 guys I encountered today.
THANK YOU for asking this question.
I thought I was the only one.
Them: “Well I have a friend who’s Jewish and theyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy put up a Christmas tree/love eggnogg/do Secret Santa at work, come on, it will be funnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn!”
You: “Huh, yeah, a lot of Jewish people have embraced the ‘best of all worlds’ approach but I only celebrate Jewish holidays, so you’ll have to get by somehow without me.”
Me: Yeah, a lot of Jewish people have been pressured into pretending they don’t mind being forced into this situation, but I’m sure this workplace is a safe space for my religion. Thanks for not pushing!
Another Jew feeling your pain here, LW. I’m also not white, and since US awareness of Judaism usually extends only to white-looking Ashkenazi folks (which I am, just not the white part) I automatically get wished a “Merry Christmas.” I don’t even know what to say at this point because interrupting these micro-encounters (usually a drive-by as I’m walking by, or at the very very end of an interaction) takes more energy than it’s worth.
Just a deep, commiserating sigh.
My deepest sympathy. From my experience, ‘thanks, I’m busy [at the time of the party / during your observation / right now] works pretty well. *Most* people don’t ask ‘doing what’, they’re too focused on ‘I’m being nice by asking them to join’ to have time / energy for more. For those who do ask, ‘my own stuff’ has worked to shut down further questions.
I have never found a way to *prevent* the questions.
As a blond atheist in the southern US Bible Belt, but living in a relatively liberal bubble, I am still surprised at how performative my work has gotten about this Christmas. They’re trying to ‘build team spirit’ in our 200 employee (ethnically diverse) area – 50% of 15 years who are worried about their jobs and irked about recent company-mandated moves.
Would it be inappropriate for me to request that the ‘team building team (80% women, 100% white) do the work to get more inclusive of non-Christian holidays? I’m willing to put up a calendar with *every* holiday out there (yes, Google is my friend) and highlight the biggest one or two in Jewish, Hindu, Muslim. I haven’t pushed this because
1) I really want them to stop doing these altogether (because atheists / Jehovah’s Witnesses – you literally Can Not follow everyone’s beliefs, you should follow none) but don’t think that I have standing to request that
2) It feels performative for *me* to do this – I like religions, what people believe is cool, but I don’t observe any of them
3) I worry that they’ll push the work onto the smaller group of people who actually observe these holidays
I think I can get around these concerns (by being low-key in the request, and having the established team do the work, with my research / support), but am I missing anything, or understating the #2 issue?
While an atheist, it did feel good to watch my muslim coworker’s face light up when I wished him a happy Eid.
So very much yes. I’m a Midwestern Jew too, and my (atheist) partner has taken to teasing me with the threat of a Christmas tree because I swear my head will do a full 360 degree Exorcist spin if the “season” invades my house.
My general work strategy is just to flatly contradict cultural-dominance assumptions with a GIANT smile.
Ex: I’d rather not go to a spontaneous Christmas break dinner, it’s Hanukkah and I want to go home and light candles!
In general that works pretty well among my group of mostly college students.
Also, commiseration: why is all of the grocery store’s music suddenly Jesus-themed! I just want pasta…*sobs*
Growing up I loved the Christmas music because really I only heard it at home on my Grandfathers stereo. I’m in my 40’s now and have a stomach churning response to most Christmas music because it’s played everywhere. WHY? Most of it is truly awful and the stuff that isn’t (which is the stuff I remember from my childhood) isn’t ever played on the air. A friend of mine told me about this game that she’s playing called Whamaggedon. It’s a game to see how long you can make it before hearing the Wham version of Last Christmas. I lost the day I heard about the game. The first song I heard the moment my car started as I was pulling out of her driveway was that song. And I had my station tuned to a classic rock channel. I just want to go through the season without hearing that crap!!!!
Fellow midwestern Jew here! I am personally not very observant, am not the only Jew at work and people are generally more chill than it sounds like your coworkers are. But I do feel the Christmas awkwardness, so I wanted to share what works for me. I try to just thank people for the thing they are doing, ex. “Thanks for the cookies, they look so good!” rather than “Thanks, Merry Christmas to you too!” We had an ugly sweater party and I just went in my normal work clothes (as did plenty of Christians) and ate some snacks and was done. Personally, I think my amazing Jewish grandma RIP would be more upset about me not eating than standing near a decorative pine branch.
It sounds like your coworkers are way more annoying than mine, and might not take generally hanging out for an answer. But I do think that a lot of them feel more internally compelled to do their holiday behavior (giving everyone hot chocolate) than worried about your behavior.
Honestly, I figure that American Hanukkah and Christmas are not all that different, and people are just trying to include me in gathering the village together to metaphorically cuddle through the darkness. It’s real cold and dark here, I do get seasonal depression, and it’s kind of nice that people take time to remind me that we’re connected.
I am a Christian and in your work example I would just say thank you and have that be it. You don’t need to give them a gift just because they gave you one. Just acknowledge it and either quietly dispose of it (if you can’t use it) or use it. Just like any gift – you don’t have to turn it into reciprocation if you don’t want to.
Just wanted to throw in that there’s a really cool and delightful indie perfume company that makes (respectful and well researched) Hannukah perfumes! As well as Yules, Christian Xmas, Winter, and Krampus themed stuffs for this time of year. They are all natural not tested on animals and made in the US (if those are things that are important in your purchases!) They’re called Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab and welcome to your new obsession!
Maybe you can buy “Gelt” scent, slather and then grin impishly when asked what you’re wearing that you smell so divine!
Hello, I am a religious, blonde Jew who has spent many years in the Midwest and now lives in the rural South. (SO RURAL. I know every Jew in the county.) I’m dropping in to advise saying “thank you” to the gifts, without any other obligation – I mean, I think it’s pretty weird that as a culture we give candy to celebrate a martyred Catholic saint/ the coffers of Hallmark in February – but whatever, I say thank you to gifts and then I get rid of them if we don’t want them.
I have a whole list of all the racist, horrible, ignorant things people have said to me over the years. I’m not sure it gets easier so much as one becomes slowly more numb to it.
Also, I am the grinch who hates Christmas music. I hate it so much. (I would probably hate all the hanukkah songs just as much if I were forced to listen to it in every store for a month.)
I’m not Jewish, but I’m not Christian either, and I find Christmas time (or, realistically, November – January) really overwhelming.
I started seeing a new therapist a few months ago, and she works out of a Jewish community centre, and it has been so amazing to go to my appointments in a not-aggressively-Christian/”secular”-at-Christmas environment. I didn’t realize how comforting it was to find that small little safe-zone until they put up their menorahs, and it sunk in that I wasn’t ever going to have to listen to Christmas music in the waiting room.
As someone from a religion even less understood/welcome in the Midwest, I’ve gone the defensive route of hiding in secularism. That is, rather than giving them an alternative from my religion (like exhausting myself explaining Eid), I just throw my back into New Years (as someone said, calendrical coercion is the least bad of the coercions, imo) and July 4, etc. and become the office cheerleader for those things bc it’s less tiring (for me) to be seen as “secular” than as “religious but some other one.” I agree with an earlier poster that having people literally try to wrap Xmas in inclusive colors is more offensive to me than them leaving me alone. I host the NY party every year, and say “thanks for inviting me, can’t make it, come to my party instead!” when asked to Xmas stuff. For dietary stuff at non holiday parties, I always bring my own contribution. It’s just easier.
It occurs to me that maybe this is a difference between almost-invisible and completely-invisible religions in the US – the lip service to Judaism around December fools one into thinking that maybe visibility is possible, when really, lip service is the absolute max effort the mainstream is willing to make. Maybe being 100% invisible lowers your expectations? I know, super upbeat 🙂
Wow, so timely. Just got a note from daycare saying to make sure to bring home the “holiday ornaments” they apparently had our kids make today. Great. The complexity of this for me is that we are an interfaith couple (I’m Jewish), so I want to have a conversation about it, but I have to do the whole “yeah, we have a tree, but I still need you to understand that this still isn’t cool.” Ugghghhhhghhhhhhhh.
I have an 8 month old so this is our first time through the daycare holiday but they had a “holiday” party today at daycare and I brought Hanukkah cookies. And then none of the other moms brought anything so they were just having these little blue Jewish star cookies (slim pickings at the grocery store) for their holiday party so I’m pretty amused by that.
But the whole place has looked like Christmas threw up in there since the day before Thanksgiving. I decided not to cause too much trouble about it this year because wellI was kind of blindsided by how heavy they went but also she is only 8 months old and doesn’t know the difference, and because I’m expecting her to be in a different daycare by next year… but next year I’m going to start discussing inclusivity around the holidays in September. Nip this in the bud.
I grew up on the east coast and have settled in the Midwest. I was kind of mortified when my first workplace as a grownup had a Christmas party – I regret to say I’m no longer surprised by it. Good luck, LW.
One of my kid’s classmates is a Witness, and that’s made me realize how much I don’t know about faiths other than more mainstream flavors of Christianity and Judaism — at least once a month something happens that Classmate can’t join in. A bit sobering. Not sure how her parents handle this (and doesn’t feel like my place to ask).
I find something like I appreciate your thoughtfulness but I do not celebrate this holiday. while you should have to I find you get less “but its not really a religious holiday” arguments if you just say with no qualifiers you do not celebrate this holiday.
I don’t particularly care for some holidays and no matter what it means for you it means something else to me. I take it that the person is well meaning first few times and thank them for their thoughtfulness in a thanks but no sort of way
If they continue I will address it, if it is a personal acquaintance I will discuss if they wish to continue their acquaintance with me I would appreciate if they will respect my boundaries on this and quit pushing their holiday at me. If it is a person at work I will again reiterate that I have asked to be excluded and could they please respect my wishes and perhaps insinuate they not make this more of an hr issue than it needs to be (mileage varies the smaller the company and city the less helpful this can be)
My thoughts if you have to force your good will on someone how much of that will is good
Jew-by-Choice here, so I have my own little interesting take on this.
On one hand, some of my non-Jewish friends and family want me to celebrate Christmas with them (“Well you celebrated for all the years you weren’t Jewish, so what’s different now?”) and some of my Jewish friends are like, “You gave up Christmas when you converted, so stick to Hanukkah!”).
Newsflash: both types of people are assholes.
Celebrate what you want to. Don’t celebrate what you don’t want to. Anyone who gets all huffy about it clearly doesn’t understand what the spirit of either holiday is about – they’re more focused on what you’re doing or not doing than what they’re celebrating.
I celebrate Christmas with my family, and they celebrate Hanukkah with me. But that’s just ME. You do what is right for YOU. For what it’s worth? Every year I have to explain to someone that Hanukkah is NOT “the Jewish Christmas,” and that it’s a minor holiday. I don’t think it’s out of malice that they ask; it’s that they genuinely don’t understand why such a fun holiday wouldn’t be a huge thing.
Shaloam chaverah! First, חג חנוכה and ALL THE EMPATHY IN THE WORLD. This reply is one of two, becuase YES THIS IS A REAL THING. And the captain has set this space for us to share safely on the internet. So.
I left a job after my manager went on a long rant about how I was literally ruining Christmas with my Jewishness. How? Obviously by not participating and asking co-workers (in a hospital, btw, not a party decoration store) to tone down the Christmas in *patient* areas since seriously not all the families celebrate Christmas and also maybe don’t want to connect Jingle Bells with their family member’s cancer diagnosis forever. They faced zero consequences for it. I took the hint and found a new job.
I too have heard the speeches on Christmas is secular because: 1.Athiest/Agnostic and still tinsel tree nog presents family ham(someone in your family line was clearly NOT tho, so nope.) 2. Estranged and FEELINGS (those are your feelings, not mine tho, so nope.) 3. It’s everywhere and a federal holiday come onnnnn! (It’s not everywhere and definitely not everyone if you’re Jewish tho, so NOPE NOPE NOPE.) Less common but honestly more obnoxious 4) Just a co-opt of Pagan Local Norse English Irish German and comsumerism lies anyways so you should be happy YRUNOTHAPPY. (Slow your roll there Derailing Derailer. Because, NOPE!)
Dealing with these people is an adventure. And exhausting. We know what it is to be a stranger in a strange land. We are quite clear why this night is different from all other nights for those people. It’s just not different for US! (Except you’d better not run out of TP at 7pm on 12/25. Good luck if you do.)
I HAVE TOTALLY DEFENSIVELY PLACED CHANUKAH DECORATIONS ABOVE AND ON MY DESK at Current Awesome New Job. I was THIS close to making a giant banner that said “CHAPPY CHALLADAYS” [sic]. Maybe next year. Luckily my current teammates are capable of using their brains and thinking beyond their own experiences. (Nes Gadol Haya Po!!!) We talked about various traditions for this time of year. Ranging from big family tree nog tinsel parties, to escape to the back country and wait until it’s done because bad memories, to Big sufganyiaot dreidel gelt block party, to Ehhh we spend a bit more time at the mosque to connect with each other since it’s cold and dark out there. I learned they don’t buy new ornaments every year– apparently you keep them so the tree has bits of memories from years prior each time. They learned how to play dreidel and swear a bit in Hebrew.
Mainly though, they stopped vomiting their eggnog tinsel Santa stuff all over me AND suggested others stop it too. I lit a menorah at my desk each night when I was at work (birthday candle sized = nbd to facilities) and found/connected with a Jewish coworker from a different department because they saw it. Sweet. We can find each other when we are strangers in a strange land.
It is exhausting to be placed in the “Please educate me so I don’t have to do any work to address my ignorance?” position. I suggest they start with Wikipedia or a public library. Either they laugh about how OF COURSE that makes sense! Or they make it clear you should do that work for them because privilege and tinsel nog santa. Embrace the former when you can, and set boundaries firmly with the latter. The internet and libraries are real. People can use those. Not your job to fix their willful ignorance. (Side note, if you pay dues to a local shuel they may have a whole response team ready for this time of year. Consider asking them. If not, Chabad. They are REALLY happy to help explain Jewish traditions and separation of church and state to people. Loudly. Clearly. Sometimes even with GIANT menorahs.)
Making space for yourself:
I play holiday music of my own during December (using headphones) and put up my own decorations. If people ask me to share? It depends: Do we have a connection AND do have the spoons and time? Yes = I’ll share my favorite version of HaNerot Halalu and a family tradition story. Is the request is one of the icky “SHARE YOUR EXOTIC JEWISH MAGIC WITH ME, UR MY ONE JEWISH FRIEND SPEAK FOR ALL UR PEOPLES”? Ugh. Gross. Those people get a bland “No thanks. I Need to focus on work productivity goals team customer leverage synergy.” It is possible I once left a gift to warn future members of the tribe however. It possibly included a CD of (Hebrew and Yiddish) songs for labeled “Holiday Music: Chanukah” and it DID have a Chanukah song on it. Just also included ones for Purim, Pesach, Tu BeShavat, Rosh HaShana, Sukkot, plua a couple modern Hebrew kids songs and pop music. Any Jewish person or Hebrew speaker that hears it will know exactly what’s up.
LW, I feel your pain. I’m SO fed up with “holiday” as a thinly veiled euphemism for “Christmas” so a bunch of dominant religion folks can pat themselves on the back and feel “inclusive” while really being so very exclusive. I’ve been polite about it for years but I really am getting to where I want people to know they’re not including me and feel bad about it. How’s that for Christmas spirit?
And this letter is very timely because we just had our department “holiday” party today in which we had to play a stupid icebreaker (which already sucks for this introvert but was especially terrible because…) it was the people bingo game where you had to find a person who ____ and it was of course holiday themed by which I mean “secular” Christmas themed and I certainly don’t leave my christmas decorations up until February because I don’t have any and I don’t think I’ve ever even tried fruitcake, so none of the squares applied to me. And I don’t want to be the grinch but I was really peeved. I still haven’t decided if or how I’ll say something formally about this oversight but like I said, what I want is for it to have occurred to them that not everyone celebrates Christmas and that Christmas is NOT a secular holiday.
And maybe with our current political climate I have less tolerance for this. But yeah LW, I get you. (And FWIW, I’m in Texas. So.. yeah.)
You could out-Midwest them and leave some gelt in everyone’s mailbox with a note saying Happy Hanukkah. I don’t think you’re ever obligated to do anything, but I find it’s easier to set boundaries with nice people by matching their kindness with kindness. Plus now everyone knows you’re Jewish because you gave them chocolate, which makes them both like you more and aware that you do not worship the baby Jesus.
Gelt meaning actual coins or choc coins? I’m curious at how much you think the OP is going to spend celebrating Xmas gift giving traditions w/Chanukah gifts.
If you’re really curious, you could finish reading the rest of my comment.
My suspicion is that a lot of Midwesterners will not actually understand this as an indication of Jewishness because they won’t know what gelt is. (Not to knock on your idea! Far be it from me to discourage the distribution of chocolate. 🙂 )
(Ah, but the note should make it clear. Never mind; commenting before sufficient coffee, always a bad plan…)
Thing that keeps happening to me is atheist friends trying to convince me to come to their totally “secular” Christmas parties and *in the same conversation* refusing invites to do anything even slightly Hanukkah-y with me because they “don’t do religion”
Ohhhh man is this timely for me. I’m a British Jew and feel similar pressures. The situation is a bit different here – people are a lot more oblivious that there are traditions which *don’t* celebrate Xmas, full stop. There just aren’t that many of us, and most Brits celebrate in a ‘secular’ way. I have never, ever had someone wish me “Happy Holidays”, even in London. I’m kind of jealous that in some parts of the States Hanukkah has made it to the level of one-token-holiday-song-at-the-concert. Then again, it’s really a minor holiday so in some ways I’m glad it’s not magnified? The cheerful obliviousness can drive me bonkers at times though (eg colleagues repeatedly asking me my plans for Xmas even when I have told them I’m Jewish). It feels like having to come out as Jewish every year, a bit – the time of year I am Other most visibly. Salt in the wound: I converted and my family of origin really Cannot Understand why I’m not keen to do Xmas things with them anymore, and it’s a point of sadness to all of us for different reasons. I can’t give in to tree decoration because they won’t get why I can’t then do carolling etc, etc. Because I care for and want to honour my parents I do buy gifts for them still, but I also really don’t want to get into the what-did-you-get isn’t-she-hard-to-buy-for conversations at work. Some strategies I have adopted:
For the low-stakes situations, I let it go. ” Merry Xmas!” from a cashier or service person gets a “Thanks, you too!” or a “Thanks!”. I wear my magen David on a chain for a reason – sometimes it’s easier to tuck it away.
For my colleagues, I make a point of wearing a Hanukkah jumper at least a few days. It makes a jumping off point for a neutral conversation and for them to realise I celebrate something else. On Xmas jumper day (which I dislike, but which at least raises money for charity) I wear my loudest, gaudiest one which I hand knitted.
I go to local Jewish events and spend time with my community. It’s nice to have a space to get away from the ever present ” spirit” where I can bond with others in the same boat. I’m particularly excited to visit Limmud this year (a Jewish festival/conference).
Answers I have given to other common questions –
“Where are you spending Xmas? What are your plans?” People generally don’t even mean this pointedly, it’s just what you ask here, even a friend you know is Jewish. I answer things like “Well, I’m looking forward to a little break from work” (the bank holiday is basically obligatory here – *nothing* is open, even my workplace). “I have some box sets to enjoy/I’m spending a quiet time at home/I’m looking forward to the new Dr Who episode”.
I try to remember that other people have their touch points around this time of year too – forced jollity can be isolating for other reasons eg bereavement, stress. Here, people don’t really do Xmas “at” you – it’s more the clueless cat trying to please you by bringing in a dead bird because it makes *them* happy! As I tell myself while the office assistant strings up yet another layer of tinsel and fairy lights…
“Here, people don’t really do Xmas “at” you – it’s more the clueless cat trying to please you by bringing in a dead bird because it makes *them* happy! As I tell myself while the office assistant strings up yet another layer of tinsel and fairy lights…”
PERFECT. This is how I experience Christmas in Australia too, interestingly. Not pointed, not aggressive, but… oblivious to the point of insensitivity and hurtfulness.
I’m sorry your family of origin don’t respect your Jewishness.
Wow this Letter touched a lot of people. Amazing how many “not just me” and “me too” there are!
Is there a way to sort comments by time, to see newest posts first?
Active Jehovah’s Witness here. Boy, can I relate. Personally, it’s hard for me to talk about my faith at work, *especially* when I’m already feeling awkward and anxious about various celebrations and someone puts me on the spot about why I wasn’t at X celebration/event/party. I would just like to crawl into a hole, please. Some of the scripts in the post and the comments may be useful for me, too, so I can be more confident and clear going forward. Thanks to everyone for those.
Some things that I’ve really appreciated from people at work: having an “end-of-year team appreciation” lunch rather than a “Christmas” or “Holiday” lunch, new bosses asking me if I’m ok with receiving Christmas and birthday cards (I’m not, but thank you SO MUCH for asking in the first place!), and just…any indication that they’re sensitive to different beliefs or lack thereof.
As a Jew I am so, so, so uncomfortable with the number of atheists coming into this thread to talk about how religion and public acknowledgment thereof is universally bad/stupid/wrong. When people have been and are still being faced with violence for practicing their religion at all, you don’t get to make statements about how holidays are ridiculous and no one should be talking about religion anyway.
Also, Jewishness is as much a culture, an epistemology, an ethnic heritage, a people, etc. as it is a religion. The fact that Christianity is largely culture-independent and you can more or less draw lines between what is “religious practice” and what isn’t doesn’t mean that that’s the way the rest of the world functions. If you’re from a Christian background (and if you’re from the US and NOT from a minority religious background, you’re basically from a Christian background because the superculture religion is Christian and that has led the average American to define what “religion” is like based on what Christianity is like) and you’re trying to talk about what in Judaism is and isn’t religious, you need to get the hell back in your lane, because there’s like a 95% chance you are utterly unqualified to discuss it. (Spoiler alert: there AREN’T clean lines between religious practices and those that are expressions of ethnic identity/peoplehood for Jews, because it DOESN’T FUNCTION AT ALL LIKE CHRISTIANITY.)
Telling Jews that celebrating Hanukkah is stupid is pretty much like telling Mexicans that celebrating Cinco de Mayo is stupid. You don’t know HOW to talk about this in a way that doesn’t result in a high chance of you stepping in it and being straight-up racist, so stop.
The post even ASKED non-Jewish atheists to butt the hell out. So if your atheism is so fanatical that you can’t muster respect for Jewish cultural traditions, at least you should bloody well be able to respect that this blog is, in essence, someone else’s house and they set ground rules for guests within it.
Thank you, I noticed it too. Is there a way to flag a comment to moderator(s)?
I’d also add that saying “I know this might be derailing but…” or “well my Jewish friend…” literally the fact that you use their Jewishness to identify them out of the rest of your friends is a problem. It is NOT helping.
@Shirah, @Jessica, @callmeIndigo, I am uncomfortable with it, too and I am very sorry. I’ve deleted a lot of comments but they are coming in faster than I can process them. “I’m a Christian….” “I’m an atheist who grew up celebrating Christmas…” = NO. STOP.
I have only lived in pretty big cities so this hasn’t been as awful for me, but even here this is always a problem. I always get gifts that say “Merry Christmas” on them or where the gift itself is explicitly Christmas themed (like a Santa Mug) but I will say that the longer I have worked here the more people have learned that I’m Jewish so that has helped. We do have an office gift exchange but they call it “secret snowman” instead of “secret santa” and the organizer had everyone fill out a questionnaire of favorite foods and the like but the bottom had room for additional comments so I added that I’m Jewish, so please no Christmas stuff. I *really* appreciated having an easy way to let them know.
I have found that “I don’t celebrate Christmas” can sometimes be more effective than “I’m Jewish” because there’s not really any room for debate.
When my work had a “ugly holiday sweater contest” I wore a Chanukah sweater.
I chose to give out little gifts to coworkers this year and I threw a handful of gelt into each bag. I bet next year I get even less Christmasy gifts 😀
I also had a Chanukah party because I don’t have any family nearby and I was the only Jewish person at my party but everyone had fun and said we should do it again next year. I printed out instructions for how to play dreidel and answered questions about our traditions.
Granted, all of these sort of involve giving in to the Christmasification of Chanukah but I’m okay with that.
For any Jews looking to watch something non-christmas-y over the ‘holidays,’ might I suggest binge-watching Amazon’s new comedy “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”?
It’s set in the upper-class jewish community inhabiting the upper east side manhattan in the 50’s. Mrs. Miriam ‘Midge’ Maisel’s husband suddenly leaves her, and she decides to become a comedienne. Best show I’ve seen all year, hands down.
Dialogue snippet from the first episode:
Midge: “Why are you mad Papa? I didn’t do anything wrong.”
Abe [Midge’s father]: “When I agreed to send you to that fancy goysha college, what was the ONE thing I told you?”
Midge: “They’ll have terrible deli?”
Abe: “The IMPORTANT thing I told you?”
Midge: “That was about deli too.”
I’m planning on watching this show this weekend. 🙂 I’ve heard amazing things about it. I am not Jewish or Chinese but I find shows, documentaries, books and movies pertaining to the culture / upbringing / traditions of both of these to be so fascinating. I don’t know why…but really I don’t question it. I just enjoy the offerings and once I’m done with one I go searching for another. I was excited to have something new. 🙂
+100 to The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. 😀
This sounds amazing. I will definitely check it out.
Jewish in a community that has a long history of Jewish merchants and so forth but at present is so small that people regularly say “oh! There are *jews* here?!”
(me thinking, why yes, are you completely ignorant of the big brick synagogue downtown and the cemetery we maintain that’s rather clearly marked?)
Anyway, my work accepts my religious practice without question. That’s rather lovely. My main annoyance is Salvation Army bell ringers. They are ubiquitous here and most of them can’t figure out how to parse my “happy holidays” or “happy hannuka” in the few seconds it takes to walk by.
I second the good Captain’s scripts for work, and want to remind you to spend time with your religious community and friends you have there. Don’t let work be the only point of social connection that you have.
Mostly nodding and agreeing, but wanted to delurk to say that “There is a kind of privileged obliviousness that is indistinguishable from malice,” was something I really, really needed to hear today. So, thank you Captain, for neatly encapsulating something I’ve been thinking for a while
Oh. My. G-d. Yes. To. All. Of. This.
Jewish person, spent most of her life in the Midwest (with years spent moving all over and, lemme tell you, you could live in worse places for this problem).
I have a really hard time not being a scrooge this time of year. Growing up I was SO tired of public schools holding “holiday” parties and insisting they weren’t putting religion in schools because Santa Claus isn’t a religious symbol (technically true, but he is a symbol of a holiday celebrated by a particular religion). And our school music classes would have us sing one token Chanukah song that kids would use as an excuse to joke on the playground about how funny it is to try to pronounce the word “Chanukah” and I’m so tired of this over-emphasis on our minor holiday and then having to miss school/use a work vacation day to celebrate the actual important religious holidays (or not celebrate because you have a work/school thing scheduled that would be complicated to miss)
And I just feel like the month from Thanksgiving to Christmas is like the entire world constantly screaming at my face “HEY, GUESS WHAT, YOU AREN’T ONE OF US” (and, given the ever-present Christmas music, kinda literally screaming)
I was so annoyed last week when random people (hotel clerks, taxi drivers) wished me “Merry Christmas” even though it actually was Chanukah and Christmas wasn’t for over a week – I know they mean well and it’s not a fight worth having but it gets under my skin. And I always freeze not knowing how to respond.
[I had extra problems when I had a roommate who was REALLY into Christmas. Like, I wanted her to be able to celebrate her holiday, but it took over all the common space in our house, so I couldn’t even get away from it at home. I hadn’t realized how much it would bother me since I like looking at other people’s Christmas lights and trees, but it was like I had no space that didn’t remind me I wasn’t part of the dominant American culture]
Fwew. Sorry, apparently I really had to get that off my chest. It was really therapeutic reading this thread of all the other people having similar complicated feelings.
(I also threw a mini Chanukah party this weekend and fed latkes to Jewish, Christian, and Muslim co-workers. It was awesome and my mini act of seasonal defiance)
Unitarian Universalist here.
In my experience, the best way to get out of any holiday festivities (whether it be Xmas, 4th of July/Labor Day BBQs, Valentine’s Day nonsense, etc) is to vaguely say “Oh thank you for the invitation, but my day/weekend/week is already packed.” It’s vague and doesn’t tell them why you’re opting out, which is great if you don’t want to deal with 5 rounds of going back and forth. The best part is it’s always true, because your time can be packed in any way you want it to be, whether you stay in or go out. You can pack it with reading or sleeping or Netflix if you want.
This is also a great tool for everyday use if you are shy, introverted, have social anxiety, or just don’t want to go out that day. Deliver it enthusiastically, and it works basically every time.
The Letter Writer doesn’t ever have to give a reason for declining the invitations, but one of the problems they are experiencing is feeling invisible and erased. “Oh thanks, but I don’t celebrate Christmas, I’m Jewish” is not rude. It is factual. And upon hearing it, the other person should go, “No worries! I just wanted you to know you’re invited.” And then that should be the end of it.
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