Being Jewish during the Yuletide is like watching one of those fake, recorded fireplaces on your television. You can see the crackling flames and hear the pops of the fire, but it still remains a 4K Ultra-HD version of high-def holiday warmth. For most of my life, I have been an anthropologist of Christmas. That is to say, I have been studying the rituals and aesthetics of Christmas in much the same way an anthropologist would study a remote community on an island far away. I have observed the Christmas trees displayed in windows, each one as ornamented as a Fabergé egg. I have heard the Christmas music, tinny and cheerful as a music box. I’ve felt the slick shimmer of wrapping paper against my fingertips. I have seen the red and green colored sugars, the crushed red velvet of Santa suits, the glittering arched lights on houses and the footie pajamas. Yes, I have seen the footie pajamas. But what does it mean to only observe Christmas and not be able to participate in it?
Well, it comes in stages. The first stage: anger. This typically happens when you are a kid and everyone else talks about Christmas trees and Santa. In reaction, you will try to defend Hanukkah to the death, emphasizing how you get eight, rather than one night, of presents and when that isn’t enough, pulling the most offensive move of all: telling everyone Santa isn’t real.
The second stage: bargaining. Mainly, bargaining with your parents to try and opt into the hegemony of Christmas. “Only a tree,” you’ll say. “I only want a tree, just a little one. After all, the tradition of Christmas trees comes from paganism, not Christianity!” Eventually, you’ll be able to wear your parents down. You’ll get your tree, just a little one and wring it with cheap
neon lights and plasticky, glittery dollar store ornaments. The cheapness acts as a kind of distance, proving that even though you have the tree, it still does not really belong to you. It’s temporary, like a vaguely glamorous houseguest who you half-suspect will slip out unannounced in the middle of the night. And eventually it does. Your desire for a Christmas tree will fade out as the upkeep and time involved becomes apparent. Hanukkah, with its simplicity, will become appealing in contrast. So your inexpensive Christmas decorations will rot away in a box marked “holiday designating birth of the most famous Jew.”
And that leaves us with one last stage: acceptance. I’ll never be able to truly celebrate Christmas, and I don’t really care, to be honest. While I would like to one day eat one of those fancy French Yule log cakes, buying into the Christmas season seems a little impossible at this point. A Jewish Christmas, all things considered, is pretty nice in its own languid way. Going to a movie and then eating greasy Chinese food before passing out on the couch is a tradition I think most people could get behind. It almost seems to me that sometimes, Jews get the better end of the stick. Sure, we don’t have menorah lightings in malls everywhere, but we also don’t have to fuss over cooking while trying not to argue with your Donald Trump-voting cousin. Instead, we take refuge in artistically violent Tarantino movies and greasy lo mein, and then lie on the couch languidly until midnight. In the end, opting out is sometimes better than opting in. Plus: footie pajamas? Really, guys? Socks were invented for a reason.