Merry Christmas (two days ago)! Happy Hanukkah (a few weeks ago)! Happy second night of Kwanzaa! Happy New Year (next weekend)! Happy Solstice (whenever that is, not a real thing)!
As a Jew, this time of year is challenging. I’m not a Practicing Jew, because practicing is for amateurs. I have relatives who are Observant Jews, which primarily involves observing what other Jews do wrong. My wife is a New Mexico Jew, which means our Christmas Eve traditional dinner is red chile posole (with pork, natch) and latkes.
Christmas is objectively not a compelling holiday. If you lack sentimental nostalgia about Christmas, it comes across as gaudy aesthetics and rabid consumerism devoid of spiritual or ethical meaning. Pro tip: If you’re a Christian missionary, don’t mention Christmas.
Every year, the right manufactures outrage about a war on Christmas. If only Jews and secularists could halt capitalism. Gentiles go insane for six weeks. The circumference of the base of the tree dictates the number of presents, so the tree doesn’t look sparse. What is it about the birth of the lord and savior that says bright red-and-green sweaters with glitter and embroidered candy canes?
I try to stay informed about the ways of the goy, because you should pay attention to people who might murder you. But no one told me about the Krampus until this month. I watched some videos of krampusnacht, wherein little Austrian children beam while being flayed by monsters in the snow. So traumatic.
This Christmas, hug an Austrian.
We don’t have the firepower to declare war on Christmas. But as a Jewish kid, Christmas declared war on me.
When I went to Rooftop Elementary — one of the good schools — we had assemblies to sing hours of interminable Christmas carols, and they’d add a token Hanukkah ditty for diversity. My fifth grade teacher’s concession was to invite me to fashion a Star of David for the top of the Christmas tree.
When strangers wished me “Merry Christmas,” I used to reply politely, “I’m sorry, I don’t do that.” Or, “actually, I’m Jewish.” No one’s response was ever, “Cool. Happy Hanukkah.” It was always harsh. “NO HOLIDAY SPIRIT FOR YOU THEN.”
Like my lack of complicity in their enthusiasm took away from the illusion that feigned jolliness could fill the void. Now, I stay inside.
People can like different stuff. I don’t need other people to like what I like for me to like it. Music. Food. Movies. Religion. I don’t understand why people feel threatened by other people not participating in Christmas.
I enjoy Jewish holidays because of the groovy symbolism, in my own non-practicing secular humanist atheist way. Hanukkah celebrates the miracle of artisinal small-batch olive oil following a guerrilla rebellion by the Jewish Maccabees against Syrians in 165 BCE, led by the original Matisyahu. Depending on your perspective, the Maccabees were either freedom fighters who toppled a dictator, or religious zealots who murdered their own for assimilating. Nothing is new in the world.
Our rituals reveal our values. Holidays are when we build rituals that reflect our core values. We introduced my daughter to the original “Star Wars” this week. When I saw it in the theater at age 3, I bolted in terror during the trash compactor scene. When “Empire” came out, I ran out screaming fleeing the snow monster. One of my core values is to run away screaming.
In my house, culture follows a theme. My children are learning about Hanukkah, Star Wars and Les Miserables, as all one story. When people rebel against injustice and oppression, we should side with the underdogs.
Here was their big question:
“Do people die in a revolution because the empire has more people?”
“The empire never has more people. Only more guns.”
“Then the people will win. The government can’t use all their guns at once.”
The Force is strong in this one.
Nato Green is a San Francisco-based comedian and writer. Communicate digitally @natogreen or witness the magic of standup live Saturdays at Cynic Cave.