Dealing with Christmas
December 20, 2004 12:52 PM   Subscribe

How do other Jewish members here - whatever their affiliation, if any - deal with Christmas? [More inside.]

I'm a convert, married to another convert, living in a 99% Catholic country where all our closest relatives (as well as the most distant, but screw them) are devout Catholics - there are only about 250 Jews in the whole of Lisbon - so my situation could be considered extreme.

We're Modern Orthodox and we both love our families (and they love us back) so any tips would be very welcome as circumstances here in Portugal mean that everyone's necessarily open-minded: Jewish atheists are particularly welcome, as they often have the edge on apparently sticky situations!

Many thanks.
posted by MiguelCardoso to Religion & Philosophy (51 answers total)
I come from a long line of Jewish atheists. We do Christmas, trees, eggnog, presents, overeating, the works.
It's not really a religious holiday, IMO, so not a big deal.
posted by signal at 1:01 PM on December 20, 2004

It wasn't until I spent a xmas in Israel that I realized how pervasive Christianity is in western culture... It was such a relief to not be bombarded by it that year. All that is to say that I strongly sympathize with your position, MC. This year, I'll be working on xmas - I'm a musician, so I managed to book a gig which will be both fun and lucrative. In the past, I've used the day to have marathon movie-watching and eating extravaganzas with a S.O. That was big fun too.
posted by fingers_of_fire at 1:11 PM on December 20, 2004

I've just had drinks -- and exchanged gifts -- with a secular Jewish friend (who's married to a Jewish woman). apparently he didn't care much about Christmas until he had a kid, who's nuts for the Santa Claus - tree - lights thing. the little man loves all of it. then his (again, secular) parents adapted to the situation and they have the whole Christmas tree thing going on at home. no baby Jesus of course but lots of non-Jesus paraphernalia. I think they consider it a "end-of-the-year, feelgood holiday" for the kid. when/if the kid outgrows it, I guess they'll drop Christmas. I seriously doubt that the kid will convert to Christianity because of Santa Claus
posted by matteo at 1:15 PM on December 20, 2004

Deal with it? Enjoy the lights and music; be thankful you don't feel compelled to do obscene amounts of shopping (but damn those moronic secret santa office things), or cut down trees to be festive. But also, sniff the trees at the stands on the sidwalk.

ParisParamus is a Conserva-Reconstructionist Jew living in a Brooklyn historic district a few miles from Manhattan.
posted by ParisParamus at 1:17 PM on December 20, 2004

the role of peer pressure at school, where most of the other kids are Christian (with a small Muslim minority) maybe had a role in the little kid falling in love with Santa, I don't know about that.
just allow me to extend my heartfelt season's greetings to all users here

posted by matteo at 1:18 PM on December 20, 2004

Chinese take-out and a movie?

Honestly, christmas has been so secularized in the US, it as never really been an issue for me (jewish atheist).

Usually I try to latch on to a friend/girlfriend's christmas dinner. It's also a good day for helping at soup kitchens.
posted by cosmonaught at 1:21 PM on December 20, 2004

Seriously, that's my tree. My wife's Jewish.
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:23 PM on December 20, 2004

Chinese take-out and a movie?

Of course. What else is there to do?
posted by ludwig_van at 1:27 PM on December 20, 2004

take-out and movies. these choices are so personal that it's hard to comment on other people's practice, but the whole combo plate approach makes me a bit uncomfortable.
posted by judith at 1:33 PM on December 20, 2004

I say a ritual Bah Humbug. Then I go along with whatever social things other people have organised and try not to spoil their fun. I get a small gift for my non-Jewish father, and a chunky one for my daughter. And I make latkes for Hanukah. (But let's face it, Hanukah is a minor-league holiday, Pesach is the big event; it's lame to hype Hanukah just to compete).

And I enjoy the time off without the pressure.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:36 PM on December 20, 2004

I think Jewish people pretending to be Christian is just silly -- no kooky Chanukah bushes in our household. 'Course, I'm happy to participate in whatever holiday fun is going on around town, but I don't make any effort to celebrate xmas itself.

I've always viewed this time of year as a time when the whole rest of the country goes a little crazy and I get to kick back and relax. The day itself all about movies and chinese food for me. And getting together with my fellow chosen people so we can plot the next year in media/banking domination, of course...
posted by ph00dz at 1:38 PM on December 20, 2004

I'm a reform-ish Jew, not particularly observant, but Jewish nonetheless. I say "Merry Chistmas," smile when people say it to me, and go to Christmas (not "Holiday") parties. I really enjoy the general merriment and appreciate the well-wishing, even if it's not for my religion. I like being included in other people's celebrations as much as I like inviting non-Jewish friends over for Jewish holidays. I've never seen any reason to be militant and "correct" the people who wish me a merry Christmas. It's tacky.

Every year on Christmas, my family gets together for a big dinner. We're all Jews, but it's a good time for family to be together, in part because there isn't a whole lot else we can do. ;-)

A friend of mine from law school gets together with all of his Jewish friends from college. They get Chinese food and then hit up a strip club. I'd join him, but I won't be in town.

Beyond that, however, I do not celebrate Christmas. I don't have a Christmas tree or lights and don't anticipate ever having them, unless I marry a non-Jew (which I'm open to). While it is the dominant holiday in America, I don't consider it secular, and I don't consider it mine. For every person telling me it's secular, there is another telling me "Jesus is the reason for the season" and complaining about the commercialism of their holy day. Honestly, when people tell me that "everyone celebrates Christmas" it makes me think of Messianic Jews/Jews-for-Jesus -- a group that tells people like me we can hang on to our Jewish roots while accepting Christ as our savior. It doesn't add up for this yid. Christmas is dominant not because it is secular, but because society is mostly Christian. That most "Christians" aren't religious or spiritual doesn't change this, at least for me.

Everyone is different on this. It's a personal issue, and that's to be expected.

I'm in the minority at holiday time, which is fine. I appreciate that I have the choice, enjoy the good will of the season, and try not to pee in other people's holiday cheerios by complaining about Christmas.
posted by jewishbuddha at 1:38 PM on December 20, 2004

We called the ACLU about a creche on the town commons, but otherwise I just sort of deal with it by not paying much attention to it, and trying to respect other people's holiday observances as long as they don't expect me to participate in theirs. I'm not very Jewish either but it's a good way of getting out of Christmas. I used to respond to Merry Christmas with "Thanks but I'm Jewish" just to make some sort of point, but it does no good and takes someone's well-wishes and stomps on them, even if IMHO, they should know better. When I was a kid, my Jewish Mom and my non-Jewish Dad always celebrated Christmas in sort of non-churchly ways with a tree and present exchange, etc. Now barely-Jewish-atheist/agnostic me and my non-Jewish boyfriend try to do something "special" on Christmas usually involving Chinese food and a movie or two but don't exchange presents, have a tree, or go to Christmas parties etc. When I was single, I'd help out at a church supper and deliver meals to homebound folks which was really gratifying. When we hang out with my Christmas-celebrating boyfriend's family we do more Christmas-oriented stuff but still have Chinese food for Christmas eve. I don't buy anyone gifts but I will often offer to cook a meal, do all the dishes, etc. My barely-Jewish-probably atheist sister loves to cook so she cooks tons of Christmas cookies and says to heck with it being a sensible response.

My only real issue with the holiday as a Christian [as opposed to a shopping] holiday is when people in my office complain [as they did this morning] about how their kids can't sing all the Christmas songs they love in school because they have God and Jesus in them, implying strongly that if it were not for some people we'd all be one big happy family, singing Silent Night. I don't know how to usefully and tactfully respond to those people, so I tend not to. I'd love to have something useful to say about appreciating and tolerating diversity [I'm fine with your kid singing it, I just don't want all kids to have to sing it] without sounding like a Jesus-hater.
posted by jessamyn at 1:39 PM on December 20, 2004 [1 favorite]

I had a Christmas tree when I was young (Mom was Jewish, Dad was not). I tend to do the "Thanks, but I'm not Christian thing" or just say "You too!" depending on my mood when I am wished a Merry Christmas.

I was not a fan of being forced to sing Christmas songs in school, followed by the obligatory Dreidel song.

Chinese food and movies are great.
posted by gnat at 1:51 PM on December 20, 2004

We called the ACLU about a creche on the town commons

I don't mean to derail, but I'm curious how that turned out (if it would be overly deraily... my email is in my profile if you're feeling generous ;-)
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 2:00 PM on December 20, 2004

Honestly, I just ignore the whole thing. That may be easier for me to do than you, Miguel, I realize. But, beyond the traditional Chinese-food-and-a-movie thing, I just act like it's not even happening, since Christmas has no bearing on my life whatsoever. It's no more or less important to me than, say, Flag Day ... whatever that is.
posted by Dr. Wu at 2:02 PM on December 20, 2004

Slightly more observant than a blind man. I just ignore it.
posted by kenko at 2:05 PM on December 20, 2004

I think that there are a lot of responses, as the posts above demonstrate. Jews in the US have a strange facination with Chinese food on Christmas Day/Eve -- which comes, I believe from the American, and probably the New York City experience of nearly all Christian-owned restaurants being closed Christmas. These days, most restuarants open for Christmas Day, albeit late, like 5 PM).

For my part, I don't take part in personal celebrations of Christmas. This year, I may go to my (Jewish) girlfriend's (non-Jewish) family's house for a Christmas Eve dinner. I can take part in religious festivals for friends and future family, just like it's acceptable for Jews to attend Christian (or other religious) weddings without any problem. I won't bring presents or sing carrols, but I will be festive and have a good time.

This year Christmas Eve is on a Friday night and Christmas Day is on a Saturday, so that will probably color your behavior -- no driving to mom's house or anything. Although, with advanced prep, it would be nice to daven shacharit (morning prayers) at somebody else's house in their living room, with their christmas tree and presents, just for the cognitive dissonance of it all.

I am a Jewish nationalist, a Zionist, originally from Augusta Georiga. I live in Jew York City. I am not religious, but I know how to celebrate Jewish Holidays and do so to some degree or other. As a southern Jew and a Zionist, I think it's important (maybe even required) to draw a distinction between yourself and others. Being Jewish for me has always meant being different, in both good and bad ways. So, as a kid, I went out of my way to be NOT-Christian, to NOT sing christmas carrols, or go to friend's houses, or give Christmas presents (Full disclosure: I gave hannukah presents to my friends. They gave christmas presents to me).

To your particular question, I would not object to you and your wife going to a family member's house for the Christmas weekend. I don't know if you could walk over or would have to drive. I don't know if you'll eat off of their plates, and would therefore not be able to enjoy a meal with them, but if you could, I would. I guess, being a convert, you might miss Christmas, and being reminded of good memories might hurt (or at least smart)... so maybe you should be careful there. And then there's the issue of your family and their acceptance of your Judaism. Would they be likely to make fun of you (I know that nobody teases the Migs here on MeFi, but we're a different kind of family).
posted by zpousman at 2:06 PM on December 20, 2004

I'm an (non-Jewish) atheist. I spend the day with my Lutheran grandparents because it's important to them. I give gifts to friends. I do not send out cards that are in anyway religious, although I do send general holiday cards. Some years I decorate a tree, other's I don't.

I really think that Christmas is a holiday for children. I find it an incredibly depressing time of the year for personal reasons. I've never really associated it with religion, even back when I was being dragged off to midnight mass by my mother. Then again, I was a really bad Catholic.

I try to respect other people's beliefs, so I reciprocate with merry christmas' and happy holidays. I find no harm in that. But no one on earth could get me back into a church again for this holiday.

What is a "Jewish atheist?"
posted by Juicylicious at 2:08 PM on December 20, 2004

Please remember Christmas trees have nothing to do with Christianity. It's a heathen thing.
posted by ginz at 2:09 PM on December 20, 2004

There are some punctuation typos in my post. Including a missing "?" on the last question. Grrrrr.
posted by zpousman at 2:10 PM on December 20, 2004

For the second year running, we're planning a small dinner. 3 gentile, 3 nominally Jewish. The (imaginary) invitations actually refer to a solsitce celebration. The menu includes lobster with supreme soup over longevity noodles and goi cuon (shrimp spring rolls).

If someone were to raise the discussion, I'd say the commercialization of the holiday is abrasive. And I'd add that it is only a secular holiday to secular Christians and secular Jews with Hanukkah bushes. It's still substantially a religious holiday and the symbols and traditions are religious no matter who's observing or performing them. Public nativities, Christmas trees and lonely, little menorahs all bother me but I don't get worked up enough to write a letter. Anyways, no one ever raises the discussion. Not with me, at least.

That's how I think of the holiday intellectually. Otherwise, I'm happy that all of the goyim get time off work to spend with their families and express their emotions with gifts and kind words. Endless Christmas TV specials, neverending radio Christmas songs, block after block of commercial holiday decorations all seem benign, or even heartwarming, in this light.

There is one thing about Christmas '04 that does grate. Like Bush, FOX news seems to think it earned some capital in the last election. I think they made a conscious decision to move further right and their Christmas coverage is sensationalist garbage. Apparently, Christmas is under attack in this country.

So I think you should be thankful that you shared Hannukah with your nuclear family, that you will get to share Christmas with the rest of your family and that Rupert Murdoch won't be involved at all. Meanwhile, I'll be thankful that God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son so that I can have Vietnamese food every Dec 25.
posted by stuart_s at 2:10 PM on December 20, 2004

Not to dominate, but I want to second Jessamyn's comment on helping out at a soup kitchen. In my town, the soup kitchen is affiliated with a church, and the other churches around town pitch in to staff on particular Days. The Jewish community does the Sunday shift, and also Christmas Day. I went twice as a young man.

Weird that, for that day, we're the Christian's Shabbos Goyim.
posted by zpousman at 2:15 PM on December 20, 2004

What is a "Jewish atheist?"

A person of jewish descent who doesn't believe in supernatural, all-powerful beings.
posted by signal at 2:27 PM on December 20, 2004

How does a person of religion [X] deal with the holidays of religion [Y]?

Don't celebrate them? Ignore them? Participate gleefully? Throw rocks at their parades? Spit on their dinner?

It's all contextual, I think, and I personally can't see losing any sleep over it. If you want to celebrate Cthulhu day by doing whatever-it-is that Cthulhu-worshippers do, more power to you. Just be sure to quiet it down after 10 PM and don't expect me to send a card or gift.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 2:33 PM on December 20, 2004

I opt out of Christmas, myself. I enjoy the quiet time and taking in the directions while everyone else is having their own fun. Just because it's not my holiday doesn't mean it's not a time for joy. And if people are buying me gifts, then what's the harm in buying gifts for them in return?

I don't "correct" Christmas well-wishers - that seems like a jerk thing to do, unless through some bizarre, otherworldly circumstances the person so wishing a Merry Christmas is doing it to be spiteful or whatever.

My only request is that people not make Chanukah the Jewish Christmas. That annoys me. Celebrate Christmas or don't, but leave the Maccabees out of this.
posted by Sticherbeast at 3:29 PM on December 20, 2004

We're trapped in the middle rather like you, Miguel. I'm a convert, my kids and husband are Jewish, as is my husband's family, but my mother and siblings are all Christian, as is my extended family. (There is no extended family on my husband's side in the U.S.) When our children were younger, we would go to spend time with various members of my family on Christmas Eve and Christmas just as a family time. My aunt and uncle used to throw a party on Christmas Eve which was mainly just a time for everyone to get together, eat (too much), drink (too much) and be merry (no such thing as too much of that, fortunately) and we'd schlep to that with the kids in their pajamas and they'd be cute for everyone then fall asleep in the den watching whatever Nickelodeon decided to air that night.

Now, however, the aunt and uncle have abandoned their party and, more importantly, my kids are of an age where that's just a little too confusing (and distressing when their similar-aged cousins are drowning in seas of toys and gifts with which our kids' modest Hanukkah presents cannot come close to competing) to explain that we're celebrating with the family, but not celebrating what they're celebrating. It's just too complicated. When they're all old enough to really understand, then perhaps we can join back into spending time with the family, but for right now, it's just possible to do it easily for their sake.

Consequently, we have now chosen to pretty much ignore the day. If it's a weekday, we go about our usual routine. (We homeschoool the kids, so it's just a regular school day for them.) It's a nice thing that this year, the whole issue is rather moot as it's the sabbath, which means shul in the morning and the usual routine for the rest of the day. In the evening, we'll probably go ahead and do Chinese or Thai food (made at home) and movies, but that wouldn't be terribly different from any other winter Saturday night.

We do the soup kitchen thing once a month, and they're so overwhelmed with volunteers for Christmas that we have never been needed, even if we were inclined to be there.

That's not to say that we don't enjoy certain trappings of the season. I'm a sucker for holiday cards, send several hundred and display whatever cards we receive that aren't obviously Christmas rather than "holiday" in nature. And I love the secular seasonal music, and even some that's particularly "Christmas" (though only when it's a novelty like Run DMC's "Christmas in Hollis" or in another language like Marlene Dietrich doing "Little Drummer Boy" in German or Enya's version of "Silent Night") but that's just me, and I don't share my holidayesque musical tastes with the rest of the household. I don't see that as a compromise of anything, but rather the benefit of living in this culture.
posted by Dreama at 3:30 PM on December 20, 2004

Oh, and last Christmas, I was staying with a friend's family. His dad is a Methodist minister. We celebrated Christmas, in the sense that they celebrated Christmas and I bought them gifts and they bought me gifts and we all had a good time. There was no implication that I had to be Christian to be happy for their happy holiday, or that in my being there I was somehow converting.

So, if you have relatives celebrating Christmas, it doesn't seem to me that you need to so completely distance yourself from the festivities, as long as you don't actually declare Jesus the Messiah or in any other way act against your faith.
posted by Sticherbeast at 3:36 PM on December 20, 2004

this was a really intreresting thread, thanks everybody
posted by matteo at 3:48 PM on December 20, 2004

I spend the day skiing. A few hour's drive north of NYC, the slopes are realtively uncrowded, and there's no traffic on the highways...
Many mountains have xmas day discounts on lift tickets.
posted by Fupped Duck at 3:57 PM on December 20, 2004

After the first few years of Santa worship, I learned the truth, he's really Superman. But after that we setteled for being at the family gathering (extended family is 90% christian). Now that i'm in college, we've only traded gifts at Christmas in front of the whole family.

The plan next year... Chrismukkah
posted by Derek at 4:09 PM on December 20, 2004

Just like you would invite non-Jewish people to your Seder, and expect them to have fun and enjoy the tradition, you should accept an invitation to your relative's X-mas party and enjoy yourself while imbibing in their tradition. Just because it's the dominant culture doesn't mean you are subsuming yourself just because you listen to some religious stuff before dinner, etc.
posted by chaz at 4:50 PM on December 20, 2004

The secularization of the Soviet Union transformed Christmas into a secular holiday known as New Year's Day. It comes with a New Year tree with decorations and New Year's presents under it. And if you want a live tree, you usually have your pick of the free leftovers from Christmas tree lots! I suspect this particular tradition will die with the first-generation immigrants in my family, but in the meantime, here it is!
posted by Krrrlson at 6:50 PM on December 20, 2004

It used to get to me a little bit. Part of me started to get sort of irritated at the incessant presumptuousness of friends and patients constantly wishing me a merry christmas. I displayed a menorah in our window.

Having a couple kids helped. My wife grew up in a Catholic family. We get a tree - I love the smell - and celebrate with gifts for the girls, but we light the hanukah candles. My four year old knows the blessing and also knows, without prompting, that the mall santa is a guy making extra money on weekends.

More than anything, though, is that I am so fucking tired, fed-up, downright freaked out by the burgeoning evangelical tide in the US that a "merry christmas" that isn't an intro to a Jesus-screed just seems quaint and innocent by comparison.
posted by docpops at 6:52 PM on December 20, 2004

Secular Jew + secular Baptist = secular humanist me, who loves literature, art, and music by Jews (in a sort of vaguely tribal and wholly unjustified "damn, per capita, we clean up at this stuff" kind of way), but also feels an uncomfortable fraud staking any real claim to Jewishness.

But Christmas is essentially a simple story, one that has moved many a Jewish (or somewhat Jewish) girl. You just can't help but root for Mary. I don't mean that in any arch way. Mary's story is powerful, and sad, and I always find myself thinking of it this time of year. That usually sends me out to donate my time or my money or both to those who are in need.

Then, there's the charm of traditional Christmas celebration. I love Royal Dansk cookies, I love socks filled with candy, I love cinammon and cloves and pine, I love nuts and wine and people singing in big happy groups, and I only wish it happened in February, too, when I really, really need it the most.

Finally, there's an appreciative kitschy feeling I have, best summed by an art piece called The Barbra Bush -- a 1950s-style silver Christmas tree carefully hung with blue six-pointed stars, with a black and white portrait of Streisand in her earliest days at the center of each. I've never made one of my own, but I would surely like to.

Overall, I try to take this strange mismatched assortment of feelings and use them to make me and my loved ones a bit happier. It bothered me a lot, as a girl, to feel so essentially an outsider at this time of year. Then, I grew up, and realized that everyone has Christmas tsuris. If you're religious, you feel beat up by Mammon. If you're Mammonist, you feel beat up by saints. If you're anything else, you feel beat up as a general principle. So I sing and eat and look at the pretty lights in my town, and I also think of that frightened girl from long ago, and pay a small moment of respect to her and anyone who is needy and out in the dark on a cold winter's night.
posted by melissa may at 7:51 PM on December 20, 2004 [1 favorite]

We got a tree this year for the first time in my life. My sister-in-law is christian and she wanted one, but the apartment wouldn't allow live trees so they put it up in my folks' house. I fucking love christmas, but I felt weird about the tree. Granted, it's the 200 or so presents under it that count, but it still weirded me out. The X-mas tree was always a fun, tacky thing for other people's households. I mean, they didn't even string white lights and the colors of the lights they did string are really ugly and don't go well together. I digress. I told my folks that the Golden household cannot have a christmas tree unless I make it kosher. I noticed there was no decoration for the top of the tree, so I told them that if they let me put a Jewish angel at the top, everything would be ok. I went to the craft store, bought a cheap angel topper, and then glued woody allen's face onto it. Our tree now kicks all kinds of sacrilegious ass.
posted by TheGoldenOne at 9:14 PM on December 20, 2004

Only five days to chinese food. Mmmmmm Cashew Chicken.

Oh yeah and if I go to this one chinese place they always give out a nice calendar.
posted by CJB at 9:15 PM on December 20, 2004

it has so much to do with the context... as an atheistic new yorker, christmas has never been much of an issue for me. The holiday rituals are all secular, as we've discussed in a lot of threads around here (the return of the sun, evergreen/yule log, etc) so getting a christmas tree is definitely not being christian, it's just joining christians in being pagan. But I suppose if you live somewhere where Jesus is taken seriously, separating yourself from the traditions might seem more meaningful.
posted by mdn at 9:29 PM on December 20, 2004

I miss looking in on Christmas the way I did as a kid. It seemed so much more mysterious then; so much "foreign then"; so much more Davey and Goliath. Now it's just high shopping season with nice music.
posted by ParisParamus at 9:40 PM on December 20, 2004

Atheism + Likes presents = Celebrates Christmas. Woot!
posted by jewzilla at 9:57 PM on December 20, 2004

Response by poster: Many, many thanks for the examples, suggestions, laughs, stories, insights and, above all, solidarity! I'm ashamed to say I'd never thought of the soup kitchen solution - here I'll choose the Food Bank, which distributes groceries as well as meals and has the advantage of not dispensing any sermons along with the wine and cake.

For the record, I've always disliked Christmas. At least since I cunningly scored with my pen-knife the carrots left for Santa's reindeer - along with the Christmas cake and Port wine for himself - and found the great man wanting in the existence department.

So there's no nostalgia to deal with. I've been staying at home and enjoying the solitude ever since I can remember. My Catholic mother dislikes Christmas and does the same, remembering all the arguments, recriminations and maudlin confessions of long-held grudges which inevitably exploded at every forced family reunion in the past and took the shine out of the brightest present ("You can always exchange it, you know!"...)

Since my wife's parents spend Christmas at my sister-in-law's house, which is across from mine, she won't be driving - the Portuguese celebrate Christmas Eve which, as luck would have it this year, is Shabbat. It'll be weird being alone on that night but the Food Bank is reachable by underground train (it's more or less OK for Orthodox Jews because the doors open at every station) so I'll be just fine.

Thanks again! :)
posted by MiguelCardoso at 11:46 PM on December 20, 2004

Response by poster: Er, I forgot to add that I found the very same marked carrots hidden under the others in the vegetable basket and, forgetting the full Conan Doyle maturity of my 5 or 6 years, ran to tell my bright-eyed 4 and 3-year old brother and sister that we were being mercilessly fooled by the ruling class. They reacted by bursting out in tears and have secretly hated me for that detection to this very day, forbidding me all access to my nephews and nieces when they were tiny.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 11:59 PM on December 20, 2004 [1 favorite]

I've read this whole thread with interest, since I find it all quite bizarre. Christmas is a secular public holiday. The traditions of Christmas: family gatherings, presents, turkey, christmas tree & decorations, santa claus are secular. If you want to drag your religion into it - whether it's christian or jewish or whatever - then go ahead. Otherwise, I don't see why religion should have any bearing on how you celebrate the holiday itself.
posted by salmacis at 5:24 AM on December 21, 2004

Response by poster: Salmacis: You surprise me - in a nice way. The very word Christmas is enough to show it isn't a secular holiday - it celebrates the miraculous ( e.g. the Virgin Mary) birth of Jesus which Christians consider the Christ, son (and part) of God. Christ is a Greek word and taken by Christians, in order to adapt the Torah (their Old Testament) to their beliefs, likened to Messiah, "the anointed one" and all that. Specially outside the Anglo-American world which is ever more careful not to offend other faiths, is still a ringingly religious, joyous festival and, like Jewish or Muslim holidays, just as sacred and deserving of respect.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 6:48 AM on December 21, 2004

The very word Christmas is enough to show it isn't a secular holiday - it celebrates the miraculous ( e.g. the Virgin Mary) birth of Jesus which Christians consider the Christ, son (and part) of God.

right, but as many have said numerous times, that is the only part of the holiday that's actually christian, unless you sing christmas hymns or attend a midnight mass. Most people who celebrate christmas in the US bring in an evergreen and decorate it, symbolizing the perserverence of nature through the winter; and light candles and gather with friends and sing and exchange presents and 'drink & be merry,' in order to perservere through the dark winter themselves. That's the basis of the holiday, and it's been around a lot longer than christianity, because humankind, at least in the north, has always had to struggle through the cold dark season. THe solstice is the turning point, when days begin to get longer again, and so a good point for celebration.

Again, as a NYer, I rarely come across references to Jesus or christianity at this time of year. It's about bright red suits and jolly laughter and 'the spirit of giving' and all that.
posted by mdn at 7:23 AM on December 21, 2004

In the third century various dates, from December to April, were celebrated by Christians as Christmas. January 6 was the most favoured day because it was thought to be Jesus' baptismal day (in the Greek Orthodox Church this continues to be the day to celebrate Christmas). Around 350, December 25 was adopted in Rome and gradually almost the entire Christian Church agreed to that date, which coincided with Winter Solstice, the Yule and the Saturnalia. Link via Winter Solstice.
Next: the Spring Equinox. *eg*
posted by ginz at 8:45 AM on December 21, 2004

Atheist. A few generations ago most of my ancestor were Christian or Shintoist, but it's been a long time since there were any observent members of the Factor family.

My family, growing up, celebrated a traditional Danish Christmas - goose, red cabbage, almond dessert with one whole almond that entitles the recipient to a small gift, obscene amounts of various butter cookies. Christmas is celebrated at night on the 24th. On the 25th, therefore, we tended to go to the movies which seems to be a Jewish tradition. Since my Danish mom died we've all continued the tradition out of respect for her. For me Christmas has nothing to do with the birth of Christ. Because the 25th means nothing to me, I tend to go to the movies with my non-European girlfriend on "Christmas day".

My brother-in-law is Jewish and is kind-of-sort-of observant. He grew up Orthodox but married a shiksa . Now goes to a Reform temple on the high holy days and a few other times during the year. My nieces are nominally Jewisth despite a gentile mother, which required a lot of shopping around for a temple that would accept them.

My sister's family therefore celebrates both Channukah and Christmas. I give my nieces a single present for each (I hate shopping too much to give gifts for each night of Channukah and they make out like bandits anyway). I usually spend Channukah with them and Christmas with my brother's family. My brother-in-law, for a while, wouldn't have a tree in the house but I convinced him that the tree was the least Christian part of the whole deal, and that, for Danes, the solstice is an important event because the days are so frigging short that time of year.

My Russian ex celebrated Christmas on the 6th of January but for her it was much more of a religious observance. She only went to church twice a year: Christmas and Easter, and I'd describe her as agnostic. So for a while I celebrated three holidays this time of year, which was too much. (many Russians around Boston get their Christmas trees for free by trash-picking after the non-Orthodox Christmas is over).
posted by TimeFactor at 9:09 AM on December 21, 2004

Miguel, I don't know if you're still checking this thread, but you might get a giggle out of TMN's article on just this topic today "Chosen Christmas." heh
posted by dbmcd at 12:01 PM on December 21, 2004

I am Conservative Jewish, although not particularly religious. My family has gone to a warmer climate during the Christmas week since I was in junior high...mostly to Mexico, but a couple times we went on cruises. I haven't gone with them for the last several years due to work or lack of stability of such. I have gone Downstate to spend Christmas with my then-boyfriend a few times...yes, I did go to midnight mass because I find going to worship services for different religions interesting. The last couple years I've hung around the house with my dog, reading and watching sports or whatnot, then took him and went to a friend's house in the evening. I'll do the same this year.
posted by SisterHavana at 12:12 PM on December 21, 2004

and found the great man wanting in the existence department.

posted by matteo at 12:13 PM on December 21, 2004

Response by poster: No, Matteo, I'm afraid it's true *giggle* he probably doesn't exist. Mind you: it might only apply to the Iberian Peninsula. Pity; he coulda been a contender, right?

dbmcd: much enjoyed; thanks!
posted by MiguelCardoso at 1:47 PM on December 21, 2004

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