Well, it’s that time of the year again. I officially can’t walk into a store or turn on the radio without being bombarded by the “Christmas spirit”.
Ever since I discovered at the age of five that the majority of the society in which I exist is not Jewish, I have felt distinctly uncomfortable during the solid month of the year that is devoted to celebrating the birth of Jesus.
“But it’s so secularized!” people argue. “It’s just a part of American culture!” Well sure, maybe to some extent, but isn’t that just a reminder that my own culture is too marginalized to become integrated into modern mainstream practices?
By comparison, Chanukkah comes off as some archaic ritual practiced by people too stubborn to accept the cultural progress that is Christmas. (Oh, you celebrate on a lunar calendar? How quaint! That’s right, gentiles. Check your Gregorian calendar privilege.)
People who know that I am Jewish have gone so far as to ask if I celebrate Christmas anyway, as if my own traditions are insufficient to satisfy my need for winter cheer.
And let’s be honest, the attempts to include Chanukkah in the winter festivities are usually pretty pathetic .For one thing, the common transliterated spelling of the holiday, “Hanukkah”, is wrong. I am spelling it here with a C-H to indicate its proper pronunciation, which begins with a subtle throat-clearing sound. Go ahead and try it, it’s fun. Since I’m giving you permission it isn’t appropriative. And it’ll add a little zest to the single conciliatory Chanukkah song you added at the last minute to your caroling set. (And let’s not even start on all the cultural winter celebrations that are completely neglected.)
Another Chanukkah misconception is that of the menorah, which isn’t actually a fucking menorah. A menorah has seven candles, and is equivalent to a candelabra for daily use. For Chanukkah, we use a chanukkiah (emphasis on the last syllable), and it has nine candles, one for each night of Chanukkah plus one used to light the others.
Fun fact: it turns out that even Google Translate translates the Hebrew “chanukkiah” to “menorah” in English. So you see why I feel like I’m up against a lot here.
Am I bitter about all of this? Undeniably. But I’m done feeling guilty for emulating the Grinch every year. And anyway, there are some very easy steps that can be taken to ease the marginalization. Saying “Happy holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” immediately removes Christian connotations (though it still doesn’t offer the option of secular winter enjoyment). Saying “Winter Break” instead of “Christmas Break” emphasizes the fact that we are general ly not taking an entire month off of school to celebrate the birth of Jesus.
I am all in favor of incorporating light and music and warmth into winter. We need the positivity when it gets cold and dark. But when this is enacted through the lens of religion-based culture, the light and music and warmth are really only for those who identify with that culture. The whole point is to create a giant penguin huddle of happy feelings to block out the winter, and we can do this more effectively and enjoyably if everyone is involved.