On October 25th I heard my first Christmas song of the season. I’m not exaggerating. A week later, said song weaseled its way deeper into my brain, nested, and made only brief escapes out the hum on my lips. Damn. Christmas.
Recently I’ve been bit by the Gilmore Girls bug. Yes, it’s true, I hopped straight on that Netflix binge-watching bandwagon of the TV show featuring the fast-sass-talking, big-eating, small-town-living ways of Lorelai and Rory. As a pop culture-loving feminist, I note things like the racist portrayal of Mrs. Kim and how the fat person is characterized as clumsy, and file them in my brain under “TV references of racism/sizeism I could use in a workshop one day.”
Here at Ma’yan we’ve been reading Penny Rosenwasser and Paul Kivel. We are learning about anti-Semitism and also Christian hegemony—the system that normalizes the Christian experience, and marginalizes all other religions. Just a few light topics that were on my mind as I watched the Gilmore Girls. The portrayal of Jews in the show is certainly cringe-worthy; there’s Brad (a minor character), the dorky, unlovable schoolmate, and then there’s Paris, the hypertensive, hyper-competitive, hyper-allergic, power-grabbing rival of Rory. Yikes. That’s some serious brain-file material. But for me, the real ick moment occurred in Season 3.
In Season 3 (episode 10), Paris’ boyfriend invites her to celebrate Christmas. When she returns, Rory asks about it. Paris gets this dreamy look as she relays the scene: wreaths everywhere, a 12 foot tree, the wafting smell of cinnamon, the eggnog, the cider, “It wasn’t just nice,” she says, “It was perfect.” She explains to Rory: “I never had a Christmas tree before. One year I asked my mom if we could get a Chanukah bush, and she made me watch Shoah the rest of the week.” She then continues: “I’m looking at this mound of gifts and I’m thinking, eight days of Chanukah? Who’s the skinflint that thought of that deal?” “Don’t the eight days symbolize something?” Rory asks. “Yes, they symbolize eight days of ripping off the little kids who can’t have a Chanukah bush,” Paris retorts. “You’re making me sad,” Rory says. The scene ends with Paris declaring her commitment to return for Easter.
Watching this dialogue unfold I felt queasy, and I realized: that’s it. That is exactly my fear: that Christmas celebrators everywhere walk around feeling sorry for Jews and all those who miss out on the quintessential American experience, and that if we are lucky enough to get to celebrate Christmas, we’ll feel whole, restored, and at last accepted.
Like Paris, I too have been welcomed into a Christmas celebration by someone I was dating. The meal was fun, and I enjoyed it like I do any holiday dinner with family. Adorning the tree was sweet, rather like decorating a Sukkah. The presents felt overwhelming. The fireplace was lovely. Stuffing stockings was awesome. I did not feel wistful or deprived for never having gotten this before. I have never secretly longed for tinsel and candy canes, for jingle bells and reindeers. Jews every year talk about how annoying it is that people say ‘Merry Christmas,’ or even ‘Happy Holidays’ (because we know what that actually means). But that’s not my real beef here. For me, the issue is that Christians think I want it. I have never felt short-changed in my dearth of Christmas celebrations. As a woman I don’t have penis-envy, and as a Jew I sure as hell (pun intended) don’t have cross-envy.
This is what Christian hegemony does—it normalizes the lives of Christians, and it makes it seem like the experience everyone has, or should have, or at the very least should want. And some do. But not all of us.
I should clarify: I am not the Semitic Lorax. I do not speak for the Jews. There are plenty of Jews who have longed for Christmas, who love Christmas songs and decorating ginger bread houses. There is truly nothing wrong with that. Not to mention the many multi-faith households that embrace multiple traditions as their own. I’m all for it. But multi-faith households that include Christians are not adding tradition where there was none before, but rather layering on to an already beautiful tapestry. For me, learning new traditions doesn’t make me feel like I’ve been missing out all along.
So here’s my message to Christians: just because this holiday is the federally recognized one, the one associated with the religion that fuels so many of the thoughts, opinions and attitudes in this country, does NOT make it the holiday we all inwardly wish we were celebrating. But I do wish you the very best, and I’ll gladly partake in a little eggnog and cookies (if you’re offering, that is).