Last March, I heard a DJ talking about March Madness, the annual insanity surrounding a college basketball tournament. She wasn't interested in it, but everyone in her office was obsessed with it. They had an office pool, a constant barrage of emails and parties to watch every game on TV. The DJ didn't want to be a part of it, but her co-workers pressured her to get involved. They tried to get her to participate in the pool, but she insisted that she didn't even know the names of the teams. Her co-workers assured her that it didn't matter who she bet on, it would be fun to play. They wouldn't take no for an answer. She wasn't trying to spoil their fun, but she wanted to be left alone.
As I heard her talk about her frustration, I thought, "Now you know how it feels to be Jewish at Christmas."
Think of something that you're not interested in but that everybody else seems to be talking about. Maybe it's a sporting event: March Madness, the Superbowl, the Olympics, or the World Series. Maybe it's the latest "reality" TV craze: Survivor, American Idol or The Swan. Maybe it's something political: the election, the war in Iraq or the latest political sex scandal. Maybe it's the "trial of the century" du jour: OJ Simpson, Martha Stewart or Scott Peterson. You can't get away from it: it's on TV and radio, newspapers and magazines. Everyone is talking about it, and expects you to express an opinion on it. You aren't interested and just wish everyone would leave you alone.
Now magnify that feeling a hundredfold, because there is nothing that permeates our culture as thoroughly as Christmas does. It's on TV news, programs and commercials. It's in radio music, the news, chat and commercials. Some radio stations go to a 24/7 Christmas music program as early as Thanksgiving or even earlier. It's in the mall, in every store. It's in the supermarket. It's on the lampposts along Main Street. It's in the post office and every other government building. It's in your office. It's on the lawn of everyone in your neighborhood, and if it's not on your lawn, the neighbors want to know why it's not.
And that is the worst part of it: no one will respect your desire to skip the holiday. Yeah, sure, you're Jewish, but Christmas isn't a Christian holiday, they will tell you. It's everybody's holiday, they say, it's a secular holiday, which means you're not allowed to "just say no." And even if you're not going to celebrate Christmas, they say, you can celebrate Chanukkah, which in their minds is just Jewish Christmas. After all, isn't Chanukkah about peace on Earth, good will towards men, and of course PRESENTS???
But Chanukkah is not about any of these things. Chanukkah is about a struggle for Jews to maintain their distinctiveness in a culture that tried to force us to do things the way everybody else did. Sound familiar? In ancient Greece and in America today, it is the same struggle, and it is a struggle that we lose a little bit every time a Jew celebrates Chanukkah as Jewish Christmas, every time we use dreidels as ornaments on a Chanukkah bush.
Chanukkah on Judaism 101
What Do Jews Do on Christmas? at Judaism 101