It’s the most wonderful time of the year.
In the next few weeks, families will travel long distances, give each other gifts they bought in the airport and remember why they moved across the country in the first place. Old friends will send each other novellas about the accomplishments of their children, all under the pretense of a family photo. Parents will lie to their children for weeks about a man who watches them sleep, only to spoil them with unabashed capitalist glee.
This is the American holiday known as Christmas, and I have all the love for it a Jewish atheist can hope to have.
A lot of people in my position frown on this wonderful holiday and America’s obsession with it. Some are offended if you wish them a Merry Christmas. Others lobby to have public funding cut from Christmas decorations because they represent a government’s endorsement of religion. And that big tree on the New Haven Green? An insidious violation of the First Amendment.
Good grief. Don’t you have something better to worry about, like global warming or your roommate’s sex life?
Christmas in America does not have to be a celebration of God becoming man; for many, it’s just an occasion to be nice to each other for once. We give gifts, smile and celebrate with family. We take a break from work, and see people we haven’t seen in a while. We endure cheesy movies, eat too much and sing badly — but with heart! — about partridges in pear trees.
Then why are so many Jews, Muslims, atheists and others afraid of Santa Claus? I suppose I can understand – the holiday does have the word “Christ” right there in the name. And perhaps it used to carry some meaning you wouldn’t want to associate yourself with as a member of the Chosen Tribe.
But now, it’s simply the American winter holiday. Rumor has it that we celebrated in late December long before that Christ guy came along. The Romans had a festival during this time period too: Saturnalia, during which people gave gifts, celebrated with family, sang badly and ate too much.
And it sure has stuck. Maybe people naturally need a break from the grind of winter and just want something to celebrate! They want to buy gifts and feel generous; they appreciate the good will of others and the cheer that comes with festivity.
But what about Hannukah, that sacred festival of lights so deeply and historically important to the Jewish faith? No problem! Light the candles, sing the prayers. Judaism is your religion, and it is an expression of your religious devotion. Christmas is not! Celebrate Hannukah because you’re Jewish and Christmas because you’re American.
In fact, by insisting on equal representation for menorahs and Christmas trees, you’re turning Christmas into the limited, exclusive religious holiday it doesn’t need to be. Embrace both — they don’t conflict.
Why do I care whether you celebrate Christmas? First, I just think you’re missing out. Christmas is fun, that’s all there is to it.
Beyond that, though, there is a bit of a deeper reason. American identity is fragile; there’s very little that holds us all together these days. In some ways, that’s a good thing — we don’t all have to be WASPs anymore to be considered Americans; and “patriots” drowning out meaningful conversation with chants of “U-S-A!” never did any good.
But on another level, national unity is a good thing because, especially in the United States, it brings people together from across all races and creeds. Christmas is one time of year when Americans can put aside their differences and acknowledge that deep down we’re all just people. It even works across nations — remember the Christmas Truce of World War I?
The day has a Christian history — as do most American traditions. So don’t go to church on Christmas morning — that’s no reason not to buy a small tree that will hemorrhage needles on your rug, or hang fake stockings above a fake fireplace to be filled by the work of fake elves.
Take the advice of Dr. Santa Claus, my friends: Learn to stop worrying and love Christmas.
Sam Bagg is a senior in Silliman College.