I like Christmas.
There. I said it. I’m a Jew who lives in Israel and I like Christmas.
I like the lights. I like Christmas trees. I like Christmas carols. Don’t get me started on Christmas cookies and gingerbread houses.
My enjoyment of Christmas follows the philosophy Dr. Seuss, one of the great philosophers of our time. The Grinch cannot steal Christmas because it is not based on material goods.
My favorite movie for Christmas is It’s a Wonderful Life. The message is simple: You matter. The things that seem insignificant to you matter a great deal to someone else and could change their lives. George Bailey is accidentally $8,000 in debt and everyone bands together to help him because without him they would not be who they are. Not only do you matter, but we all matter to each other.
The Little Drummer Boy has nothing to give but his drumming ability. And the gift he gives is his song and his passion.
In O. Henry’s The Gift of the Magi, the man gives up his prized watch to buy a comb for his wife’s beautiful hair and the woman gives up her beautiful hair to buy a watch chain for her husband. It was not the gift that mattered, but the sacrifice that each was willing to make for the other.
In Dicken’s A Christmas Carol (written and all the multitude of film adaptations), Scrooge realizes that all his wealth is pointless if he is alone. His gifts to the Cratchit family are not about buying their love or spoiling Tiny Tim. Scrooge finally has someone to share his bounty with. The Cratchit family matters to him and he matters to the Cratchit family.
I’ve heard that there is a “war on Christmas” in the US and I wholeheartedly agree. But it is not the war on whether or not it is okay to greet people with a “Merry Christmas!” The war on Christmas begins with consumerism and greed. It continues with encouraging children to make demands of gifts without also teaching them gratitude. It is probably not much of a coincidence that we go from the “give me candy” of Halloween to the “give me presents” of Christmas while forgetting about the “thank you” of Thanksgiving. It breeds in the culture of the disposable that has forgotten the meaning of value.
I’m not a pre-rehabilitated Grinch or Scrooge. I don’t think that Christmas should be all about ideals. Have all the stuff! Enjoy the glorious wrapping paper and the excitement of presents under the tree! Bring out Santa’s Christmas magic for the kids and enjoy the egg nog! But don’t forget that the real spirit of Christmas is you, the choices you make, the example you set. Aren’t we all reminded at Christmastime “peace on earth, good will to all”?
A note about Christmas in Israel
We are not surrounded by Christmas carols in the malls. Decorations featuring stockings, trees, or Santa are few and far between. There are no piles of gorgeously wrapped presents next to elves and Santas awaiting children to tell them their Christmas wishes or have pictures taken with them.
But there is Christmas. There is a significant community of Arab Christians and they do have the familiar decorations with the tree, lights, presents and family dinner. But it’s more of a religious holiday. Secular Christmas is not a thing in Israel.
Today is a regular day in Israel. I must admit that in the early years of living in Israel, it felt weird to be at work and write 25 December on a document. That also means that if you wish to celebrate Christmas, you have to ask for the day off and use your vacation days for it.
A Christmas Tale
A couple of evenings ago, I heard about a singing duo backed by a jazz trio who would be singing Christmas carols at a pub in town. But they would be singing only carols that were written by Jews. That is A LOT of songs, by the way, and most of them are the most famous and most beloved songs of Christmas: White Christmas, Winter Wonderland, Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire, Silver Bells, and plenty more. (Others have written about why this is, so I won’t mention it here.)
But here’s the interesting part: I went to the pub and I couldn’t get a seat. It was totally packed with middle-aged, religious American Jews. It may have been a coincidence, but the men could have passed for Santas with their beards and round bellies shaking like bowls full of jelly. The women with their headcoverings might as well have been wearing kerchiefs. There weren’t any reindeer available, so I just walked home.
Even though last night ‘twas the night before Christmas, Happy Christmas to all and to all a goodnight!