“Don’t you miss Christmas?” people often ask me when they find out that I grew up in a home that celebrated Christmas. I can see in their eyes that opting out of Santa Claus, decorative lights, gift giving, Christmas trees, and egg nog is an unimaginable hardship in their minds. To not love Christmas is to be heartless and greedy. If you’re like me and try to sit out the holiday, people will tell you “Don’t be a Scrooge, get with the Christmas spirit!”
Being Jewish gives me an easy out of Christmas that allows some degree of forgiveness, even if the understanding of this eludes many people. However, my Jewish beliefs do not give me a complete pass on the holiday either. After all, I have many close family members and friends who celebrate the Christmas holiday. Soon after I became Jewish, I spoke with a Rabbi about what is an appropriate level of participation in the holiday and he reminded me that we are to honor our parents. We discussed this and concluded that I should do what I can not to diminish others’ joy in the holiday, while also setting some appropriate boundaries for myself.
Over the years, I’ve given a lot of thought as to what those boundaries should be and why. Some boundaries are easy. For example, I don’t participate in the religious aspects of Christmas, no candle-light services or anything like that. My family is not really religious and few are church members, so this issue rarely arises.
The more difficult part of the Christmas holiday for me is the gift giving, which I find very burdensome and which I do my best to avoid. Trying to select an appropriate gift when facing all the holiday marketing and an endless repeat of Christmas tunes makes me want to crawl into a fetal ball underneath my bed. Understand, I love giving people gifts when I see something that I know will be valued. I give a lot of spontaneous gifts to people based upon inspiration i.e.: I saw this and thought you would really like it.
Christmas shopping though is nightmarish to me. I hate going shopping when the stores are crowded and it goes against my nature to buy items that I know are going to be severely discounted the day after Christmas. The blatant commercialism leaves me feeling very empty and uninspired.
This year I think I found a good solution. I knew my Mother needed new glasses, so I offered to purchase those for her. I think it was a win-win for both of us. She got the new glasses that she’s been needing, and I feel like I’ve done something that’s truly made her life better.
I really dislike the Santa Claus myth that good boys and girls are showered with presents. I see it as a cruel story for poor children who, like me, saw other more fortunate children, or the children of spend thrift parents, showered with presents. I wonder how many children who go without or with very little on Christmas and who are told the Santa Claus story wake up on Christmas morning and leave the tree wondering what sins they may have committed to make Santa pass them over and why the more affluent children are morally superior? As I got older I saw the pressure this put on parents to shower their children with gifts of toys and extravagances that would leave the family saddled with debts far longer than the momentary joy the child experienced when opening the gift. Even worse, was the guilt and loss of self-esteem I saw in the adults around me who couldn’t afford to shower their children, family members, and friends with gifts.
Beyond the financial hardship, Christmas gift giving so often seems to be equated to an expression of the love that exits between the giver and recipient. It seems to me that many gifts are given with great concern that the message of love will be lost if the gift is inexpensive or somehow falls short in the eyes of the recipient. Surely love that is real isn’t dependent upon trinkets or conspicuous consumption.
The world is what it is and I am who I am. Maybe I really am a modern derivation on the Scrooge character? I hope that, despite my own reluctance to participate in cultural rituals that don’t work for me, that in the past year I’ve been able to brighten your world a bit or inspire a thought or an idea that’s made your life better.