LIFE AFTER CHRISTMAS: A SURVIVOR’S TALE OF RECLAIMING MEANING AT THE HOLIDAYS – REBLOG BY SEAN MUNGER

In 2015, I officially converted to Judaism. While I was not brought up in a particularly religious household, my family has no Jewish background; the reasons why I converted are complicated, but suffice it to say that it was the right choice for me. Like most Americans, my family had celebrated Christmas for all my life, though generally not with much emphasis on the religious aspects. Christmas and the holiday season had nothing to do with my decision to become Jewish, but once I did convert, the very next December I experienced an unexpected fringe benefit: I was suddenly absolved of the obligations, stress and baggage that come with Christmas, and this absolution was much more of a relief than I would have thought possible going in.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a Christmas-hater. In fact in my childhood and early adulthood I liked Christmas a lot, mirroring the progression of how it usually goes for middle-class kids brought up in largely secular families. When you’re a small child Christmas is great because you get toys; as a teenager or in college you look forward to a lengthy break from school; as an adult you tend to enjoy the togetherness with family, the food, the festive atmosphere and the general pause in a busy year. But Christmas in modern America also comes with a lot of demands. There are financial demands, in buying gifts; emotional demands in confronting family; and, these days, even political and cultural demands, as Christmas has become politicized in the context of conservatives’ ludicrous assertions of a “War on Christmas” and weaponizing Christmas-themed greetings, symbols and icons in an ongoing and very tiresome culture war.

In modern commercialized Christmas, days of (allegedly) heavy shopping have become almost like holidays unto themselves. I’m uncomfortable with this.

My Jewish friends, particularly those who have kids, are even more angsty about Christmas. It’s hard to tell a child that in your household December holidays (Hanukkah, which in 2017 is already over) are about lighting candles, saying prayers and maybe eating latkes when their non-Jewish friends are going on about the bikes, video game consoles or iPhones that they expect to receive on Christmas morning. One of my Jewish friends refers to the season as “Giftmas” and sees the commercialization of Christmas and its frenzy of stuff-buying as a significant challenge in maintaining Jewish religious identity in her household. (That it’s also a threat to Christian identity goes without saying). She’s not wrong. I don’t face the issue because I don’t have kids, but I certainly see the problem.

I’m in a bit of an odd situation because my family, who is not Jewish, still celebrates Christmas. What happened after my conversion was a sort of unspoken “truce.” No one in my family expects me to buy them gifts for a holiday I don’t celebrate; sometimes they give me gifts, which is fine, and quite appreciated, though there is no expectation of any. Frankly, receiving a very few small gifts from family members is vastly preferable to the way it was when I still “did” Christmas. The truth is, as much as I appreciate the giving spirit of Christmas, many Christmas gifts themselves are not very useful. Socks, underwear, a tie–okay, those are useful; but one year I received a little radio controlled helicopter that could hover indoors. (I was not a kid; I got this gift in my 30s). This kind of stuff piles up over time. I remember years ago moving out of an apartment and finding a big shopping bag full of old Christmas gifts, which had never been used or even taken out of the bag after I brought them home. “Oh, here’s Christmas 2003.” There’s something a little disconcerting about this.

Does the Christmas season for you include a lot of vistas like this one? Hopefully not, but for many people, trips to the mall are synonymous with holidays.

Ironically, being absolved of “Giftmas” was one of the best gifts I ever received. Not only are Star Trek coffee mugs and radio-controlled helicopters no longer piling up in the back of my closet, but I’ve been able to reclaim some real meaning for the holiday season. What does it mean to light a candle and recite a prayer that has been said, on this same night of the year, by others of your people going back 2,000 years? What does it mean to be with family–not buying or spending as some sort of symbol or cryptic communication, but actually being with them, on human terms? These rituals communicate so much more than whatever mixed messages might result from buying and giving material objects. This is the meaning of Christmas that has been lost.

Furthermore, I’m convinced that many–probably most–people who do celebrate Christmas would, deep down, agree. What does going to the mall at 3:00 AM on “Black Friday” have to do with the birth of Jesus? Why should I care when news commentators tell us how retail sales this Christmas are doing compared to the previous year? A faux-nostalgic film about a kid in the 1940s who wants a gun for Christmas is cute on some level, but running it 24 hours a day on cable, smashed between commercials for cars, electronics and toys, seems a bit much. The final irony is that I am not a Christian but I strongly agree with the sentiment, “Put Christ back in Christmas.”

My December holiday celebrates the resilience and endurance of the Jewish people as symbolized by the Hanukkah lights. Yours, if you’re a Christian, seems like it should similarly reflect upon the core values of your own faith. It’s hard for me to see how iPhones and HDTVs help make that picture clearer.

This is what December looks like for me now.

In becoming Jewish, I discovered that there is, in fact, life after Christmas. My Decembers, filled as they are with candles, family, wine and simple prayers, are actually more fun than they used to be when they were filled with toys and shopping. I wish everybody could make their holidays more meaningful, whatever faith they follow (or if they follow none at all).

THE HEADER PHOTO IS BY FLICKR USER RJCOX AND IS USED UNDER CREATIVE COMMONS 2.0 (ATTRIBUTION) LICENSE. THE OTHER IMAGES ARE IN THE PUBLIC DOMAIN.

via Life After Christmas: A Survivor’s Tale of Reclaiming Meaning at the Holidays.

18 thoughts on “LIFE AFTER CHRISTMAS: A SURVIVOR’S TALE OF RECLAIMING MEANING AT THE HOLIDAYS – REBLOG BY SEAN MUNGER”

  1. It’s nice to hear from someone else who is Jewish at this time of year. The experience of the holidays is totally different from the Jewish side of the aisle. I stress the absolution I feel from frenzied shopping and decorating and rampant consumerism. But it is hard to know that you are missing out on something special that means so much to so many people in your society. However, we don’t miss out on the essence of the holidays – the gathering of friends and family and the appreciation of what and who we have in our lives. I get to have my daughter, who lives in LA, home for almost two weeks. For me, this makes it the best time of the year.

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  2. As an adult, I never felt that sense of loss I felt as a child. Because we were a non-religious Jewish family, we didn’t have much of our own traditions to follow — or any of the others. They got trees and a million gifts and we got nothing much. I didn’t even know I WAS Jewish until third grade. No one told me. That is probably the biggest peril in an Atheist mom. She forgets to mention a few things.

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      1. I was really surprised. I had NO idea. I came home from school and said they were running movies about antisemitism. So I asked my mother what “Jew” means. She turned to my father and said “Albert, we need to do something about this.”

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          1. I think that’s where my interest in religion began. How could I be something so important … and not even know it? Apparently other people knew it … but I was just ME and that wasn’t Jewish or Christian or anything. It was just being. I started looking for some kind of meaning. I had a couple of important chances to go in that direction, but the first time I was too young … and not ready to go anywhere. The next time, I was 8 months pregnant … also a difficult moment to choose a new life path. So I blew it. But at least I knew I blew it. I got two clear invitations to “come and follow me” and both times, for personal reasons, I said no. You don’t always get a third option.

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  3. As a Christian I abhor the commercialism of Christmas. For me the time period between Thanksgiving and Christmas is for spending time with friends and family.
    Especially my brother Stephen who has Autism. I’m not really a Christmas person but I want and do my best to make the magic of the Holidays come alive for Stephen. Even though Stephen is in his 50s he still has a childlike mind.
    Stephen is kind, gentle, compassionate and loving.
    I have learned many lessons in understanding and acceptance from my brother Stephen whom the rest of the world sees only his disability. I see Stephen humanity.
    Marilyn and Garry have a Blessed and safe holiday season! I love your blog! 💘❤💓💕💖💗💜

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    1. And you two have a good holiday! Christmas has never been a religious holiday for me, but it has been a time for parties and enjoying seeing people I don’t usually see. I think I’ve always enjoyed the giving more than the getting anyway 🙂

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  4. It’s an interesting perspective. I am not really religious at all but I do love Christmas.However, I don’t understand why people feel they have to spend so much money buying several gifts for each family member. When did that become a thing? After we passed the Santa Claus stage of life my sister and I received one or maybe two gifts from our mum. They were usually things she knew we would like and she would save up to get them but if you got an expensive gift like say, a record player, it was understood that’s all you were getting. She taught us that it was the thought behind the gift not the cost that mattered. My sister and I do spend a bit on gifts for each other now but we do it over a period of time. We both collect things and we have fun trying to find something we know will be a nice surprise under the tree. If we had children and grandchildren I think we would still do it the same way, one gift each but chosen with care which means not running out on Christmas Eve and buying the first expensive item you come across.
    I tune out from all the advertising and I don’t watch much live TV so it’s not too bad for me. The small gifts I gave friends who have been especially kind to me this year I bought locally. They didn’t cost a lot but will be appreciated.

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    1. Not everyone has “bought” into the “buy everything” for Christmas, but it’s hard to resist. The pressure of advertising is astonishing. I spent at least 10 minutes every morning this month deleting advertisements. Meanwhile, if some of these sales were around ANY other time of year, I might take advantage of them, but this time of year, we are always broke.

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    1. Some of us were never Christians, so the holiday has always been about parties and presents and trees and lights. Buying into the “buy everything NOW” mindset, though, isn’t a matter of religion. It’s about dealing with the pressure of advertising and neighbors and THEIR kids. It gets very complicated when you are trying to NOT make it an orgy of giving, but every other parent IS.

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      1. Yup, it’s a crazy competition over who loves their kids/family more by spending more money. When did we forget that that’s not what counts? Or did we ever have that idea down in the first place? I’d like to find that out–though admittedly I’m taking advantage of some sales online for more books for myself, and that’s about it.

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