}

Rationalizing in a Winter Wonderland

Cindy Chupack’s piece in the New York Times Style Section, “Jewish in a Winter Wonderland,” is a glorious Christmas “coming out” story, of a married couple, both Jews, who decide to “rebel” and embrace Christmas. The Jewish Christmas dilemma is, of course, a secular Jewish dilemma, one faced by those who feel a void in their spiritual and family-gathering lives and believe Christmas is what’s missing. (Some secular Jews feel no such void, and thus use Internet on Saturday afternoon but have no use for December 25th other than as a chance to perhaps see the “Borat” movie a second time).

Christmas being what it is in America today, empty of religious significance to so many, especially in places like New York, it’s hard to see the harm in those who are not Christians in the sense of believing in Christ as a savior nevertheless celebrating the holiday. Is it worse for an apathetic Jew to celebrate Christmas than for a non-believing person of any other origin to do so?

Chupack’s words give something of an answer:

“In my humble opinion, Jews have yet to make Hanukkah decorations beautiful, unless you consider a blue-and-white paper dreidel beautiful, but what can you expect from a holiday whose spelling is constantly up for debate.”

Ah yes, Christmas should be celebrated not to fit in, not because it’s fun, but because it’s specifically better than anything the Jews have come up with. Christmas should be celebrated out of self-hatred, out of the shame of coming from a tradition so friggin weird that it requires the occasional transliteration. As for the relative beauty of the holidays, this doesn’t seem nearly so straightforward–as any child with pyromaniac tendencies could tell you, an opportunity to play with fire is far, far more exciting than the hanging of giant socks on a mantle.

The most annoying thing about this seemingly endlessly irritating article is Chupack’s bizarre, patting-herself-on-the-back, rationalizing conclusion, which follows a whole riff on how she does actually care about Jewish continuity, what with her Jewish husband and future Jewish children, from whom she will hide this whole youthful Christmas extravaganza (until the day they learn how to put their mother’s name into Google, that is.):

“On the other hand, maybe it’s nice to teach children that holidays can be done à la carte. Every religion, every culture has so many beautiful rituals and traditions to choose from. Maybe celebrating is a step toward tolerating.”

Haven’t we as a society moved pass this sort of PC-inspired nonsense? Are Chupack and her future children planning on observing a really stunning Ramadan as well, just to better understand the Other? Chupack does not so much care about tolerance when it comes to her own group. Jews are just a guilt-providing, ugly-holiday-having, strange-spelling community of losers. So why, then, does she care about continuity? Why not make a point in marrying someone observant of another faith, so as to make absolutely sure her children never have to be put in such an awkward and embarrassing position?

Seriously, “Borat” and bars. December 25th is a day off for many of us, enjoy!

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37 Comments

  1. Tom Morrissey

    12/23/2006 at 3:16 pm

    Oh, brother. The article is highly entertaining, and you’d have to be congenitally unable to detect irony (Xmas takes some good-natured lumps in the piece) to treat it in such a leaden, humorless fashion. You really think Chupak’s “self-hat[ing]”?

    Well, maybe you’re right. Maybe she should’ve responded to the Catholic friend who invited her to the “gingerbread house decorating party” (???) by saying, ‘How could you be so insensitive? You and your gingerbread and your tinsel are a threat to Jewish continuity! It’s a ruse, right– you’re planning a pogrom instead! Keep your evil Christian customs to yourself!’ and concluding with an a cappella performance of Hatikva.

    This is why Christians should turn down Passover seder invitations. Nearly accepted one myself this year, out of sheerest Christian self-hatred. Thank God I’m in therapy for it now.

  2. themiddle

    12/23/2006 at 6:15 pm

    Why on earth wouldn’t you accept a Passover Seder invitation?

  3. Chutzpah

    12/23/2006 at 6:20 pm

    December 23!!! Festivus for the rest of us!

    Anyone care to indulge in the tradional dinner of burbon and rum? Pin me to the ground? Watch me pole dance? Air some grievances?

  4. Esther

    12/24/2006 at 3:38 am

    I’m with Tom on this. I interviewed Cindy a few years ago, and she’s happy to be Jewish and that her husband is Jewish. And just because we have Christmas envy, not because of the Jesus connection, but because of the social and commercial influences, doesnt’ mean we’re anti-Hanukkah.

    I mean, I myself don’t celebrate Christmas. But I will admit that their carols beat ours any day, and that in college, which people often note is a time for experimentation, I once decorated a tree, and felt damn glad doing it. And I often wondered if my youthful thwarted romances might have been encouraged by the presence of a few staggered branchers of mistletoe as excuses for canoodling. I’m never going to buy a tree, or celebrate Jesus’s birth by stuffing stockings. But it doesn’t mean I’m oblivious to the holiday’s appeal…

  5. Joachim von Tripp zu Trapp

    12/24/2006 at 4:01 am

    How unnatural strange some people behave, you buy a tiny green thing called a tree for a fortune, go to a shop a get a cart full of this years most fashionable mirrors and beads.
    You drape/cover the thing with these items and start singing to it.
    Where is the logic to all of this, I am not going to get me a bush, put in into the house and light it, do I?

  6. Sam

    12/24/2006 at 8:22 am

    If you do anything that marks December 25 as a different day than all the others to you personally, they you are de facto celebrating Christmas. (Buying presents for Christian family members or friends does not count because it’s marking the day as special to them, not you.)

    Regardless of the commercial and social aspects, the reason for the season is, of course, another religion.

  7. Suzanne

    12/24/2006 at 8:48 am

    Sigh, Joachim, you don’t get a cart full of this year’s most fashionable mirrors and beads. Where did you get that from? You use ornaments, often hand-made by children, that have great emotional meaning and significance.
    Secular Christmas IS very appealing. No way around it.

  8. Danielle

    12/24/2006 at 10:11 am

    Chanukah really isn’t supposed to be this big flashy, extravagant holiday like Christmas anyway. I like it better when it’s humble: Jews lighting candles at home with their families and friends, remembering our history, our miracles, triumphs, and basically why we are so unique and special in the world today.

    Christmas is only one day, so they get to have all this suspense, shopping, TV and media coverage leading up to this one big, apparently shebang day, when we get eight days of remembrance so our hype is spread out a little.

    I love Chanukah. I don’t think it’s supposed to be this big thing that people wait for all year. It’s just another special time for us to cherish our own miracles, who we are, where we’ve come from, and where we’re going.

  9. Barbara E.

    12/24/2006 at 10:50 am

    What Danielle said. Plus latkes, donuts and dreidels made from marshmallows, chocolate kisses, peanut butter and pretzel sticks.

  10. Shy Guy

    12/24/2006 at 11:08 am

    I am ever greatful since moving to Israel of hardly ever being reminded by sight or sound of that non-Jewish holiday that celebrates the birth of a single Am Ha’aretz and/or Apikores that has caused the Jewish people 2000 years of anguish and misery.

    I don’t understand how any minimally aware Jew can enjoy the external trappings of this holiday’s pagan customs and its symbolism of a religion that is an antithesis of Judaism in so many ways.

  11. SN

    12/24/2006 at 11:30 am

    It’s funny, I remember the apeal of christmas as a kid- and the absolute relief it was to be in Israel where the day could come and go and I would never know it.

    I thought the article was witty and cute but really, really sad.

    People forget the Hanuka is the anti-assimilation holiday and you can’t get more assimilated than a Jew with a Christmas tree.

  12. Chayadina

    12/24/2006 at 11:38 am

    I understand the impulse to want to be a be a part of the seasonal celebration that envelopes seemingly all of society. But why does one need to do this inside his/her own home with a tree and decorations and regalia? As children in a very Catholic community we used to visit with our Presbyterian neighbors around Christmas…bring them a present, drink eggnog, etc. They in turn would visit with us on Hanukkah and Passover. It was clear that we each had our own identities but could could participate with each other.

    The key sentence in her column mentions raising her children with arbitrary rules as she was raised. From the tone of her article it is obvious that she has never decorated a Sukkah or enjoyed wonderful meals in it during the length of the holiday, nor has she enjoyed the full delights of Purim with its costumes, and foods and music.

    We have wonderful music…how much of Debbie Friedman does she know, both the soulful and the delightful, for example?

    This really is a pity because she lives in a city that could give her the fullest (and fulfilling) Jewish experience in the United States and she has taken advantage of none of it and rejected it for a commonplace Pottery Barn experience.

  13. Joachim von Tripp zu Trapp

    12/24/2006 at 11:40 am

    Suzanne, as a child I was reasonable destructive and far from being creative, do these children you talk about by coincidence
    work in a Chinese factory.

  14. Shy Guy

    12/24/2006 at 11:49 am

  15. Esther F

    12/24/2006 at 11:59 am

    I agree, witty but sad. Why are we not interested in teaching our children about our own traditions before going out of our way to adopt others?

  16. chutzpah

    12/24/2006 at 12:17 pm

    Not one Festivus fan out there? That was hilarious.

  17. mandelbrot_k

    12/24/2006 at 12:22 pm

    I am playing xmasjew (the opposite of shabbesgoy) for goishe parts of my family as i write. gave a hand decorating the tree, didn’t sing christmas carols but hummed matisyahu instead. does it make me a bad jew? what would moshe say?

    hope y’all have a nice tevet – whatever you’re doing.

  18. Sam

    12/24/2006 at 1:13 pm

    Shy Guy,

    What’s wrong with the Matzo Ball?

  19. Shy Guy

    12/24/2006 at 3:46 pm

    Sam, I didn’t say there was anything wrong per se, though I would have thought the Matza Ball would take place in Nissan. Hence my comment “‘Tis the season???”.

  20. Nathan

    12/24/2006 at 4:40 pm

    Jesus, I cant feel more revolted. Wait, the GAP ad that ties peace and love with hoodies just came on again, so NOW I can’t be more revolted.

    I am so happy not to be caught up in the Christmas bullshit. I envy nothing about this confabulated holiday devoid of all truth, and thanks to America, all meaning.

    The problem is not that we have lame holidays, the problem is 3 fold:

    a> the xmasization of Hanukkah is really bad and we need to resist it.
    b> we (Jews) do not need to over react on our holidays because we have one amazing one each week – where we are given rest and a chance to step aside and reflect. And better yet this weekly holiday has lights, food, family songs and more.
    c> the fake niceness this season is sickening, it takes a real commitment to values to live them all year long (not that I am perfect, but I know I do better than 2 weeks a year).

    If I were a real Christian I would be so pissed off! Moreover, I would strive to return the Christ to Christmas. I have a heck of a lot of respect for those that do.

  21. Heidi

    12/24/2006 at 7:07 pm

    I agree with Phoebe about this article, to the extent that I can remember her original sentiment after reading 20 comments.

    I grew up celebrating xmas, and NEVER did I like it. The anxiety, the crashing crappy gift-related disappointment, the afternoon anomie, the isolation, the strange smells, the grumpy dad, the cleaning up for four hours, the no you can’t watch TV it’s all “garbage.” Stupid xmas, you die now. I love Hanukkah like a fat kid loves cake.

    If you need me, I’ll be in my garret drinking and starting a blog about my feelings.

  22. sarah

    12/24/2006 at 8:46 pm

    i spent last shabbos learning the gemara about not indulging in “their circuses and theaters.” i feel at peace with sitcking to chinese food and chow yun fat though.

  23. Benji

    12/25/2006 at 2:19 am

    Danielle, Chayadina, and Nathan are right on the money. Only in America do the Jews feel the need to tie Chanukah to Christmas in a comparative manner (not to sound un-American). Purim is the gift-giving festive holiday so why must this conversation always take place? I know the barrage of X-mas stimulation can be, um, overwhleming for a Jew but it’s a Christian country, what to do… Nathan, I will be celebrating our weekly holiday by drinking heavily in Eilat. HAPPY HOLIDAYS, EVERYBODY!!!

  24. sharon

    12/25/2006 at 11:47 am

    My husband and i have been celebrating another holiday around this time of year (children, cover your eyes) – clitmas! Tree, expensive presents, pagan celebrations are not required.

    It’s the perfect thing for a Jew to do on december 25.

    Will this get posted, I wonder?

  25. Barbara E.

    12/25/2006 at 12:45 pm

    I finally read Chupak’s article yesterday. I’m surprised that no commenter so far saw any correlation between her hometown of Tulsa and her apparent relative lack of appreciation for the joys of Judaism. I can’t see Tulsa, Oklahoma producing joyous Jews anymore than I can see Maine producing citrus fruits.

  26. jessica

    12/25/2006 at 6:23 pm

    Barbara –

    I think your comment about Tulsa was uncalled for. I’m not from Tulsa but I am a midwestern Jew. There are many joyous Jewish communities in areas that are not New York or LA.

    As for the original topic, I’m not sure how Chupak can honestly believe that “maybe it’s nice to teach children that holidays can be done à la carte” is a positive thing. Why not work on embracing one’s own religion instead buying into the complete insanity that grips the US during November and December? It sends a terrible message to kids: “Yes we’re Jews but we do Christmas.” What? Those will be some confused children.

  27. Balaam's Donkey

    12/25/2006 at 6:29 pm

    It’s not only uncalled for, but it’s pretty ignorant. While Jews in Tulsa may not have it handed to them on a platter like in many cities with larger concentrations, there is a thriving community out there, even if it isn’t enormous.

    I have many friends from Tulsa, from Jewish summer camp and youth group experiences, as well as those who are studying Jewish education at my school.

  28. California Dreamer

    12/25/2006 at 8:09 pm

    I was so glad to read this post! I have been thinking of writing a letter to the New York times complaining of the “War on Chanukah,” based on the proliferation of articles this year about Jews gleefully celebrating Christmas. (Although in another article in the times, the Jewish author hinted that her childhood pseudo-Christmases eventually led her to a Jewish spiritual search).

    Thanks to those who noted that Judaism is a year-round religion with so many rich and wonderful celebrations. Thanks also to the writer who noted the irony that Chanukah celebrates resistance to assimilation. I hope that Cindy Chupack will come to find the depths and beauty of Judaism for her future kids.

  29. Barbara E.

    12/25/2006 at 9:24 pm

    Oh, untwist your mid-western panties. Until I see a bumper crop of tangerines from Bangor, I stand by my Tulsa-hatin’ ways.

  30. Mike

    12/26/2006 at 2:06 am

    Yes this article is despicable but also see a similar article published the same day: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/24/magazine/24lives.t.html?ex=157680000&en=c3477f36307e2de7&ei=5124&partner=permalink&exprod=permalink

    She realizes that she’ll have to find her Jewishness in other ways.

  31. Tom Morrissey

    12/26/2006 at 10:11 am

    Just kidding about the seder invitation, Middle. I’m pretty confident I could down that bitter herb without contracting identity confusion. So, invite away….

  32. Yaaziel

    12/26/2006 at 3:51 pm

    I have to agree with Nathan and others: there is absolutely NOTHING to envy in Xmas. Yeccchh.

  33. Suzanne

    12/26/2006 at 5:30 pm

    Cindy Chupack went to Northwestern, as did quite a few other Jews from Tulsa. There is a thriving Jewish community in Tulsa.

  34. ramon marcos

    12/26/2006 at 6:23 pm

    Jessica wrote “There are many joyous Jewish communities in areas that are not New York or LA.”

    For example there’s a synagogue restoration project going on in the decidedly-NOT JEWISH region where Dylan was raised. This link gives a little bit of the history of Jews and that area.

    http://www.ironrangejewishheritage.org/

    In fact many of my relatives came from that area and the Lake Superior port town where Dylan was born. Jews hunt and fish here like non-Jews. But I’m not as indignant toward’s Barbara’s comment as Baalam or Jessica. It may not be accurate but it’s understandable. When my Jersey cousins first came to visit they were disappointed that we wouldn’t be milking cows. We’re not that insecure that we don’t get a kick out of the country bumpkin stereotype. In fact I find us fascinating!

    We’ve been more exposed to Christians, they’re a big part of our daily life. We embrace it. It’s better than when we originally settled in the Christian dominated mining and farming communities and ended up creating the same cloistered shtetl existence we left behind. So Dylan’s from the Iron Range. Chupak’s from Tulsa (a rockin’ town I can attest). Olmert’s from China. We wander. We find a place and pitch a tent. It’s what we do.

  35. Daniel

    12/26/2006 at 11:53 pm

    Chirstmas is an important part of American culture and it’s not like anyone who identifies as Jewish would set up a nativity scene and go to midnight mass.

    So let’s face it, no self identifying Jew is REALLY celebrating anything starting with the word “Christ” in worship, so why do they call it Christmas?

  36. zman

    1/3/2007 at 8:48 pm

    No self-respecting Jew celebrates or even looks upon Christmas activity without an air of disdain. These are people who have killed us, and is a celebration hailing an apikores. Chanukah is the celebration commemorating the few Jews in Israel willing to fight so they could remain Jewish. Aside from the story of the oil the miracle lies with those Jews who fought against impossible odds. Greeks numbering in the tens of thousands were defeated by Jews numbering in only a few thousand – just so you and I could be Jewish. They rest easy now that we can have a Christmas tree in our front parlors. And if that does not do it for you, it is Avodah Zarah. Furthermore if any of you think that Christmas carols outdo zmiros, you have never spent a Shabbos at a Yeshiva or gone to a Tish, so please – the extent of your “Jewish” repertoire is probably limited to light one candle and Dreidel, Dreidel I made you out of clay.

  37. Dave

    1/4/2007 at 12:19 am

    Zman, actually I thought about the Christmas thing a lot. Basically I have come to the conclusion that if we Jews as individuals are truly strong in our faith and have fully internalized the fact of G-d’s Unity and Mercy, then we have no need to worry about such things as Christmas.

    Our belief and faith in Hashem is so wonderful and life-sustaining, that one can be confident, as I am and I am sure you are also, that one day all humanity will universally proclaim “Know, therefore, this day, and lay it to thy heart that the Eternal is G-d, in heaven above, and upon the earth beneath, there is none else.

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