I’m not a Grinch, I’m just Jewish: When the ‘holiday season’ is not meant for you

It’s that time again when I walk through the city streets full of beautifully lit trees, wreaths hanging from shops and music playing on loop in public spaces.

And I know, this is not for me.

It’s the time when I avoid (B101.1-FM), which plays nothing but Christmas tunes, dodge the Christmas carollers and politely decline the chance to sit on Santa’s lap.  

This is for those celebrating Christmas, and I celebrate Chanukah.

While younger me felt the pangs of alienation, returning store clerk’s “Merry Christmas” with a cheerfully passive-aggressive “Happy Chanukah,” it’s a reality that I have since become accustomed to every winter season.

Now “Merry Christmas” is exchanged for “Happy Holidays,” Christmas trees are called “holiday trees” and are adorned with a tiny menorah or a “coexist” ornament, and Christmas lights will, every now and again, flash a shoutout blue. But just like the shiny tinsel, it’s an illusion. Under the guise of the holidays, Judaism is just incorporated into Christian imagery as a form of tolerance, a Chanukah shelf in the corner of a mega department store stocked with Christmas wares.

But whether you want to call it a holiday tree or a Christmas tree, the symbolism of a decorated tree in December is not for me. Moreover, I don’t want it to be for me. This holiday season marks 80 years since Kristallnacht, a pogrom against Jews in Nazi Germany that fast-tracked the Holocaust. Despite all odds, Jewish traditions and symbols still exist, and I have no need or desire to accept images with religious undertones as false signs of good faith.

Others know this too — whether they like to admit it or not.

On Nov. 26, Mayor Jim Kenney officiated the lighting of “The Present” at Christmas Village. Ending a crucial message of remembering less fortunate, he finished to the sounds of laughter saying:

“Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, Happy Kwanzaa. Whatever you celebrate, because I get in trouble for not saying it, [and just saying] Merry Christmas, I get in trouble for it all the time. All those holidays and Festivus, whatever it is you celebrate…”’

Are we really going to do this, really? Either include the holidays in your seasonal greetings or don’t. But let’s not teeter the line of inclusivity only to debase it with “because I get in trouble for not saying it.”

From Nov. 1 to Jan. 15, there are about 29 holidays observed by seven of the world’s main religions, according to Religious Tolerance. Sure, saying all of those holidays may be overkill, and a “Happy Holidays” should suffice for brevity’s sake. Even a “Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays,” given that the “The Present” event was at the Christmas Village, would have been better than Kenney’s clear condescension. But telling a crowd, and to be met with laughter, that you are being forced to acknowledge others is particularly disturbing.

In the City of Brotherly Love, a place filled with diversity, is there not a new tradition the city could come up with to represent the holiday season? Instead of circulating other religions around the majority religion through trees and ornaments, what a place it could be if Philly could have its own winter wonderland where every child knows the revelry and excitement of the holiday season is for them.

I think we are creative enough, do you?


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