A Kvetch about Christmas
Proffer the idea that Christmas is a Jewish holiday and many will look at you as if you had three heads. Some will even be offended at the suggestion. But as a diehard advocate for logic, I ask you to consider the following review of what we know . . . or at least what my understanding is. Feel free to correct me in the unlikely event that I’m misinformed.
Jesus (his anglicized name) was born to extremely Jewish parents—historical fact. They weren't practicing Jews; they didn't need to practice, as they were already experts. Judaism was their ancestry, their upbringing, their culture, their faith—the whole schmear. I’m no genetics expert, but by my calculations, that means their kid would be 100% Jewish, on both sides.
Now, regardless of what you may have heard, this particular Jewish family didn’t happen to reside in Oslo, Vienna, or even Dallas. They lived in Nazareth. Checking the map here in my study, it seems that Nazareth is in Israel, as is Bethlehem, where Jesus was born, just a stone’s throw from Jerusalem. (Of course, I’d never be the one to cast the first stone.) As countries go, Israel is about as Jewish as it gets. What France is to snootiness, what Italy is to pasta, what America is to political corruption, Israel is to Jewishness. Also, there were no snowmen, no Victorians in top hats and fur-collared coats, and most likely, no one fair-haired, since it's in the Middle East and there was no peroxide back then. (That discovery was made, as everyone knows, by Louis Jacques Thénard in 1818.) Now I’m no biblical historian, but so far, I’m not seeing anything gentile going on.
Before becoming a controversial religious leader, Jesus was raised on the traditional Jewish teachings. And though many found his preaching radical, all of his apostles were Jews—every single one of them—and not one of them converted to anything. On the contrary, they believed that Jesus fulfilled the prophesies in their holy Jewish scriptures, which were, of course, written by a bunch of old Jews. In fact, that’s where the whole concept of a messiah (from the Hebrew māšīaḥ) came from. So none of the Jewish apostles stopped being Jewish, at least not according to them. I’m no psychologist, but it seems unlikely that like they were all experiencing some sort of group identity crisis.
At this point, there was a rift: Some Jews believed he was the messiah and some did not. Feh, to each his own. But just as the Star-Bellied Sneeches and the Sneeches without stars were still all Sneeches, the Jews were all still Jews. Later, members of the Christian sect had to have a confab about whether to admit gentiles, and whether those gentiles should be required to covert to Judaism. True story. They decided to let them in without making them convert, and...well...we all know what happened from there. Now I’m no expert on appropriation, but if the sandal fits, the gentiles are wearing it.
Now, the whole mash-up involving winter solstice, pagan rituals, a generous Turkish bishop, a 1930s Coca-Cola ad, reindeer, chimneys, wassailing, Charles Dickens, and Rankin-Bass TV specials came much later, and is far too much of a quagmire for us to wander into this close to the erroneously scheduled holidays. Besides, I’m no expert.
So, why does this stick in my craw? It's because I find it grating when people adhere to a narrative that just doesn’t add up. I'm particularly frustrated when such narratives are as widespread as is this one. And parts of it are downright mysterious. I've been told, for example, that Jews can't believe in Jesus, as if it's genetic, like allergies or light sensitivity. That would certainly have been a shock to Shimon, Mattathia, Natanel, Yehochanan, Yacov, Doubting Ta’om, and the rest of the original gang. Some gentiles, on the other hand, have not only co-opted Christianity as exclusively their own, but, strangely, also harbor an illogical hatred for Jews. I'm not sure how anti-Semites who identify themselves as followers of a Jewish messiah reconcile those two beliefs, but that's their puzzle to solve. I wish them the very best of luck; it’s a pretty tall order.
So yes, though Jesus is now pictured as a WASPy Westerner born in December, any celebration of his birth is, by definition, a Jewish holiday—as Jewish as shofars, challah, big noses, chicken soup, and Mel Brooks. That this idea seems ridiculous to so many is only further demonstration of the general populace's’ aversion to things like thinking.
So enough with the mishegas. Break out the holiday hummus, decorate a nice palm tree, and brush up on your Hebrew. And you should only have a merry Christmas already...even if you're not Jewish.