National Post Christians (National Post, December 24, 2003)

National Post - Wednesday December 24th, 2003

Merry Christmas! Not Happy Holiday, User-friendly Yule, or Salubrious Solstice. Merry C*h*r*i*s*t mas. I say this with heartfelt goodwill -- as I arrange the Hannukah candles in my menorah, and fire up the stove for my annual batch of potato latkes.

Find me a Jew who isn't crazy about Christmas. Well, OK, maybe those Hasidim over there studying the Talmud plus five million Israelis aren't onside, but for many Diaspora Jews Christmas is a treat to gladden the eye and lighten the heart every December. We love it. Christmas is catnip to majoritarily Jewish Hollywood producers. Jewish Irving Berlin wrote White Christmas, the all-time favourite Christmas song.

Passing through our Laurentian village, with every adorable log cabin and store rimmed and aglitter with lights, roof reindeer, and multi-hued winking evergreens, we sigh with pleasure: All this expense and labour laid on for our delectation without having to lift a finger in exchange. All gain, no pain.

So I deplore the modern trend to shrink-wrap Christmas in our name. I am offended by "Holiday trees" and "Happy Holiday" cards and invitations to "Holiday parties." I am embarrassed that Christmas is being downsized, and Hannukah and Kwanzaa upsized, assigned bogus significance in the name of multiculturalism, so that we minorities won't feel left out, and so that all identity groups in Canada -- with the notable exception of Christians --may feel validated and included.

Political Correctness, j'accuse. Look here, Hannukah is a minor holiday commemorating a military victory, not a sacred Torah-prescribed festival like Yom Kippur or Passover. If Hannukah fell in July, no gentile would even know it existed. The incredible hulk-ness of modern Hannukah is a shameless manoeuvre to provide icicle-light envying Jews with a compelling alternative to Christmas. As if. Let's see: candles, spinning dreidels and potato latkes -- or Christmas trees, carols, roasting chestnuts, eggnog, and Jack Frost nipping at your nose. No contest.

I attended a public high school, Forest Hill, in Toronto, whose student body was approximately 100% Jewish. Our beloved Classics teacher, Miss Toll, taught us Christmas carols in Latin -- not the commercial junk you hear ad nauseam in malls and elevators, but the real thing, acknowledging the original holiness of the occasion: Silent Night, Good King Wenceslas, and my favourite, O Come All Ye Faithful.

Adeste fideles,

Laeti triumphantes,

Venite, venite in Bethlehem;

Natum videte regem angelorum.

Venite adoremus (x 3),


Oddly, we sang the whole thing in Latin, including "Dominum", with gusto, yet at the Christmas party, when we got to "Christ the Lord," we demurred, and hummed through virtuously clamped lips, while only the teachers sang the freighted English words. Nobody tried to convert us, none of us felt patronized or less Jewishly secure.

When Christmas is neutered into "Holiday," we Jews feel guilty and resentful. We feel guilty because you Christians are being deprived of your right to enjoy an important holiday in all its traditional beauty and meaning. We know that you know it's being dumbed down with our feelings in mind. But we don't -- or shouldn't -- ask that of you. Because the flip side of feeling bad at robbing you of your holiday is resentment at the Marxist implication to up the ante on our own festivities.

You see, if Christmas is now only "Holiday" and for everyone, instead of remaining contented Christmas spectators observing an appropriately understated Hannukah as a coincidental aside, we are obliged to become major "Holiday" players against our will.

Oy! But I don't want to make enormous lists, send out hundreds of Hannukah cards, agonize over friends' gift-worthiness, spend a king's ransom in maniacal shopping for a month, wear fluorescent frocks to endless parties, make (and eat) a thousand Jewish star-shaped cookies with sprinkles, decorate a huge "Hannukah bush," spend a fortune on booze and food, eat myself sick, and gain 10 pounds.

I just want to light the candles, enjoy one family get-together, and give my kids their traditional "geld" (money: always in good taste on Hannukah).

Christians: Reclaim your holiday so I don't have to overdo mine! Display those creches wherever you like! Sing real carols! Don't let the secularists and other grievance collectors ruin a precious treasure. If not for yourselves, do it for us Christmas-enchanted Jews.

I sometimes absent-mindedly say "Happy New Year" to my gentile friends at Rosh Hashanah. No Christian ever felt diminished by it. Your "Merry Christmas" doesn't diminish me. Bring it on!

Hannukah commemorates the ancient Hebrews' victorious battle over their polytheistic oppressors, fought for the right to worship our own God. I cherish that story. It would be rather ironic if we didn't grant Christians the same right today. So: a very Merry Christmas to all Christians, and to all a Good Night.

© National Post 2003