I spent my childhood surrounded by Christmas. Christmas lights, Christmas trees, Christmas ornaments, and Christmas music. Every store I entered. Every supermarket. Every restaurant.
Everyone who saw me wished me a Merry Christmas. “What are you doing for Christmas?” “Have you been naughty or nice?” “ Is Santa coming to visit you?”
In school, we had the requisite Christmas trees and red and green and Christmas concerts. There were no other Jewish kids in my school from kindergarten through 4th grades. Just me.
Being the only Jewish kid around at Christmas time was a painful and lonely experience that never got easier. I tried not to get too gloomy. I sang all the Christmas songs, carefully mouthing the name of Jesus rather than singing his name aloud.
I was a stranger in a strange land. That’s what it felt like every Christmas of my childhood. The whole scene didn’t belong to me, and I didn’t feel quite safe enough to say so. Of course, being the son of a Holocaust survivor did not exactly help me adjust to the situation. I was raised in a Christian country.
I’m not asking for sympathy or reparations. The fact that I am Jewish and the majority of Americans are not is simply a fact of demography. But I did sometimes wonder: did it have to be so ubiquitous, so over-the-top? Was there not someplace besides the synagogue where I could find some relief, some recognition that I was different?
It is so laughable to hear Americans claim that Christmas and thus Christianity are under siege in our country. The red cup I get at Starbucks that has no ornaments or trees on it is the smallest acknowledgement that there are others in this country that don’t accept Jesus as the Christ.That maybe to say “Happy Holidays!” instead of “Merry Christmas” is, in fact, a more American gesture because it is more inclusive.
Each and every American has the right to be accepted for who and what they are. The disabled have the right to expect that they will be able to get to a bathroom and find a stall that can accommodate a wheelchair. Minorities have the right to get a job even if their skin color is not white, even if they speak with an accent. Gays and lesbians have the right to get married. We who are different than the majority just want to be treated with dignity and sensitivity.
Being inclusive is not the end of Christianity. Starbucks and their red cup is not an attack on Christmas ( by the way, on YouTube there is a clip https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OD9Fd2wtX20&ab_channel=ctownlegend from a guy ranting about how unChristian Starbucks is; his name is Joshua Feuerstein…? That’s got to be an interesting story). Being inclusive is just the right thing to do. It is the open arms of acceptance, which is the true theme of the holiday season.
I was the only Jewish kid, other than my sister, in elementary school. You were one that made it tolerable 🙂
What a kind and beautiful thing to say. Thank you Shaleah.