‘Tis the Season to Be Sparring

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It’s that time of year again. That time of year when everyone is supposed to be preparing for their respective holidays full of good cheer and spirits. What ends up happening is people tripping over themselves to be insulted or to make statements about their beliefs.

First, a bit of history. It might be that a lot of the grumbling comes from not understanding what this time of year really means for various people of various religions and faiths.

People have been celebrating holidays around the winter solstice for eons.

The Talmud makes the claim that Adam initiated the first winter solstice celebration. Having been created in the fall (Tishrei) and having sinned almost immediately upon his creation, Adam believed that he was being punished with less and less daylight. The day after the solstice he realized that such was the way of the world and the daylight period would be getting longer and longer. The next year he celebrated the 8 days preceding the solstice and the 8 days following the solstice as holidays. (BT Avodah Zara 8a). The Mishna which is being discussed in that Talmudic statement notes that there were several pagan holidays that were celebrated around the winter solstice during the Mishnaic era (circa 70-200 CE).

Clearly, there are very old sources that all orthodox Jews deem reliable indicating that this time of year was marked by celebrations. These celebrations predate Christmas and in the instance of Adam, predate Chanukah as well. Further, if the pagan celebrations noted in the Mishna were a few centuries old at the time, those holidays predate Chanukah as well. This is all according traditional, ancient Jewish sources.

Although Christmas celebrates the birth of the Christian religion, it was not celebrated widely for the first 1000 years of Christianity. Slowly, through the middle ages the holiday gained prominence. About 300 years ago the holiday was already very popular with many Christians but some of the factions breaking off from mainstream Christianity at the time deemed it a pagan holiday and banned its celebration. The Puritans, famous for their establishing of colonies on American soil fined anyone who dared celebrate this holiday. The holiday is not found in scripture so it was presumed by them to have been borrowed from pagans and was impure.

Sometime in the 19th century Christmas became a universally accepted Christian holiday. The Christmas Tree was incorporated into the celebration as well. Later, in the 20th century, the imagery of Santa Claus, his elves, toy soldiers, gingerbread cookies and other familiar Christmas symbols made their way into the lore.

The holiday surged in popularity and then in the 21st century, non-Christians began to feel barraged by the overt religious overtones of the celebrations taking place on “neutral ground”. The ACLU, atheist groups and others began asking, sometimes demanding, that Christmas not be celebrated in public places.

Many Christmas celebrators took offense to this. Plenty of arguments have been invoked trying to establish a reason that Christmas celebrations should be allowed in public schools, municipal parks, government facilities, retail stores and pretty much anywhere and everywhere else. Jon Stewart and Bill O’Reilly have been going on about this for years and Rick Perry spurned an Internet meme with his opinion.

Rabbi Adlerstein on Patheos and the LA Times have reported on the Santa Monica war over Christmas. For years, an elaborate Nativity scene decked the halls of a Santa Monica park. There are 21 spots for holiday displays. A number of groups entered a lottery to determine who would get the spots. Atheist groups won 14 of the spots, Jewish groups got three and the rest went to the Nativity.

The atheists are being pretty mean spirited about the whole thing. They are using this as a platform to poke fun and mock religious people. That’s not very nice. But I wonder how they would have responded if the displays had not been religious, i.e. The Nativity, and instead were the cultural symbols of Santa, peppermint candy and reindeer. Many of the Christmas displays are not signs of religion per se, rather a new-age version of a Christian holiday with winter symbolism that is not inherently religious.

Although, I don’t agree with Rabbi Adlerstein and many other religious Jews as well as Christians who want more Christmas displays. Last week I was at Disneyland with my family. The daily parade was holiday themed. Our younger son really, really wanted to see many of his favorite Disney characters who were not out and about during the day. We figured we would see them during the parade so even though we were not interested in the Christmasness of the parade we stayed to watch. He was thrilled and in that respect it was the right choice.

I watched the parade carefully. There was not one ounce of religion in the parade. Nothing that was particularly Christian or related to Jesus. There were reindeer, there were red hats, Santa and the Mrs. paraded on by, scenes from the Nutcracker, and other holiday stories were represented and there was a tree. But literally nothing in the parade was religious. Yet, we were all very uncomfortable. The symbols of Christmas have become part and parcel of the religious holiday despite not really being intrinsically related to the religious holiday. In other words, even though the parade was not religious, it offended our Jewish sensitivities. This was not our holiday. We were guests. It was uncomfortable.

Disney can do as it sees fit. But as a consumer I was disappointed. What is usually a highlight of the day was uncomfortable for everyone over the age of 3 because they chose to integrate a Christian holiday into a celebration of fun, magic and fantasy. It is unfortunate. And I can completely relate to the atheists who are offended by similar displays of holiday spirit and cheer even when stripped of their specifically religious elements.

That doesn’t justify their over the top protest. Not at all. But I do believe that public religious and symbolic displays that are Christmas and Christian-centric are not inclusive and do not need to be tolerated anywhere and everywhere by the non-Christian public.

Links: Patheos, LA Times

  • Solomon

    I guess it is time for us to show these image-driven, jesus-forgetting christians how the holiday was meant to be celebrated – by getting drunk and rioting on horseback through Jewish neighborhoods.

  • >But I do believe that public religious and symbolic displays that are Christmas and Christian-centric are not inclusive

    Why does everything have to be inclusive??? Why are people so easily offended? That everything under the sun has to make you comfortable is rather childish. I mean, the very fact at getting offended by Christmas is as ridiculous as Arabs getting offended by Chanukah decorations in Israel. There has to be some sort of narcissism in play. I took my kids to Candy Cane lane in the Valley with the lights. They loved it. I loved it. I appreciate that this country is largely Christian and that not everything has to revolve around “me” and my feelings. I am actually happy, that OTHER’S are happy and feel festive. 

    This is the one time a year that make the atheists look bad. To purposely put “anti-messages” in a time when so many families bringing their children, look to these symblols of joy and inspiration, and to destroy it, is just so morally wrong in my opinion. They simply want to screw people and be “davkanicks”

    • Any public park should absolutely be inclusive. And I didn’t say I was offended. I said I was uncomfortable.

      • It is inclusive. The fact that you feel uncomfortable is your problem, not theirs. Maybe we should get rid of any festivities that might make others feel uncomfortable. 

        It’s what I said, there is some narcissism at play, even if a tinge. 

        • I still don’t understand your complaint against me.

          • Wait, so I have been writing in Chinese? You SERIOUSLY can’t read and understand anything I wrote? I commented at what I feel is your narcissism for being offended and feelings of discomfort at Christmas in a largely Christian nation, to a point a park should remove them. This is a national holiday and has already fused into the social fabric of this nation due to it largely being Christians. So for one time a year, you can’t seem to put your “discomfort” aside and be happy that as individuals, and as a collective, these public expressions bring so much joy, inspiration and add to the character to this nation, is narcissistic, IMO. 

            • Okay, now I understand what you are saying.

              First of all, it’s not narcissism when a religious Jew is uncomfortable around Christian celebrations. It’s normal.
              Second of all, I can put my discomfort aside. And I do. But I can relate to people who don’t feel they should have to.
              Third of all, why do Christians need to have their celebrations and displays in public for 20% of the calendar year? Why can’t they just celebrate in Church and at home? Why does it need to be in public?
              Fourth of all, in what way does Christmas add to the character of this nation? Unless by ‘character’ you mean ‘credit card debt”?

      • What does this mean?

        “And I can completely relate to the atheists who are offended by similar displays of holiday spirit and cheer even when stripped of their specifically religious elements.”

        • It means what it says.

          Although most Christmas displays are not technically religious, I can relate to the idea that they make non-Christmas celebrators uncomfortable and if someone is offended by being made uncomfortable I can understand that too.

          • Sorry, I may be just me, but I don’t understand how you can relate to someone’s offense, if you too, do not find something offensive about it.

            • So the word empathy is not in your dictionary? That actually explains a lot. 🙂

  • And yet, there is irony in everything here. I may be digging into this too much, but, in this post you claim offense at Christmas symbols that you feel are overwhelming you. How much abhorrence you would feel if they DID actually show religious symbols, I can only guess. In general, it is typically people of tradition and faith that want to keep this symbols and maintain a society of religious devotion. That a society built on faith is better than a secular society. Yet, on Dovbear’s post on the death of Christopher Hitchens, — a man that despised any organized faith and belief in God — you say that you “miss him already.” This, all coming from a rabbi.

    • I have no idea what you are trying to say.

      Honestly.

      • Then we will let your readers figure it out.

  • >But I do believe that public religious and symbolic displays that are Christmas and Christian-centric are not inclusive and do not need to be tolerated anywhere and everywhere by the non-Christian public.
    Is this your opinion about other holidays that others might find offense? In Israel as well?

    • Re Other Holidays:

      Like what?

      Re Israel:

      First of all, Israel is, ya know, a JEWISH country!

      Second of all, I would be happy if Israel would adopt a sensitive approach to other faiths and religions.

      • >First of all, Israel is, ya know, a JEWISH country!
        Irrelevant. You’re entire premise is the feelings of others. Israel is not being inclusive.
        >Second of all, I would be happy if Israel would adopt a sensitive approach to other faiths and religions.Bingo.

  • So yes, IMO, it should be tolerated. The feelings of the minorities are not the only ones that matter all the time.

  • >So the word empathy is not in your dictionary? That actually explains a lot. 🙂
    Not everything is worth empathy. You don’t concern yourself about those people that feel offended by P.C. B.S during Christmas

    • There is no equivalency between the two.

      Christmas is a religious holiday. No one is asking that they stop celebrating. They are being asked to stop celebrating everywhere and anytime they want for 20% of the year.

      • Whhhhyyyyyy???!!!

        Because you feel offended. Hence, the narcissism. 

        Trust me, I understand your logic of them not wanting to celebrate publicly. That I get. It’s your core premise to how you get to that logic that I am talking about:

        You taking offense. 

        I am simply starting from the other side of the spectrum. I simply say to myself  that this is by far a largly Christian nation. That this holiday is sort of their “staple” holiday. That it means a lot to them. That public displays have a greater benefit to maintaining a somewhat faithful and traditional nation, therefore, all those are more important than MY personal feelings at this time.

        • You are very noble. But you can’t actually expect every American to execute the same mental gymnastics for the sake of some holiday.

          • No more mental gymnastics than any drasha a rav gives from his pulpit. Plus, I don’t buy into the argument that it’s either everyone or nothing.

  • >First of all, it’s not narcissism when a religious Jew is uncomfortable around Christian celebrations. It’s normal. 
    Uncomfortable, is quite different than feeling things should be taken down because it hurts your feelings. So this has nothing to do with you being a religious jew. It has more to do with a growing value stream (mostly from secular left) that take offense easily—especially with anything Christian— that you seem to be swept in.

    >Second of all, I can put my discomfort aside. And I do. But I can relate to people who don’t feel they should have to. 
    LOL. You put it aside because legally you can’t just go up to the float and tear off the decorations. But even you admitted that things like this should not be tolerated.

    >Third of all, why do Christians need to have their celebrations and displays in public for 20% of the calendar year? Why can’t they just celebrate in Church and at home? Why does it need to be in public? 
    Why can’t it be public? It’s a largely Christian country. It’s almost inevitable that an important holiday for them would sweep the nation, including in a public way. 

    >Fourth of all, in what way does Christmas add to the character of this nation? Unless by ‘character’ you mean ‘credit card debt”?

    The same way any holiday (including Jewish ones) add to the character of a nation. It helps preserve values, a common identity. Reminds the nation of perhaps something greater than their everyday life. 


  • This was not our holiday. We were guests. It was uncomfortable.”

    Yes.  You are a guest.  You live in a country where the majority religion and culture are different than your own.  That is how you are supposed to feel.

    When American Jews want to practice milah, shechitah, erect an eruv, or put their children in Jewish schools; who is supportive, and who is opposed?

    The devout Christians rally in support of the Jews.  The devout Atheists promulgate lies and deception to stop the Jews.

    No one is forcing you to watch any Christmas parades.  No one requires you to pray in a church, or even to sing non-religious songs like Jingle Bells and Frosty the Snowman.

    Just remember who our friends are when choosing sides of the War on Christmas.