Tags: Why | Christmas | Without | Christ?

Why Christmas Without Christ?

Wednesday, 22 December 2004 12:00 AM

What is it? A celebration of crass commercialism? If Christmas isn't a religious holiday, it should be.

I respect those who celebrate Christmas. What I don't understand is how you can celebrate Christmas without believing in Christ. Or rather, why?

I'm not talking here about whether the town puts up a tree or holds a Christmas festival. Those issues tend to be fought out every year in the courts between the civil libertarians and the cities. Personally, I'm no bigger a fan of public menorahs than public trees, but in the list of issues worth fighting about, I wouldn't make a federal case of them. What I'm talking about here is whether a non-Christian family puts up that tree, or holds that celebration, in its own living room.

If you celebrate Christmas with your children, a rabbi once told me, your children won't celebrate the Jewish holidays when they grow up.

Rabbis call it the December Dilemma. Should non-Christians celebrate Christmas? Buy a Chanukah bush and put presents under it? Adopt Santa for their children, even if their own religion treats Dec. 25 as just another day? As we become a more and more diverse country, more and more non-Christian parents face children for whom Santa has no place in our religious tradition. A Buddhist Santa? A Moslem Santa? A Jewish Santa?

Even the most well-meaning Jews end up turning the minor holiday of Chanukah into a major occasion because of that other holiday in December. But a surprising number of parents of all stripes go beyond that, and celebrate Christmas as well, with all the bells and whistles, except for a trip to church.

We don't want them to feel left out, my Jewish friends always tell me, in explaining why they buy presents and trees, and knock themselves out for their Jewish children.

When I was growing up, in a New England town where real estate agents carried maps marked in color by religion to keep everyone in their place, I hated Christmas because it did make me feel left out. But the point was not simply that we were excluded, but that we were second-rate.

The Protestant section of town was nicer than the Jewish section, the houses were bigger, right on the water. There were no Chanukah songs, and no Chanukah play, in the public schools. We were taught that the Jews killed Christ. My Hebrew School teacher, Mr. Sherf, had a number on his arm.

I can't speak for other groups, but I do know that upper-middle-class Jewish kids growing up in Los Angeles aren't in much danger of feeling the same sort of victimization I lived with. Rather, the danger for them is that they are growing up without any sense of identity that will carry them later, when their parents aren't there to remind them who they are. But even if they were, the point would be the same.

Forging an identity may require a sense of exclusion, as well as a real dose of religious education. For Christian children, that should be part of the Christmas message.

The danger for too many children brought up with plenty of presents and no religion is that they never get a dose of education and end up with no system of beliefs and no faith in anything or anyone Bigger than themselves, which is no gift at all. They never do learn what Christmas is about. Or the Jewish holidays, for that matter.

Merry Christmas.

COPYRIGHT 2004 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.

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What is it? A celebration of crass commercialism? If Christmas isn't a religious holiday, it should be. I respect those who celebrate Christmas. What I don't understand is how you can celebrate Christmas without believing in Christ. Or rather, why? I'm not talking here...
Why,Christmas,Without,Christ?
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2004-00-22
Wednesday, 22 December 2004 12:00 AM
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