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Christmas Cheer is Annoying

Jewish Views on Christmastime

by Max Miller

Staff Writer


As the air turns brisk and the amber leaves begin to fall, I have no choice but to be confronted with inevitable signs of corporate Christmastime. It starts out slowly, probably around mid-November, beginning a slow crescendo into wintery chaos in the name of Christmas cheer. It’s always a frustrating moment when the first indicator of Christmas hits, like the first drop of rain before a hurricane. This year, the first sign occurred in the form of a surprising podcast ad for Hallmark shopping. The second I heard those joyful sleigh bells, I knew it was over. Whenever those bells begin to ring, there is an instant in which I am transported back to being a young Jewish boy, feeling lost and alone in wintertime.


When I was very small, likely about four or five, my grandmother gifted me a menorah. The nine candle holders (one for each night, plus one for the shamash) were meant to look like coral reef. The menorah had a light blue cartoonish backing with a cute green octopus and charming pink jellyfish floating in the water. I would excitedly put the candles in the menorah in an alternating fashion that satisfied my strange immature brain (a blue candle, then a yellow one, then blue, then yellow, and so on). I loved the light that the candles emitted when reflected by the window they had been placed next to, glowing until they melted into multicolored wax on tin foil sheets. I would observe the candles relatively obsessively, watching the orange light bounce off of seemingly every surface it touched. Just like the light emanating from my multicolored candles, Hanukkah always felt warm, welcoming, and somewhat sacred, like a cozy Jewish pocket in a Gentile world.

Illustration by Ellie Sabel, Contributor

The more I grew, the more I became aware of my Christian surroundings. No matter where you looked, there were acknowledgements of Christmas: The tree markets on every other corner; The inflatable reindeer on front lawns; The annual report on how much destruction that year’s Santacon caused; The elaborate trees in apartment building lobbies with the occasional small, sad electric menorah at its feet; The excitement over Macy’s displays; The same Mariah Carey song played over and over again. It was inescapable.

Signs of Christmas often felt isolating. Was I missing out on something specifically because I was Jewish? Was I supposed to engage in Christmas cheer? And if I did, would it be inherently transgressive and insulting to my ancestors? It felt like the whole world was unified in its excitement for Christmas. Would it be easier to join them instead of hanging on to a sense of Jewish duty? I never truly considered fully buying into Christmas excitement; in fact, I planted my feet and weathered the Christmas hurricane with a youthful defiance. But, in truth, I felt confused and alone in a Christmas-loving world.

In my pre-teen years, Christmas lights were the main source of my confusion. The whole ordeal felt strange to me. Every few years, my family would drive into Dyker Heights in Brooklyn to see the lights. We would watch elaborately decorated houses pass by the breath-fogged windows of our well-loved Toyota Avalon with a sense of wonder. It was truly a spectacle; Each house was more extravagant than the last. There were clear rivalries in the neighborhood, with each household attempting to outdo the rest, resulting in a plethora of extravagant decorative structures seemingly everywhere within sight. Aside from the heavy foot traffic, it was utopia for Christmas lights enthusiasts.

The lights were astounding, and yet, they were hard to enjoy. They invoked the same sense of confusing isolation that I had had as a child. The decorations were stunning. But, was I allowed to enjoy them? Was I supposed to?

As the security I have in my Judaism has grown, I have developed a sort of affinity for Christmas lights. They have a peculiar sort of familial charm to them. When I see a house with modest lights, I like to imagine a family getting together to drape them on the shrubbery in their front yard on a cold evening, clad in winter coats and knit mittens. There is something endearing about enduring this discomfort of decoration to bring temporary joy to any who happen to pass by.

I still use my coral reef menorah from childhood. Every time I light it, I feel an unrivaled warmth. There is an unspoken nostalgia hidden in the orange light that flickers in the windowsill. I can only assume Christmas lights elicit a similar response in the decorator; The care with which the lights are placed intimates as much. When I pass a winter-y looking house with a string of multicolored lights strewn intentionally on the trees in the front yard, I am reminded of my menorah, and for a moment, the world melts into pleasant memories, just like a candle in a window. Happy holidays.

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