There's a "War on Christmas" being waged. At least that's what Republicans would like us to believe. There's even a new book about it, Good Tidings and Great Joy: Protecting the Heart of Christmas, written by that great arbiter of social injustice, Sarah Palin.
Palin writes: “Amidst the fragility of this politically correct era it is imperative that we stand up for our beliefs before the element of faith in a glorious and traditional holiday like Christmas is marginalized and ignored.”
She continues: "The war on Christmas is the tip of the spear in a larger battle to secularize our culture, and make true religious freedom a thing of America’s past. The logical result of atheism, a result we have seen right in front of our eyes in one of the world’s oldest and proudest nations, is severe moral decay.”
Of course, Palin is widely known for her intellectual curiosity, her objectivity, her distaste for inflammatory rhetoric and her adherence to facts. So we must ask, is The Wasilla Wonder onto something here?
On this eve of 'Thanksgivukkah,' a rare Hallmark phenomenon that won't occur again for another 70,000 years, I thought I'd give my personal perspective of what it's like being a Jew, surrounded by millions of allegedly battle-scarred Christians, during the mythical war-torn month of December.
If there's a war on Christmas it's certainly news to me. I live in New York, a city with more Jews per square inch than anywhere in the world except Israel. Yet this time of year it might as well be Vatican City given the sheer volume of Christmas zeal and excess. There are Christmas tree stands everywhere. Wreaths. Tinsel. Bells. Christmas music. We're inundated with red and green. With people beaming "Merry Christmas!" Asking "what are you doing for Christmas?" And, "what did you get your kids for Christmas?"
It's rare to find blue and white, the colors of Hannukah. Strain the eyes and you might find a small menorah somewhere. No one wanders the streets, the office, retail shops wishing strangers a "Happy Hannukah!" Strangers don't ask me what I'm doing for Hannukah, or what I'm getting the kids for Hannukah. What's even worse than the relative obscurity of Hannukah is the almost non-existence of Kwanzaa-related paraphernalia. It's all Christmas, all the time. If there's a "war on Christmas" taking place, it's the most lame war in the history of wars.
I dread this time of year. I dread it because I'm a Jew floating in a sea of religious insensitivity. I live in a country where many fight for school prayer, provided it's their religion's scripture. Where people fight to allow religious symbols in public spaces, provided the symbols belong to their chosen faith. Where people ask "what's wrong with retailers posting 'Merry Christmas' signs in their windows?" But can they imagine how Jews feel then? If Christians are uncomfortable with the generic "Happy Holidays," guess how Jews feel seeing the very non-secular "Merry Christmas" everywhere we turn. And this is New York I'm referring to. Imagine how Jews feel this time of year in remote places like Laurel, Mississippi. Or Bute, Montana. Or Amarillo, Texas.
To be perfectly honest, I love Christmas. Always have. Ever since I was a 10-year-old racing to my pal Phil's building to open his presents with him and his family. I do not hate or resent this beautiful holiday. What I resent is being told that, unless I want it incessantly crammed down my Jewish throat for 30+ days each year, that I'm waging a war against it. That because I want Christians to respect me and my beliefs it is somehow disrespectful, confrontational and offensive to pious folks like Palin.
To be sure, there are millions of Jews who secretly wish they could celebrate Christmas, and perhaps millions more who've actually crossed the line of assimilation to buy trees, "do their Christmas shopping" for their Jewish friends and family, and pretend for a few days that they're no different than the 99% of the rest of the world. They want to "belong."
And the truth is, Christmas is a much sexier holiday than Hanukkah. Gentiles have Santa Claus, Rudolph, trimmed trees and apple pie. We have a menorah, a dreidel and latkes. They have "White Christmas," "Miracle on 34th Street" and "A Charlie Brown Christmas." We have "Shalom Sesame: Chanukah Special," "Chanukah on Planet Matzah Ball" and Adam Sandler's "Eight Crazy Nights." They have the most celebrated holiday in the world, where an estimated $3-trillion is spent on gifts, and we have, well, our little Hanukkah.
So to my Christian friends, and especially to the war-weary Mama Grizzly up in Alaska, I assure you that no one wants to take away Christmas. And no one certainly is waging a war against it. Those of us who happen to be Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist or atheist simply want you to enjoy your holiday merriment while accepting and respecting our chosen faith (or lack thereof) and realize that celebration this time of year comes in many colors....or perhaps no color at all.