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Should Jews Celebrate You-Know-What?

Putting the ‘X’ in Xmas

Marc Tracy
December 15, 2011
(Shannon Stowers/Flickr)

Basically, no.

Look, you want to sing some of the carols on your own time? OK; one time our class (private non-sectarian school) learned “Dona Nobis Pacem,” which is a beautiful song, and went around singing it door-to-door around the holiday season, and that was nice. If you’re at a Christian person’s party and there are Christmas accoutrements, be nice and ecumenical about it—you’re a guest! Drink the eggnog, suck the candy cane, have a slice of the ham (well, maybe not the ham, but you get the idea). If there’s mistletoe and there’s a special someone you want to kiss under it, go indulge yourselves, you crazy kids, you.

And Christmas movies? They’re great! (One of them is even Jewish in its own way.) Watch ’em. And nobody is a bigger fan of celebrating Christmas as a Jew—that is, celebrating this day when you and the other Jews have things to do that are fundamentally different from the things your Christian friends have to do—than I. There is nothing more Jewish than grabbing Chinese food and a movie on Christmas. Pig out (well maybe not pig, but you know).

But as far as celebrating Christmas religiously, or singing carols on that day with your family, or even, yes, having a tree in the home, well—and I hate to condescend or feel like I can tell you what to do despite the fact that I don’t even know you—if you’re Jewish you really shouldn’t be doing it. It’s not because it conflicts with Hanukkah, which is indeed a minor holiday. (Want to be Jewish and not celebrate Hanukkah? Go nuts.) And it’s not OK just to do the minimal, seemingly nonreligious things (like the tree). Those things are just as important to avoid: They are symbols, and thus even purer expressions of how you convey yourself to yourself, your family, and the rest of the world. Christmas is a wonderful time of year because it reminds you of the blandishments of your identity, and indeed that identity is wildly flexible. But that flexibility and those blandishments depend on some limit, without which nobody has anything. That limit matters. And celebrating Christmas is beyond that limit.

Besides, really, you won’t hurt Christmas’ feelings. It has plenty of celebrants without you.

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.