Christmas is hard for everyone. But it’s particularly hard for people who actually believe in it.
In a sense, of course, there’s no better time to be a Christian than the first 25 days of December. But this is also the season when American Christians can feel most embattled. Their piety is overshadowed by materialist ticky-tack. Their great feast is compromised by Christmukkwanzaa multiculturalism. And the once-a-year churchgoers crowding the pews beside them are a reminder of how many Americans regard religion as just another form of midwinter entertainment, wedged in between “The Nutcracker” and “Miracle on 34th Street.”
I don’t spend a lot of time agreeing with the Christian right about things, but the whining about the secularization of Christmas is a point I sympathize with. If Christmas were more properly religious, then I think people would have absolutely no trouble recognizing why a secular Jewish person might be not-so-excited about it. Then we could move on with our lives. But the transfiguration of Christmas into a largely secular observance has created a dynamic where lack of enthusiasm for the holiday presents itself as a character flaw—you’re a “grinch” who’s not participating in the “holiday fun” and “Christmas spirit”—in an awkward way. And yet to me no amount of tacky commercialization can really secularize a holiday that has “Christ” right in the name and that’s timed to commemorate the birth of Jesus.
Something they did at my high school that I actually thought was clever was gin up a fake late-December non-sectarian celebratory occasion called Candlelighting that happened on the day before the winter solstice. If I got to have my way about everything, we’d follow that lead. There’d be a big national secular holiday where the idea is to have fun and brighten the darkest day of the year with presents and whatnot. Then separately, Christian people who want to engage in a religious observe of Christ’s birth would do so. Jews could let Hanukkah sink back into obscurity and observe our real holidays.