It’s the time of year that we prepare our clients to deal with the joys and stresses of the holiday season. We explore issues of family dynamics, consumption (both helping compulsive overeaters through the "days of sugar" and others through anxiety about buying, decorating, or doing enough.) We help people create realistic expectations for everything from the behavior of their alcoholic relatives to their own satisfaction or disappointment about what they may receive. Some clients speak of the religious significance of the holiday: the miracle of The Birth. The pagans do their solstice dances. The Jews light candles. We all celebrate the return of light or Light. In my experience, the church services or prayers at home are the non-traumatic components of the holiday for most people. It’s the family, the buying, and the living up to the difficult cultural ideal of Christmas, that distress people.
I’m Jewish. We lit the Hanukah candles for eight nights each year as we sang prayers and ate indigestible potato pancakes. When I was quite small, my mother hung stockings on the mantle with small gifts inside, so that we wouldn’t feel left out. We didn’t have a tree and we didn’t decorate with lights. I accepted that we were different. We had Passover, Yom Kippur, and other holidays. Most of the people around us had 2 holidays, Christmas and Easter. We had eggs from Moshe, the Jewish Bunny on Easter morning, but I knew it wasn’t really our holiday and didn’t mind.
I didn’t worry about the differences in religion until, when I was 9, Gerri Heany’s mother told her not to invite "that Jewish girl" into her house again. And when I was 11, some of the boys from Blessed Sacrament beat me up for being a "dirty" Jew, and killing Jesus. My protestations that Jesus was Jewish, brought stronger blows. How dare I say that about God’s son! Everyone knew he was Catholic! (I didn’t.) After a few rounds of these experiences, I became interested in comparative religion. I attended Church with Catholic, Methodist, and Lutheran friends. As a teenager, I let the cute Jesus-freak boy drag me to his pentecostal church, where I watched people speak in tongues and roll around. I continued my involvement in Hebrew school (4 nights each week), the Sunday school where we learned about the Holocaust and generations of other oppression of our people, and Friday night and Saturday morning services during the Jewish Sabbath. Still I was interested in the differences and similarities of religious expression. I read widely, discovering Buddhism, Hinduism, and the Native American beliefs. I did and still do find them all fascinating and often inspiring.
In my 20’s, I became alienated from much of religion. My form of Judaism (Conservative) was too sexist, too "exceptional" (the Chosen People), too frozen in time. Christians, as I lumped them together, didn’t follow the tenets of their own religion: kindness and forebearance. I couldn’t understand, and still don’t, how religious people could allow their sacred music to be played in department stores. And as I learned more about the pagan roots of yule logs, Christmas trees, holiday lights, and gift giving, I began to agree with Kinky Friedman, in his classic song, They Don’t Make Jews Like Jesus Anymore, about being attacked in Texas bar for being a god-killer: "I always thought it was Santa Claus who killed Jesus Christ."
When the controversary over "Happy Holidays" vs. "Merry Christmas" came along I was mystified, a little scared, and really pissed off. "Happy Holidays" includes me, solstice celebrators, Christians, and New Year revelers. It takes nothing away, IMO, from anyone who wants to say "Merry Christmas." The people who started that fight are saying to me that their cultural dialog is the only one that counts; that the US is not really my country; that they don’t want to include me in it. It’s a "don’t-be statement" that brings back the body blows of my childhood, and the Holocaust history of my immediate family. It scares me because those folks see me as the other, as disposable. Scott Peck says, in People of the Lie, that that is his definition of Evil. I don’t want to be the Other, in my own country. I want to be one of us. And I want to be able to celebrate that others are celebrating, their way.
I’m in my 50’s now. I’ve found a niche in Judaism that fits me. I have friends, clients, and consultees from most major and some minor religions. My husband, a Christmas-hater, was raised a Methodist. We are both theists, and practice Judaism at home with a little Buddhism (for me) and Quakerism (for him) mixed in. When the circulars spill out of the newspaper, and the news is of holiday-buying frenzies fill the front pages, and Christian sacred music blasts through the stores, the pundits complain that the Christmas trees are about Christianity, and Romney includes only Christians in his embrace of ecumenicalism, I sigh. And I stay out of the stores. And I know that that some people will have a religious holiday about the birth of one of the many faces of God. And a small part of me watches to see if, come Easter,the pogroms of my grandfather’s day will return.
Happy Holidays, however you celebrate. Robin