This might be incredibly hypocritical, given that I was raised Jewish but was sent to an Episcopalian school, but I still remember how my mother described some families we knew socially as Christmas Tree Jews. She never elaborated on what it meant to be a Christmas Tree Jew, but it was pretty clear to me even at a young age that it was about more than just having a Christmas tree in the house while professing to be Jewish.
I've been thinking a lot about that over the past few years as Jon and I made our metaphorical way to the altar; I knew that, one day, I'd be a Christmas Tree Jew. And that always made me uncomfortable.
The thing is, though, today even more than twenty years ago, many of the trappings of Christmas have very little to do with the religious basis of the holiday. I heard on the radio that a school in Texas has banned red and green from decorations for its annual winter party to avoid favoring one faith over others, but I can't imagine that those colors are actually relevant to the birth of Jesus Christ. Almost every religion that has a holiday at this time of year celebrates the idea of light in the darkness, so, except for the nativity scene that you might see on some front lawns, most elaborate electrical displays aren't inherently Christian. And Santa Claus - well, despite his hagiographical origins, Old Saint Nick has come to represent the golden calf of consumerism.
I don't know that this is necessarily a sign of how we're all sucked in by the commercialization of spirituality and so we're headed to Hell in a handbasket. Of course there are arguments to be made about how we forget the true meaning of Christmas, but the lessons of the holiday absolutely transcend scriptural Christianity. Have you seen WestJet's baggage claim surprise? I don't care if it was a marketing stunt - it was generous and it brought joy to strangers, and that's miraculous in this day and age.
That being said, it's all too easy to be cynical about Christmas. Jon's cousin linked to the *Santa* brandbook, an image from which is at the top of this post, and it's pretty clever. My dad sent me this letter from Santa, published on Slate, that also hits close to home:
I'm interested to see how I'll feel about having a Christmas tree in my apartment next year when Jon's living here with me. You all know I love the Christmas spirit, dear readers, and I so enjoy sharing Christmas (and everything that comes with it) with Jon's family in Suffolk, but I suspect it'll sit slightly differently on me in my own home. Have any of you been through this or something similar? There's no need to start worrying yet, obviously, but I'd love to hear if you have any advice on actively appropriating other spiritual or religious traditions into your own life.