This article can also be found at Degree180.
This year I’ve opted to do what’s affectionately known as “Jewish Christmas.” If you’re unfamiliar with the term, it refers to the (maybe offensive, maybe true) stereotype that every year on Christmas, Jewish people go out to eat at Chinese restaurants. Now, if you read my post explaining why I don’t like religion, you’re probably a little confused as to why I’m doing a “Jewish Christmas” if I’m not Jewish (or religious at all, for that matter).
Let’s start at the very beginning; a very good place to start (I’ll go sit myself down now).
I loved Christmas as a kid. I mean, I was hardcore; I woke up at 6am on Christmas morning every year, completely unable to go back to sleep because, of course, I was far too excited about opening presents. In fact I do still enjoy some of these same things about Christmas now that I’m an adult:
The Nutcracker – This might actually be my favorite part of Christmas. Every year for almost the entire month of December I listen to The Nutcracker score while I work. Tchaikovsky’s work is spectacular and I think it’s what drew me in, seeing as I’ve never had a particular affinity toward ballet or classical music.
Snow – I assume that many of you East Coasters are questioning my sanity at this point. Let me explain: it doesn’t snow in Seattle. Perhaps once per year we’ll have a tiny dusting of it, but other than that, none at all. As you can see, it’s a novelty for us and I love every second of it. I mean, nothing says “winter” better than snow, right?
The smell of Christmas trees – Easily one of my favorite scents (probably right after new-car smell).
Holiday-themed treats – Yes, it’s true that I love Starbucks holiday-themed drinks more than anything. Judge away, haters.
Warning: turn back now! The rest of this article is filled with my cynical opinions on Christmas!
On the flip side, as I’ve gotten older I’ve also become more cynical (surprise surprise) of Christmas and some of the customs in which we partake. Here goes:
Materialism pt. I – Christmas is a holiday that revolves around materialism. Let’s face it: the vast majority of us don’t need anything for Christmas. I speak from firsthand experience when I say this because I am poor as hell and I definitely do not live a lavish life by any means. Yet, I certainly don’t need anything. I have food to eat (which may or may not be Top Ramen at times), a roof over my head and a closet full of warm clothes. By definition, I have everything I need to survive, and even enough to live comfortably. We buy each other gifts because that’s what we’re supposed to do; it’s what materialism dictates.
Materialism pt. II – I’m going to write the most selfish thing you’ve read all day: most of the time our relatives don’t get us exactly what we want. Don’t get me wrong, I very much appreciate the effort they make, but to be honest if there’s something I’ve really got to have, I will simply buy it for myself. If someone does plan to spend money on me, I’d prefer they just give it to someone who actually needs it. There are plenty of people who have much less than I do.
I understand the standard rebuttal to my argument: that it’s the thought that counts. But if it is merely “the thought that counts,” wouldn’t that thought still be put to better use going toward those less fortunate? The fact of the matter is that money isn’t a transaction for love or happiness for people who already have everything they need, but it can buy essentials for people who really do need it.
Obligatory family time – There’s no denying that the holiday season is all about family. That’s great for those who enjoy spending time with their families, but it’s easy to ignore the fact that a lot of people just don’t get along with their families and may even prefer not to spend the holidays with them. For some reason there’s this idea ingrained in us that people who don’t spend the holidays with their families must be sad and lonely.
Obligatory gift-giving – I changed my mind; this is the most selfish thing you’ve read all day. In what I assume is a typical family custom, people get gifts for everyone in their families – or at least, everyone in their families that they’ll be seeing on or near Christmas. I want to ask you this question: do you genuinely like every single person in your family that you buy gifts for? Do you consider every one of them to be good, honest people? If the answer to those questions for you is “yes,” then congrats, that’s awesome! I suspect, however, that for most or many of us there’s that one relative we just don’t particularly like, or maybe we’re simply not all that close with them. Isn’t the point of gift-giving to symbolize kindness and the appreciation we have for the recipient? Going out of my way to buy a gift for someone I don’t particularly like seems slightly dishonest to me. It’s more of a custom we feel that we have to follow through with or else, you know, we’ll look like assholes.
While there will always be certain aspects of Christmas that I love, the true spirit of giving and kindness at Christmastime was lost at some point as a consequence of the rise of materialism and consumerism.
And that, my friends, is why I will be partaking in “Jewish Christmas” this year. No gifts, no high expectations, just friends, a movie matinee and delicious Chinese food. Perhaps in the future I’ll even replace giving material gifts on Christmas with physical acts of kindness for the people I am closest to. And lastly, remember that whatever you decide to do during the holidays, don’t let anyone tell you you’re being “selfish” for going against the societal norm (unless of course your plan is to embezzle money from your rich uncle. Don’t do that).