I opened the door to the suite of offices where I work on Monday morning and walked into a holiday wonderland. Christmas lights had been strung the length of the hallways. Tinsel garlands were draped over doorframes. Swags of fake greenery were tacked to cubicle walls and a box of stockings and bows were left in the reception area, an opportunity for the rest of the office to decorate to their hearts’ content.
Instead of making me feel festive or holiday-ish, the onslaught of unsolicited decorations made me feel frustrated and a little grumpy. Frustrated because the lights, tinsel and stockings made the assumption that everyone celebrates Christmas and would welcome the decking of the halls for the holiday season. Now here’s where the mildly insane part comes in. I do celebrate Christmas, and enjoy the decorations (when they are tasteful, tacky holiday decorations make me a little crazy). But because of this half-Jewish side that I carry around, I get annoyed when the world assumes that everyone celebrates Christmas.
When I was growing up, I desperately wanted to put Christmas lights up on the outside of our house. All the neighbors did it and I just loved the way it looked. When I asked my mom, her standard answer was, “We can’t put lights outside, I’m Jewish*.” She stated this with such authority and conviction that for years it was ample justification for me. Somehow I imagined that there was a special team of Jewish police that would come and arrest her for violating the rules if she allowed her husband and children to outwardly display their recognition of the Christian holiday season.
Except that we always had a Christmas tree inside that was visible from the street. And we celebrated Christmas whole-heartedly, while the neglected menorah sat on the high shelf of the living room bookcase, under multiple years of dust. And my mother, who had grown up in a mostly Jewish neighborhood outside Philly, had had a Christmas tree while she was growing up. Of course they had to sneak it in under cover of darkness, so the neighbors wouldn’t see, but it was still there.
With this history, is there any wonder that my gut reaction to Christmas decorations is so screwed up? I didn’t say anything to anyone in the office (and I think I may be the closest thing to a Jew you can get to around here), because I don’t really have the goods to back it up, because I do, in fact, celebrate Christmas. Soon the lights and bows will fade into the background and I won’t even see them anymore. Until that time I every time I walk by the Christmas balls hanging from the doorjam into the copy room, I imagine that the wrapped Christmas boxes printed on the ornaments are really little dreidels.
*Eventually, years later, she did relent and let us put a few lights up on the potted evergreen that sat on the porch.