Being A Jew At Christmas: Our commerical holiday
is a problem for Christians as well as Jews
As Rabbi Lawrence Hoffman
points out in a wonderful article, "On Being a Jew at Christmas," this
holiday, overbearing and inescapable as it is, presents a problem not only for
Jews and those who do not or cannot celebrate the birth of Jesus as the Son of
God Incarnate; Christmas, the quintessential holiday of the American consumer,
presents a problem for Christians as well.
Better than anyone, Hoffman
distinguishes between those aspects of Christmas which are a phenomenon of American
culture and the holiday's genuinely religious dimensions. In doing so he uses
the Broadway musical, Annie, and the movie, Batman Returns, both
of which echo the secular mythologies of the season as illustrative of his theme:
has been secularized, "capitalized," and mythologized. As most people
keep it, and certainly as popular culture presents it, it is the myth of the America
we all pretend we inhabit: a place where Penguins are foiled, Annies are adopted,
and even the poorest among us celebrate the wealth that comes from good old-fashioned
hard work and industry. Not to observe Christmas is to blow the whistle on the
myth, to expose such naked realities as a trickle-down economy where nothing trickles
down, in a country rife with social ills and economic deprivation.
article is well worth reading, not as a criticism of Christmas, or even American
culture, but as a challenge to Christians, Jews and others, to reconnect with
the genuinely religious dimensions of their own faith traditions in the belief
that these are the most likely sources of redemption and renewal not only for
each of us personally, but for American culture generally.
CrossCurrents magazine is now featuring a series of articles at its website
on the struggle that often takes place within the lives of both Christians and
Jews during the December holidays. The series was led off by Rabbi Lawrence A.
Hoffman who teaches at Hebrew Union College in New York. Writing from a Christian
perspective, Professor Leigh Eric Schmidt of Drew University, addressed some of
the same issues. Much of Professor Schmidt's article later appeared in a book,
which Rabbi Hoffman reviewed in CrossCurrents.
Below are links to the
feature articles and the book review. I highly recommend this series, as the dialogue
continues, not only for the two professors, but for that wider circle, which includes
both Christians and Jews who seek to live with integrity (and joy) during a season
Being a Jew at Christmas" Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman reflects upon
his dilemma -- or is it the Christian dilemma -- raised by present, popular celebrations
of Christmas. He writes effectively in a spirit that tends to bring Christians
and Jews together, even around an issue that is potentially so divisive.
"Christianity in the
Marketplace" Leigh Eric Schmidt reflects on the alliance between
consumer culture and the Christmas holidays; he explores alternative ways for
Jews and Christians to celebrate their holidays with greater integrity.
"For Someone Who Has Everything"
Rabbi Hoffman reviews Professor Schmidt's book, Consumer Rites: The Buying and
Selling of American Holidays. (Princeton University Press, 1995)
a blessed holiday!
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The Rev. Charles P. Henderson is a Presbyterian minister and
Executive Director of CrossCurrents.
He is the author of God and Science (John Knox Press, 1986).
A revised and expanded version of the book is appearing here. God and Science (Hypertext Edition,
He is also editor of a new book, featuring articles by world class scientists and theologians, and illustrating the leading views on the relationship between science and religion: Faith, Science and the Future (CrossCurrents Press, 2007).
Charles also tracks the boundry between the virtual and the real at his blog: Next World Design, focusing on the mediation of art, science and spirituality in the metaverse.