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On 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: 

Christmas 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.
Hoffman's 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 of excess.

"On 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)

Have a blessed holiday!

Charles Henderson

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The Rev. Charles P. Henderson is a Presbyterian minister and author of Faith, Science and the Future, published in 1994 by CrossCurrents Press. He is also the author of God and Science (John Knox / Westminster, 1986) which he is now rewriting to incorporate more recent developments in the conversation taking place between scientists and theologians. He has also written widely for such publications as The New York Times, The Nation, Commonweal, The Christian Century and others.

For further information about Charles Henderson.