Today’s my annual Christmas Tree post. I do it when I am putting the Christmas tree in my house and feeling guilty. Look, we have a menorah on the pie safe. But I live in a semi-Jewish neighborhood so I worry about what the neighbors will see and think…. Anyway, here’s an entry from Theodor Herzl’s diary:
December 24, 1895
I was just lighting the Christmas tree for my children when [head Vienna rabbi Moritz] Gudemann arrived. He seemed upset by the “Christian” custom. Well, I will not let myself be pressured! But I don’t mind if they call it the Hanukkah tree–or the winter solstice.
The prohibition that Herzl encountered is a living one. And: If I were a card-carrying member of the Jewish press, say at the Forward or Tablet, here’s the piece I would like to do:
I would call up alot of Jewish reporters and ask them how they feel about doing Christmas stories.
The other day I heard a Jewish anchor on NPR introducing a heartstrings Christmas story, invoking the spirit of Christmas. And on Chris Matthews, he called Howard Fineman a “grinch” the other night apropos of something, and Fineman laughed. I’m pretty sure he’s Jewish.
My Fineman moment is a stretch, true, but my question is a sincere one. As media people in American culture, we have a lot of responsibility, so we end up doing Christmas stories, presumably with some genuine feeling. Which isn’t all that different from putting a Christmas tree in your house. I wonder how it feels, if there’s any contradiction with one’s own practices/beliefs. If it doesn’t represent a form of assimilation (and by the way, Chris Matthews proselytizes the greatness of assimilation when he’s talking about Hispanics) or some reproof to the old Jewish faith in anti-semitism. How it impacts on one’s Jewish identity, or changes it… I’m curious.