A Christmas Conundrum

By: Rachel Lelonek  |  December 14, 2017

I love the holiday season, starting out with Thanksgiving and capping off with New Year’s Day.  From the festive fall colors to the crisp winter air, everything about this time of year makes me happy. Flavors like apple cinnamon, pumpkin spice and peppermint are in every cafe, and warm sweaters become a daily treat. People also are more generous this time of year, and more inclined to give charity from their holiday bonuses. It even becomes acceptable to walk around in a pair of footsie pajamas–seriously, try it!

But despite all this, there is also a religious aura in the air, one that I have begun to feel excluded from. It is Christmas that also falls during this time of year, with celebrations that last all December long through All Kings Day on January 6th. Carolers are on every major street and in front of every major department store, eggnog and fruit cakes become the norm, and decorations cover every building in both the city and the suburb where I’m from. And while many communities have tried to become more “culturally diverse” and “politically correct” through incorporating other holidays like Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, Christmas is still the predominant holiday, with every other holiday becoming an ugly stepsister.

If my tone implies that I mind this–that I dislike Christmas–you’d be wrong; I actually appreciate Christmas and the culture that comes with it. From the time I was a little girl in grade school, I always knew that the holidays that I celebrated were different from the holidays of everyone around me, and I was, and have been, completely okay with that. While my house had a blue and white electric Menorah in the kitchen window, other houses on my street had beautiful multicolor Christmas decorations with bright spruce and pine trees visible through the living room windows. As a child, I naively and simply looked forward to Christmas, as it meant I got a week off from school in between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day. But I was not a stranger to Christmas and its significance to most Americans, as well as how it was the most celebrated of the religious winter holidays. In fact, I looked forward to Christmas carols playing on the radio, Kris Kringle sitting in the center of the shopping malls, and movies like “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer” being broadcast on television. These songs, movies and decor all reminded me of the greater holiday atmosphere, and I looked past how my minority celebration seemed to be overlooked by the outside world.

But this holiday season, something has been different. For the first time in my life, I am celebrating a holiday season in a secular environment, of the workforce and not just the Jewish bubble I had previously been completely immersed in. Until this point, I had been in Jewish schools, worked in predominantly Jewish environments or for observant Jewish employers, and had little exposure to Christian holidays outside of mainstream media and stories from close friends and extended family that are not Jewish. This year, however, I am engrossed in a culture of gingerbread houses and mistletoe and I must admit: it’s an overload.

Being an observant Jew in a predominantly Christian workforce can sometimes be difficult, but I’ve gotten used to it. Fortunately, keeping kosher, taking breaks to daven mincha and leaving early for Shabbat on Friday afternoons have become the norm and my coworkers are very respectful. But this time of year, it has somehow become harder. Is it the wreaths and garland that line the entrance and exterior of the Park Avenue office? Is it the bag of holiday candies and cookies by the coffee station and the constant talk of my coworkers’ mother’s Christmas meals?  Is it the talk of Christmas and going home for the celebrations that have dominated any small talk in my firm since before Halloween? Is it the fact that I cannot attend the highly-anticipated company holiday party because it’s on a Friday night and will have nothing kosher, even though my bosses are Jewish? Is it the countless red and green bows covering the walls of the office, serving as a reminder of Jesus’ ever-approaching birthday and the single, culturally-appropriated tinsel streamer that wraps around a pole in the office that has Menorahs and blue Jewish Stars on it? Or is it the over ten-foot tall Christmas tree that stands in the entrance of my office’s building, with the cellist playing classical Christmas tunes across from it as the doorman wishes me a “Merry Christmas” as I leave each day?

The entire experience has been overwhelming and these feelings do not stop here. Ever since I noticed this sensational overload of Christmas paraphernalia in my office, I’ve noticed it everywhere–from clothing stores advertising gifts for Christmas morning, to candy stores having much of their display feature Santa chocolate flavors with only a few small bags of Chanukah gelt coins. Now, I have even begun to notice the minutiae, such as the signs on the streets wishing pedestrians both a “Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays”: both, as if to group every other celebration this December into a conveniently wrapped present to put under the Christmas tree. I hate feeling this way and as I commute home on my daily subway ride, I am left to ponder if I’m the only one feeling this way.

It pains me to say that I have become cynical of the holiday I once adored so innocently as a child. I never realized that entering the secular workforce after being sheltered for so long would cause such a backlash within myself and leave me feeling resentful of the Christmas-obsessed culture in which we live. It leaves me to wonder if these feelings, too, shall pass or if they’ll begin to infect my overall perception of this time of year.