I watched the news last Sunday evening and saw a segment on a neighborhood in Los Angeles famous for its over-the-top Christmas lights. The reporter spoke with a few neighbors about lights, and one suggested that the reporter check out another house on the street: the Grossmans. Yes, they are Jewish, but so was the neighbor who made recommendation. In fact everyone interviewed for this segment was Jewish!
OK, so I was going to write a scathing attack on Jews who love Christmas, but then I realized I love Christmas, too. I love the lights, the trees, the faux spirit of peace on earth and good will to men, women, and the transgendered. I love people fighting over parking spaces at the mall, and even the occasional trampling of a shopper by a herd of other shoppers does little to dampen my Christmas spirit. Who am I to tell other people how to celebrate their holy days?
I don’t celebrate Christmas, myself. I don’t have a tree or decorate my house, and, to be honest, I don’t even pretend to care about other people at this time of year. No, what I really like about Christmas is the story.
The Virgin Birth (it is called that because Mary was a virgin, and not because Richard Branson was the father) is a great symbol. It’s like Sarah giving birth at age 90, or Lao Tzu spending 60 years in his mother’s womb. What these myths are saying is that something new is coming, something unexpected, something that will change everything forever. And in the case of Christmas, that something is the coming of a helpless baby (unless of course you read the ancient Infancy Gospel of Thomas and discover that Jesus was one holy terror as a toddler) who will grow into a Jewish prophet who confronts Jerusalem and Rome with a message of divine justice and compassion.
Sure if you take it literally the Christmas story is bad history and worse biology, but reading the Bible literally robs it of its transformative message. Read as myth rather than fact, the story is one of great hope, and hope, as well as Jesus, is quintessentially Jewish. After all Jews are the people whose team anthem is HaTikvah, The Hope.
I think Jews should honor Christmas. Not the way Christians do, but the way we might honor the birth of any great rebbe: with texts and study, and prayers at his tomb (except that he seems to have left it unexpectedly). Read Crossan and Borg’s “The First Christmas” and discuss it with friends over Chinese food on Christmas Eve. We should honor his death as well. From now on I’m going to light a yahrzeit candle and say Kaddish for Jesus on Good Friday. (And, if you haven’t already, read Crossan and Borg’s “The Last Week” as well.)
Sure I know there are Jews shouting at me for suggesting this, but I can’t hear them over the Manheim Steamroller music blaring over the sound system at the coffeehouse where I am writing. Anyway, I don’t care. Jesus is the most famous Jew who ever lived. We ought to reclaim him as a favorite son, and not worry about Christians who proclaim him as God’s only one.