Is Christmas offensive? A non-Christian perspective

I had an interesting experience last week, it happened a couple of times. When arranging something to do with friends, I suggested Monday night, only get the response: ‘you mean Christmas Eve??’

It was interesting because it showed me how everyone else must feel when I say something like that for the many festivals that I have over the course of the year (which is  a lot more than non-Orthodox Christians keep). It reversed the roles a little. I wasn’t cognisant of Christmas Eve, you see. As a non-Christian, it really doesn’t mean that much to me.

I am aware of the fact of Christmas Eve, I know that 24 December is Christmas Eve, but I am not aware of it enough to have connected it to Monday night in my mind. I don’t generally plan to mark Christmas Eve with anything in particular – to me, it is just another night of the brief holidays that I have at this time of year. (Not that I’m complaining about the day off work, but I’m kinda complaining about the day off work. I’ll get back to that later.)

It’s not the forgetting Christmas that got to me though, it’s what comes after. You see, it seems as though the Jew forgetting that it’s Christmas Eve serves as a little reminder to everyone that the Jew is different. The tone of conversation changes from there because everyone is aware of that fact. We live in a modern, multicultural society and everyone knows that they should be inclusive. So they try to be. Which is really quite horrible.

Talking about Christmas: NOT offensive. But apologising for talking about Christmas: OFFENSIVE

Suddenly it seems as though everyone needs to apologise for everything that they do on Christmas. My friends start talking about the great ham they are eating or the tree that they decorated, then they catch themselves, turn to me and apologise.

This is not ok. Aside from the fact that they are doing nothing wrong, the reason it is not ok is that it is patronising. It’s a little reminder of the hegemonic status of Christianity compared with my practices. It would never even occur to me as a Jew to apologise to Christians for celebrating any of the Jewish holidays. It’s what I do, they don’t do it, so I need to tell them that [x] date is Simchat Torah and It’s my religious duty to be getting hammered and dancing around in circles carrying a Torah scroll, so I can’t come to the poker night. Or something.

Apologising is what people from the hegemonic culture do to minority cultures to make us feel ‘included’. What it does is exactly the opposite: it is a reminder of status. Think about it this way: if the reason that you were celebrating with your family was not a point of difference, but something that is shared between cultures – ie a wedding, birth etc – would you be apologising? I can’t imagine anyone saying:

Yeah the wedding is going to be amazing! I’ve seen the menu, the food is beautiful and… oh, I’m really sorry MK!

It just doesn’t play that way. But I have heard from several people something along the lines of:

My dad is making pork belly for Christmas, it going to be amazing! Oh, really I’m sorry MK!

Fuck that.

Eating pork: NOT offensive. But apologising for eating pork: OFFENSIVE

It’s a similar phenomenon to eating out. I am not especially observant as a Jew and I don’t keep strictly kosher, but there are a few ‘red lines’ that I tend not to cross – no pork, no shellfish, and I try to avoid mixing milk and meat when I can. What this means is that I struggle to eat at some forms of Asian cuisine, which seems to have nothing but pork and shellfish. What this does not mean is that I am offended by other people eating pork or shellfish.

Yet in these scenarios, people start doing that apologising thing again. And then they act overly friendly to compensate, as if to say:

Hey MK, we know that you’re one of those strange ‘Jew’ types, so you don’t eat normal food like us, but that’s super ok, we can order vegetarian food for you and be really super friendly, just to show you how ok it is that you don’t eat pork. Because it’s fine. Really. Doesn’t bother us one bit. No, seriously! We’re ok with it. Are you ok? We’re ok if you’re ok. Because that’s what friends do. They’re ok.

Again, people do not act that way for other kinds of dietary requirements. I can’t remember ever being in a situation where someone was condescended to in that fashion for being vegetarian, or gluten intolerant, or allergic to nuts. It’s a particular brand of condescension that comes from all of the power dynamics playing out in the room. And I’m going to stop there, because I’m starting to sound like Foucault, and I hate Foucault.

Celebrating Christmas: NOT offensive

I don’t know who came up with the idea that non-Christians would feel less offended when people celebrate Christmas and then pretend that they are doing something else, but it’s a little silly. You can call it a ‘holiday tree’ if you want. You know it’s a Christmas tree, and I know it’s a Christmas tree. What are you trying to prove? The whole charade is ridiculous. I hate all of these initiatives to ban public Christmas displays, or have ‘Happy Holidays!’ written everywhere. It’s Christmas, you’re Christians, you’re allowed to celebrate the birth of Jesus if you want to.

I actually find the Christmas trees, lights, and songs this time of year quite beautiful. Believe it or not, it’s possible to appreciate other cultures and not just be offended by them all the time. Sure, Lakemba Mosque issues fatwas on saying ‘merry Christmas’, and I hear some equally stupid sentiments from some of the more zealous in the Jewish community, but really what does it matter? I say ‘chag sameach’ to my non-Jewish friends on holidays, they can say ‘merry Christmas’ to me. It’s no problem.

That said…

Forcing me to celebrate Christmas: OFFENSIVE

So I was driving around yesterday with two friends, trying to find something to do. There was nothing, the whole town was dead. Even the obligatory Christmas Chinese food was almost impossible to find. We tried almost every Chinese joint in the East, before stumbling across a little one in Bondi that had decided to open its doors to some hungry Jews on a rainy day. God bless them.

Which is fine, except that the only reason that everything is closed because of penalty rates. I’ve complained about penalty rates before, but this is yet another example and I want to do it again.

The bastion of cultural tolerance that is the Australian Labor Party and its affiliates at the Australian Union movement have decided that Australians should be with their families on the Christian holidays and on the Christian sabbath, whether they want to or not. For this reason, they have imposed inordinately high penalty rates that must be paid to anyone working on Christmas – and slightly lower, but a similar idea on Sundays – to the effect that businesses operating legally are more or less forced to close.

That means that all of us non-Christians out there are being forced by law to keep Christian holidays, or else be fined. THAT is extremely offensive. It’s a lot more offensive than the beautiful lights display projected onto St Mary’s Cathedral at night, I’ll say that much.

Sure a day off work is a day off work and I won’t complain about a day off work. I also bet that, were there not penalty rates, most places would still choose to close on Christmas. But people to whom 25 December bears little unusual significance should be allowed to go to work on 25 December if they so choose. But we don’t even enter into the discussion. As a regular viewer of Q and A, I have seen numerous Anglo officials from the ALP and the Unions saying something like ‘well we can’t take working people away from their families on Christmas!’

Newsflash: NOT ALL WORKING PEOPLE CELEBRATE CHRISTMAS.

At the risk of sounding like Foucault again: check your fucking privilege.

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  1. #1 by jskaif on December 26, 2012 - 11:04 am

    You’re just a ‘strange’ type.
    😀

  2. #2 by jskaif on December 26, 2012 - 11:14 am

    Also the reason that the Chinese restaurants were closed in the East (not Chinatown) was because it was actually Tuesday – and it is customary for these joints to close that night – nothing to do with Christmas.

    There is also a difference between the idea of being forced to celebrate Christmas, as opposed to your offense at the economic stasis of the day. While my chipped nails are aghast at the inconvenience, it is fairly petty of me not to accept that I’ll just have to clean and paint them myself. After all, for many hard-working people out there, this is a welcome forced-holiday.

    If you have ever worked outside of a non-Jewish employment environment, you might find yourself a bit resentful at taking annual days off for fasting and simchas with the family.

    Businesses are not forced to close legally, (are they?) for most it makes good business sense as trade is slowed down anyway.

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