Written by Karen Gellender, email@example.com Friday, 14 December 2012 00:00
I don’t remember a time when I ever believed in Santa Claus, but I don’t think I specifically disbelieved in him either. I think, from the age of 4, my mindset on the subject could be summarized as “I am Jewish, therefore it is irrelevant whether Santa is real or not, because he’s not bringing me anything.” That may sound coldly analytical for a small child, but never underestimate the mercenary tendencies of a little girl who really wants a new Barbie doll. Apparently, if there was nothing in it for me, the mystifying existential state of the jolly man in a red suit could be happily left alone.
Come to think of it, I had a cynical view of the holidays in general from a very young age. I was painfully aware of the fact that Hanukkah is a big scam, and I actually mean no offense to Hanukkah: it’s a fun little holiday, and any excuse to eat potato pancakes fried in oil should be respected. The scam lies in trying to con children into believing that Hanukkah is just the Jewish flavor of Christmas, which I’m convinced every Jewish child knows deep down is a well-intentioned, yet somehow odious lie.
If Hanukkah were the same as Christmas, every storefront would be festooned with beautiful Hanukkah decorations, there would be full-fledged Hanukkah trees instead of the occasional, quasi-ironic “Hanukkah bush,” Hanukkah songs would have a more robust vocabulary than just the few scant words that happen to rhyme with “dreidel,” and A Hanukkah Story would be on 24-hour rotation on several TV channels for the duration of the holiday (though the film would still end with Ralphie’s family eating dinner at a Chinese restaurant, but that’s neither here nor there.) Hanukkah is great and all, but don’t try to tell me it’s equivalent to Christmas: it’s just not.
Oh sure, our parents made a valiant effort with the whole, “Instead of just one day of presents, you guys have eight whole nights!” thing, but let me break down that math for you: we would get real presents on the first, and maybe second night, but by the seventh, we were lucky to get a decorative pencil with Hebrew letters on it, if that. My parents didn’t believe in buying video games either, which really wasn’t Hanukah’s fault but I think on some level I conflated the two: if only I had been born Christian, would (Schrödinger’s) Santa have brought me a Super Nintendo? One can never know for sure.
Of course the holidays aren’t only about receiving gifts, but giving them as well. Yet, try as I might, I can remember very few of the presents that I ever gave to friends and family. Now, I know I must have given people presents, because I’m pretty sure that I’m not an irredeemably horrible person and I have yet to be kicked out of my family. In some cases, I even remember the act of giving. I just don’t remember the contents of the actual presents. One of the few exceptions is a hardcover copy of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance that I gifted to my father-in-law (then my boyfriend’s father) because it occupies a place of honor in the family bathroom to this day, but that’s about it. What does that say about me? Do I fail to remember gifts I gave because all the holiday shopping blurs together into one indistinguishable whole, or worse, am I so selfish I only remember what I got out of it?
I know, I know: I shouldn’t really be talking about gifts I gave or received, but about the true meaning of the holiday season: Peace on Earth, goodwill towards men, and so on (although I think the meaning of Hanukkah is more along the lines of “show some bullies who’s boss and practice energy efficiency,” but let’s err on the side of being inclusive.) However, considering the ship has pretty much sailed on keeping the lust for shiny new presents out of the holiday season, I propose an alternative: let’s allow ourselves the joy of getting excited over material things now.
In the waning days of the year, when the weather takes a turn for the worst and we barely even see the sun, I think looking forward to the sheen of newly-wrapped presents under the tree (or wherever) isn’t such a bad thing. In return, we should be more focused on striving for peace on earth and being kinder to each other the other 95 percent of the year. Deal?
Karen Gellender is editor of the Syosset-Jericho Tribune and Plainview-Old Bethpage Herald.