Revelations: How a nice Jewish boy came to celebrate Christmas
Tuesday 23 December 1997
Descended as I am from Abraham, via a boxer named Mendoza and a car dealer called Moskowitz, Christmas doesn't mean a great deal to me.
This wasn't always the case. I remember when I was a kid, my non-Jewish friend Timothy, keen to patch up 2,000 years of religious differences, invited me to celebrate Christmas with his family. Immediately, difference number one. They celebrate holidays, we just observe them - which is true, as anyone who's ever sat in passive boredom at the Passover Seder table, replete with burnt eggs, bitter herbs, and unleavened bread, will testify. Eager for some jolly celebrations, I accepted the offer.
Timothy's people were the Waltons; 22 carat solid gold Christians, the only goyim within our little quarter of Jewish suburbia. Had this been Omaha Nebraska and not Hendon, their boys would have been named Chuck, Biff and Shepherd. As it was, they were Thomas, Timothy and Christopher.
We sat around the dinner table in a scene that Woody Allen was to transplant a decade later straight into Annie Hall: 11 Wasps and a snot-nosed Jewish kid from the posh end of the road. Immediately, difference number two. Goyim are so quiet. In a Jewish house you can't hear the conversation for soup. In a non-Jewish house you can't hear the conversation. The Waltons home was so quiet you'd have thought someone had died.
Grandma Walton sensed my discomfort at pulling crackers, singing carols and eating suspicious white meat. "So what do you lot do for Christmas?" she inquired. I told her we didn't observe Christmas, but instead we have Chanukah. Warming to my theme, I explained the origins of Chanukah, recounting the miracle of the Jewish people making a teaspoon of oil last for eight days. She wasn't impressed. She'd been performing the same miracle for years with pot roast.
She then launched into a tirade of religious one-upmanship. "Our miracles are much more impressive than yours!" she claimed. "For instance?" I enquired. "For instance," she replied, "the feeding of the five thousand - pretty impressive by any standards." I countered with Moses parting the waves of the Red Sea. She hit back with Christ walking on the water - an undeniably brilliant sleight of foot - and I retired gracefully to my hymn book.
Today, older and wiser and with children of my own, Christmas assumes absolutely no significance for me or my kids - and so far as they are concerned this has probably always been the case. Not so. If I were to write a book entitled Things I Never Told My Mother and Certainly Won't Tell My Children, the most pot-boiling chapter would chronicle blow by heretical blow the Christmas Eve when I hung a stocking at the foot of my bed and asked God (that's God the Son, not God the Father) to send me some new football boots and a pair of Peter Wyngarde fake sideburns. I never got either, not from God, his son, or my folks ... so I nicked them, but that's another chapter.
Thirty years on, and suddenly the stocking makes sense. Why not celebrate Christmas - and Easter, and Epiphany, and even the Feast of the Assumption for that matter? OK, I'm Jewish. But what is Christianity if not unashamedly derivative of Judaism? These 2,000 years of animosity - it's got nothing to do with the crucifixion. It's nothing more or less than a thousand degrees of envy because we had the ideas first. What are Easter and the Last Supper if not a plagiarisation of the Passover Seder, the eggs chocolate instead of burnt? Where would Whit Sunday be without the role model of Pentecost? And what are the 12 days of Christmas if not an extravagant rejoinder to the eight days of Chanukah, an elaborate excuse to match the Jews pound for pound in over-spending and over-eating?
And, in any case, Christ was Jewish, and what better than to celebrate the rise of a nice Jewish boy who played so beautifully to type. Tell me I'm wrong. Not only did he live at home till he was 34 years of age, not only did he go into his father's business, not only did his mother think he was God but, for heaven's sake, he thought she was a virgin! I rest my case. Happy Christmas, Happy Chanukah, whatever.
This year Chanukah begins at sunset, 23 December ( Christmas begins a day or so later).
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