Christmas: a time of togetherness, unity and generosity. A time when all of the resentment and mishaps of the year seem to melt away, and peace and good tidings squeeze the hearts of people everywhere. Christmas is the season where a soft blanket of snow covers all the land, and children sit around the fragrant pine in their living room while reciting angelic songs and writing letters to jolly old St. Nick.
But what do Jewish children do?
They sit at home with their parents. They call up their friends, knowing that no one will answer the phone. They go to Chinese restaurants. They cry bitterly into their yarmulkes.
Such is the plight of American Jews on Christmas. We are marginalized from society, all but excluded from holiday cheer. The debate has continued for ages: can the eight tiny lights of an antique menorah compare to a gloriously illuminated Christmas spruce? Some Jews answer a resounding ‘yes!’ but others spend the Yuletide season annoyed at the burden of being God’s “Chosen People,” while the goyim swim in a magnificent fountain of eggnog.
“It’s not fair,” said Noni Kofman-Razi, a Spanish literature graduate student. On Christmas, Noni describes herself as “cold and frozen, alone with [her] dreidel.”
Unfortunately, her story is all too common. When some Jewish individual invented the spinning top known as the dreidel two thousand years ago, they thought that this clever little toy would suffice to keep Jewish kids entertained throughout the holiday season. Meanwhile, Christian masterminds coined the idea of Santa Claus, holiday elves, and red-nosed reindeer, opening up a commercial haven for Christmas dolls, books, clothing and accessories.
The Jews could not keep up with this phenomenon and were left disoriented and curled up in the fetal position in the corner of their bedrooms, clutching small wooden dreidels and muttering phrases in Hebrew.
This Hell does not just last for one day on the 25th of December, however. It starts nearly a month earlier, when stores across the United States purchase their favorite compilations of Christmas elevator music, blast them through the company loudspeakers, and press repeat as soon as the album is finished.
“The songs start in, like, April,” said Ron Berkovitz, an information and telecommunication management graduate student. “It’s horrible. I hate listening to the radio [over the holidays]. It pisses me off.”
Kofman-Razi is also confused and annoyed by the music that further reminds her of her status as an outsider in Christmas culture. Originally from Argentina, but also a former resident of Israel, she had never before experienced the Christmas consumerism so prevalent until she moved here five years ago.
“The one about Rudolph—it kills me,” she said.
But beneath the surface, Noni and Ron are not really seething about the misfortune of being Jews on Christmas. Noni just wants non-Jews to take the time to truly appreciate the December holidays other than Christmas. She explained that Hanukkah, with its potato pancakes and eight nights of presents, is just as culturally rich as Christmas.
“It’s fun,” she said. “It’s not like we just copy Christmas. When you find Hanukkah, it’s special.” Noni thinks that Christians could benefit from talking to Jews about Hanukkah and learning about the history of the holiday, which includes an exciting story about a military victory by peasant Jews over the Assyrians who tried to destroy their temple. Or, Noni said, “[non-Jews] can just offer to join in the games with the dreidels.”
Ron holds a slight admiration for the creativity of Christian holiday symbols.
“They have rabbits that lay eggs and old men that ride reindeer,” he said. “We don’t have anything like that.”
Not all Jews sit in judgment of Christmas and its honey-baked hams and gaudy tree ornaments. Some just want an end to the exclusion of Jewish tradition in December and the beginning of a holiday balance between the Christian mainstream and the Jewish minority.
So this Christmas, go out and hug a Jew. Tell them Happy Hanukkah. Hang out with them after you return from your grandma’s holiday dinner, and ask them if you can start a competitive dreidel-spinning tournament.
But whatever you do, remember not to hum “Silent Night,” and don’t attempt to put a little angel on top of their menorah. Chances are, someone else has already tried that.

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