Saturday, December 15, 2012

On Being a Holiday Person

Please turn up sometime around 4pm. At 5pm we will hand out presents (for children only please) from under the tree. The tree symbolises mother nature and her abundance, the presents symbolises the triumph of advertising and the petrochemical industry. To honour the fact that Jesus didn't restrict his diet to kosher food we will be offering a curry dinner. This will be served at precisely 6 pm. Latecomers may chose to sit on the front porch till the meal is over. This is to recognize the 40 day fast in the wilderness when Jesus was tempted by the devil. After eating we will drink wine and talk. This is to acknowledge the legend that Jesus liked drinking wine and talking with his friends. -  Invitation to Christmas Dinner,Tim Juliff
New York Guy Celebrating Hanukkah
I'd seen them several times earlier in the day. A bunch of young guys dressed in varieties of Santa Claus inspired gear, some sporting antlers, others waving fake holly. They were frolicking around the streets of  Upper East Side New York, Leunig-like - a joyful procession of party people joined together hand-in hand like a happy antithesis  of Bergman's Dance of Death.

Around three in the afternoon I bumped into them for perhaps the fourth time, waiting at traffic lights on the corner of 88th and Second.

I smiled at them and asked, "What are you celebrating?"

"Hanukkah," they shrieked.  "Happy holidays," I replied.

 Unlike many people, I have no problem with saying Happy Holidays". It's almost natural to me now. In fact the other day when I was asked, "Are you a 'holiday person'" I answered with a decided "No" - thinking of course that the person meant did I like the December holy days. In fact she meant did I object to "Happy Holidays" over "Happy Christmas".

Growing up atheist in a single parent family in Australia in the fifties, Christmas was a time to dread. Christmas Day especially. The three of us, Mum, Tim and myself would sit forlornly around the table eating roast chicken - each of us trying to put a bright face on it in order not to upset the other two. One Christmas Day, when we were a bit older, my mother, having a sense of humour most would be generous in considering "dry", served up one hamburger with plastic holly on top.

Dance of Death from Bergman's "Seventh Seal"
Melbourne, in fact all of Australia, was outwardly mono-religious back then. Saying you were not a Christian was like saying you were a communist, or worst still, an aborigine.In fact, so deeply ingrained in me was Christian Christmas and its associated cultural side-effects that I didn't even 'get' the scene in the 1970's  Woody Allen "Hannah and Her Sisters", where Woody buys white bread and mayonnaise when he decides to convert to Catholicism.

So I love it here in New York when the December greeting is "Happy Holidays". I DO however draw the line at "holiday trees". What's wrong with "Christmas trees"? That's what they are, aren't they? Why else would people put dead trees in their living rooms and decorate them with glitter and stuff. And no one suggests we call Menorahs "Holiday Candles".

Menorah at Café D'Alcase
Still it's a small price to pay, living in a city where you are not assumed by the very fact that you are white and alive, that you are religious, let alone atheist.

I can ignore the store musak and the pretty lights. On Christmas Day we are eating Indian.  And the 1950s are 100 years ago! Praise the lord!

So turned off was I by the 1950's idea of Christmas that I brought my children up without any explanation of what it was supposed to signify. And I realized I had succeeded as a parent when my daughter, aged around six, asked me,

"Mum, was it Christmas or Easter when they crossed him up?"

Happy holidays.


Anonymous said...

You are a panic! A hazard to mainstream religion and its bogus attempts to make us feel as one as we spin our dreydls and light up our terraces to keep our neighbors up all night!

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