Friday, January 2, 2009

Baby's First Christmas

What's it like for a St. Lou Jew to spend Christmas in North Carolina?

I'm back in action after a 10-day fact-finding mission into the heart of Christmas in North Carolina. What are the traditions? What makes it different than Hannukah? Do people really stay awake during "Midnight Mass?" I set out to answer all these questions and more.

First off, it is important to mention that, just as is the case for Jewish holidays, every family celebrates Christmas in their own way. So my experiences are in no way meant as broad generalizations, but simply as my own experiences and observations.

Granted, I noticed some pretty stark differences right off the bat. The Christmas tree is an ever-looming visual presence, and the spectre of Santa Claus surrounds events throughout Christmas Eve and Day. Instead of presents coming from Mom, Dad or Jimmy, a majority of the presents were labeled as coming directly from Santa himself.

And Midnight Mass was mostly a conglomeration of Christmas carols (I think with the idea being that they were hymns before they were hit songs on the radio).

However, I also noticed some similarities that really should not be all that surprising. Large family meals, a reason for family and friends from across the country to gather, popular movies and songs watched and listened to again and again...

A lot is made about the differences between Christmas and Hannukah and the negative commercial impact that Christmas has had on the traditional Jewish holiday. However, what my "first Christmas" reminded me of is that ultimately these holidays really are all about family and friends. In our somewhat crazy world, an excuse to slow down a bit is never such a bad thing. Even if it does come with tacky sweaters, bad movies and re-told stories you really wish would just go away.

I'll be recounting some other stories from my trip in the days ahead, but for now, feel free to share your own thoughts on the similarities and differences between Hannukah and Christmas. Does one have a negative effect on the other? And is there something to be gained from learning about other religions and the reasons behind what they do?

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