They’re timed to happen a week or two before Christmas. They usually feature treats like gingerbread or eggnog; decorations usually include wreaths, tinsel, maybe an illuminated tree. And while your office or your neighbors may call it a “holiday party,” I’m here to tell you something: These are Christmas parties.
So can we please drop the pretense that these parties are non-specific “seasonal celebrations?”
Over the years, I’ve attended my share of office holiday celebrations, neighborly get-togethers, and school “seasonal concerts.” Some have been fantastic; my favorite was a lavish office party years where the drinks flowed freely and everyone had a marvelous time. Others have been excruciating, like the school holiday party where we sang a dozen Christmas carols, and then tacked “I Have a Little Dreidel” on the end.
But whether these celebrations are good or merely mediocre, every holiday party I’ve ever attended has one factor in common: they were Christmas parties masquerading as multi-cultural events. It’s bewildering to enter a Christmas utopia — to gaze at Christmas decorations, to hear Christmas music in the background, to be handed a red-and-white sprinkle cookie, to be shown where the mistletoe is hanging — and then be wished “Happy Holidays!” as if somehow my holidays are also being represented.
I appreciate the sentiment to be inclusive. We Jews are used to being overlooked; it’s refreshing when people make an effort to include us. I’m touched that millions of Christians transformed their Christmas parties into “holiday” parties so as not to hurt our feelings. But calling these parties “holiday” parties is even more alienating. It’s so patently absurd to insist that that these “holidays” are Jewish in any way — that pretending otherwise merely highlights the gulf between us.
Take a recent party I attended. It was held in a breathtakingly decorated hall full of evergreen wreaths, thousands of sparkling lights were draped around massive Christmas trees, glittering tinsel twinkled in the candlelight. People excitedly described their Christmas plans. Guests had brought packages wrapped in red and green; some were even sporting Christmas themed outfits.
Amid all this evergreen splendor, it was jarring when people wished me “Happy Holidays.” What holiday, I wondered? Hanukkah had long since ended — and this type of party, with these particular trappings, wasn’t how I celebrated Hanukkah, anyway. The fast of Tevet hadn’t yet arrived, though I don’t think that really merits a festive greeting. Was anyone really supposed to believe that this green and red wonderland was somehow how I celebrate my Jewish holidays?
While the rest of the crowd tucked into a lavish seafood buffet, I opened my double-wrapped kosher meal. A Christmas carol played softly in the background. I felt like a bit of an outsider, but that was OK: This was so clearly a Christmas party, and I was happy to be a spectator, witnessing other people’s Christmas joy.
It was a lovely party; it was only the clearly inappropriate “holiday” appellation that rankled. Why insist that this celebration was mine, too? Christmas music, Christmas trees, Christmas presents, and Christmas decorations don’t bother me. Hearing “Merry Christmas” doesn’t faze me in the slightest. Pretending that this celebration is somehow also Jewish — part of one big, end of the year holiday package — is what’s odd.
So, please, next time, skip the “holiday celebrations” and invite me to your Christmas party instead. I love the music, the decorations, the happy atmosphere. If you’re lucky, I’ll even return the favor and invite you to Shabbat dinner, too.