A Very Merry Christmas. Hindu Style.
by Shubha Bala, associate producer
Sometimes it takes being on the outside looking in to the find humor in your typical Hindu Christmas. Recently, I attended a friend’s family dinner in suburban Minneapolis. This was the big sort of “cousins, aunts, uncles” family dinner that closely resembles my family’s gatherings. Three generations of Hindu-Americans passed around a Secret Santa basket that made me remember my own family traditions growing up in Canada.
Christmas is always a huge deal for us. It revolves around Christmas trees, gift exchanges, “Santa,” and Christmas crafts. Food, multi-ethnic potlucks, are always eaten in the Indian style. First the kids grab food and eat wherever there’s room — table, floor, couch — until we eventually clear out and make space for the adults. We even used to sing carols. My parents, aunts, and uncles with their Indian accents would follow along with lyrics printed out. Songs ranged from the more secular “Jingle Bells” to my favorite, “We Three Kings.”
Watching my friend’s family argue over the rules of Secret Santa made me aware how many Hindus are pretty loosey-goosey about adopting cultural traditions, as long as they’re fun. Even though half my Indian friends growing up didn’t celebrate Christmas, there was never a judgment or debate about it. Other Hindus never called me a traitor or a sell-out or even, frankly, questioned my festivities.
So it’s probably completely natural that Nickelodeon created a Bhangra Jingle Bells, and a few years ago Boymongoose, an Indian musician, created a comedy album titled Christmas in Asia Minor. Maybe, from the outside, our family really is that funny!
I wasn’t interested in the birth of Christ. I just wanted some pretty ornaments…this isn’t really about religion. You’re not really giving our valuable cultural differences that much credit if you believe a couple of twinkling lights can erase a Jewish past.
— Jessica Grose, in response to Mark Oppenheimer in their spirited exchange in Slate on the merits and perils of Jews owning Christmas trees. Grose, in the pro-tree camp, argues that “festooning a fir tree does not negate my deeply felt Jewishness, nor does it dilute the Jewish traditions I still follow.”
Oppenheimer, who is avowedly anti-tree, sees Jewish Christmas tree ownership as succumbing to the “blandishments of mainstream Christian material culture (a culture I happen to adore, but for other people).”
by Nancy Rosenbaum, producer
My Advent of Magnanimous Despair: Doubt and Depression Mediated Through Poetry
by Luke Hankins, guest contributor
For me, Advent means that God is coming into your life — is already there, in fact, has always been there, but you are about to experience that fact in an unprecedented way. I have come to view my experience of losing my faith and falling into anxiety and depression, into fear of damnation, into hopelessness, as being God’s advent into my life.
My first 25 years as a devoted member of a conservative, Protestant Christian tradition were never easy, and I had always been plagued with doubts and fears from early childhood on, but I never anticipated the traumatic loss of faith that I experienced in my 25th year.
About a year and a half ago, my doubts became unrelenting. And suddenly the only framework I ever had for understanding life and for making meaning was whisked away. This coincided with an event that sparked a year-long cycle of severe anxiety and depression unlike anything I had ever experienced. I was going through each day in terror and despair, literally shaking — for months.
On the one hand, I no longer believed in hell; on the other, I very much believed that I was destined for it because of my loss of faith and that I was experiencing only a foretaste of untold suffering in my anxiety and depression.
The December Dilemma of Accepting Christmas
by Adena Cohen-Bearak, guest contributor
A Phoenix man celebrates the holidays with Chinese food and a lit Christmas tree/Chanukah bush in the background. (photo: Daniel Greene/Flickr)
Chanukah begins on Wednesday night this year. Tonight. December 1st. Yes, it is confusing. Even we Jews are confused. Why — everyone is wondering — does Chanukah coincide with Christmas some years and, in other years, Chanukah arrives weeks before?
The answer is that the Jewish calendar is different from the secular calendar. The Jewish calendar is lunar, and the secular calendar is solar. Since each Jewish month is only 28 days long and the secular months are 30 or 31 days long, after a few years the Jewish calendar and the secular calendar become out of sync. The Jewish calendar corrects this by actually adding an extra month every few years in order to get things back to normal. This spring, there will be an extra Jewish month (Adar II) added, and, by next Chanukah, Christmas and Chanukah will coincide once more.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Chanukah is really a very minor holiday in the Jewish year. The Jewish holy days of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Passover are much more important than Chanukah. But due to its (sometimes) proximity to Christmas, Chanukah has become much more important than it was originally intended to be, especially in the United States.
And then, of course, there are the presents. Eight nights of presents. Growing up in a mostly Catholic neighborhood, the only way my parents could convince us that celebrating Chanukah was a good thing compared to our neighbors’ exciting Christmas celebrations was by giving us eight presents: one for each night of Chanukah. Yes, our neighbors had the Christmas tree. Yes, they had Santa Claus. Yes, they hung stockings by the fire with care. Yes, they had Christmas carols. Yes, they had the beautiful decorative lights hung on the bushes and trees. But we had eight nights of presents.
In general, Chanukah traditions are much simpler than Christmas traditions. You light the Chanukah menorah. You sing some songs. You spin the dreidel (a special top). You eat chocolate gelt (coins). You eat potato latkes (pancakes). You get some presents. You give some presents. Repeat for eight nights. End of story.
Christmas traditions seem much more complicated and stressful to me. Procuring, transporting, and putting up a live tree in your living room. Decorating the house, inside and out. Buying expensive presents for everyone in your family. Cooking a special Christmas meal. Traveling to be with family. The whole Santa Claus thing. On the other hand, Christmas takes up a huge chunk of space in the American consciousness. It’s really, really hard to be left out of the Christmas festivities when all the radio stations are playing Christmas music, every other TV show is about Christmas, houses are decorated with Christmas lights, every store is loaded with Christmas paraphernalia of all kinds, everyone wishes you Merry Christmas, etc.
As a child, I really, really, really wanted to celebrate Christmas. In spite of the eight nights of presents. I wanted a tree. I wanted a stocking. I wanted Santa. I wanted all of it. Now that years have passed and I have a child of my own, I think things are somewhat better in our multicultural, pluralistic, internet-connected world.
My son is interested in Christmas, but he doesn’t seem quite as jealous as I remember feeling growing up. We generally celebrate Christmas with a close family friend, and, after decorating her tree and exchanging presents, he seems to have had enough of Christmas for one year. But the “December dilemma” remains. What does it mean to be Jewish during a prolonged, public, and pervasive holiday season? It becomes even more complicated for interfaith couples, now a large proportion of Jewish families. Do they buy a Christmas tree even though they are also celebrating Chanukah? Do Christmas ham and potato latkes go together? Can Santa visit as well as Judah Maccabee? I’m not sure if we will ever solve the “December dilemma” here in the United States.
Meanwhile, I’ll sing along to Christmas carols on the radio, enjoy the pretty lights around town, wish my neighbors Merry Christmas, light the candles, spin the dreidel, eat latkes, and hope that the next generation does it even better.
Adena Cohen-Bearak is a public health researcher at the Center for Applied Ethics at Education Development Center in Newton, Massachusetts by day. By night, she blogs about motherhood, Judaism, public health issues, and her recent experience with breast cancer at MotherThoughts.
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Repossessing Virtue: Joan Chittister on Christmas
» download (mp3, 16:33)
by Krista Tippett, host
I spoke with Joan Chittister this week. She’s been thinking and writing about Christmas, the prism through which economic crisis is coming home uncomfortably to many of us right now. It is a wonderful, eloquent 15 minutes of her energetic wisdom — highly recommended listening. The gold, frankincense, and myrrh of the kingly biblical gift-givers, she’s learned, are not displays of wealth but of blessings of character — generosity, serenity, and spirit.
Such states of being are counterintuitive, perhaps, at this moment in time. But perhaps they are precisely the qualities that can help us emerge with our humanity intact and enriched. I wish them for myself, and for all of us, in this season.
NORAD Tracks Santa
Shiraz Janjua, Associate Producer
The missile-defense monitoring system NORAD is currently tracking Santa Claus’ physics-defying trajectory around the globe.
NORAD has confirmed that Santa and his fully-loaded, reindeer-powered sleigh took off from the North Pole and soared into the arctic sky at 6:00 a.m. EST (5:00 a.m. CST, 4:00 a.m. MST, 3:00 a.m. PST). NORAD radar is tracking Rudolph’s bright red nose, and satellite imagery is providing minute-by-minute coverage of Santa’s location.
There is also a map of just where he’s been so far, so the kids can anxiously see where the man is. And be sure to read the full details behind how they track Santa! Ho ho ho!
S Rozdestvom Khristovym!
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor
Russian Orthodox Christians celebrate religious holidays according to the Julian calendar, and so, today, followers remember the birth of Jesus Christ. Here’s a video of bells ringing at the once-destroyed and recently reconstructed Cathedral of Christ the Savior on the banks of the Moskva River in Moscow. The bells of the church ring loudly and I’m sure more lovely than ever to its parishioners.