Column: Christmas knows no religious limit

By Jonathan Jacobson

You know how I know Hanukkah is coming? I hear Christmas music everywhere I go. I’m in a cab and “Jingle Bell Rock” is blasting at me from crackling, blown-out speakers. “White Christmas” is playing on half of the radio stations in Chicago. My friends are shamelessly singing Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You.”

This endless barrage of feel-good holiday tunes, you might think, would leave this relatively unsentimental Jew alienated, depressed and perhaps a bit more pious. Maybe even (gasp) Zionistic.

But alas. All I feel is a smile building from the corners of my mouth.

A Jew’s relationship to Christmas is a tenuous one at best. We are, in many ways, outsiders looking in at this celebration of the birth of someone else’s lord. It’s like being asked to the world’s biggest party, but you don’t really know anyone there. In that situation, most of us just smile nervously, drink the punch and take advantage of the mistletoe.

But not me.

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I personally believe that Christmas has transcended Christianity – if such a thing is possible – and has plopped happily down into American tradition’s lap. And I am, if nothing else, an American.

And so, like Jews before me who have embraced the holiday spirit – namely Irving Berlin, who wrote “White Christmas,” and Elvis (he was Jewish, right?) – I tune in, drop out and let the overproduced, kitschy music wash over me.

For whatever reason, these songs make people happy. And maybe it does have something to do with Jesus or God or Luke 1:46-55 (disclaimer: I have no idea what Luke 1:46-55 is). But I think it has much more to do with sparking memories of family dinners, snowmen, ugly argyle sweaters and ham. Those gentiles love their ham.

I am on the side of anything that makes large amounts of people happy. And because Christmas is one of the things that can bind the roughly 80 percent of Americans who identify as Christians together, then I’m happy to ride along.

I should hope the other 20 percent will be right there with me.

It’s true that you won’t catch me baking brownies for the church mass anytime soon and it’s also true that I probably won’t be racing downstairs on Christmas morning for Furby or Tickle Me Elmo.

No, but I will drag out the most hideous sweater I own and possibly even wear a turtleneck beneath it. I will pick up N’SYNC’s 1998 “Home for Christmas” album and listen to it for kicks. I will eat at least one helping of ham and drink so much eggnog that I don’t think the word is funny anymore.

You see, I can embrace the spirit of Christmas because I am an American. And, to a lesser extent, because I love Mariah Carey’s music.