The Holiday Spirit

This article is featured in the Montreal Gazette opinion section, click here

The holiday season is upon us. Outside the temperature drops below zero and snow gathers on the ground. In the streets people bundle up and tuck their hands in their pockets. Festive music plays and red and white lights shine bright.

The days inch closer to the holidays, and plans are being made and schedules are being set. I’m replying to Christmas party invites. And going shopping for gifts. And organizing who I’ll visit on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

But wait a second, I’m Jewish.

Getting lost in the all-encompassing rush towards Christmas is understandable. The buzz in the office is all about the upcoming holiday and the closing of files before the break. Social calendars are dominated by Christmas-themed events and cocktails. And in the middle of all of this people of Jewish and other cultural and religious backgrounds must go on with their lives, minorities swimming alongside the wave of the majority. Of course they do their best to keep their own traditions, but it’s a nice time of the year and so you can’t help but get caught up in it all.

This year my family had Hanukkah dinner at Marathon Souvlaki on Decarie. I had the pork gyro.

This placing of our holiday on the backburner brings me back to all those protectionist warnings from my grandmother and just about every other old-schooler who would get you alone for more than a minute. “Who’s your new friend? Is she Jewish?” No Bubby, she most probably is not. Now fast-forward to today and I look around at my surroundings, my social circle, the culture I am a part of…and Jesus – oops I mean geez – maybe they were right. Maybe we are endangered.

These uneasy thoughts of cultural peril remind me of another declining culture in danger of being lost forever. I wonder who has more to fear, a Jew or a French-Canadian? It is possible to have more than one language, so I suppose that they are inherently more resistant to the threat of foreign influences. But religions are a bit tougher; it’s harder to carry two around.

And what if you are both Jewish and francophone? Does this mean that you’re twice as at risk of losing your identity? Oy vey, je capotte!

The way things are going, maybe the fears of Pauline Marois and Pierre Curzi and my Jewish grandmother are indeed warranted. Maybe we are all on the road to becoming amorphous Anglo-Christians wishing each other Merry Christmas instead of Joyeux Hanukkah.

The liberal quasi-atheist in me knows that this is not actually a big deal. That what really matters is spending time with friends and loved ones, no matter what title you place on the event. It’s the sentiment and the action that’s most important.

The reasonable part of me knows this to be true, but still I cannot help but feel concerned for the abstract pieces that may become lost and potentially gone forever. So who wins? The rational progressive who knows that we should evolve past man-made divisions of language and religion – or the person who feels the innate need to protect the few family traditions he has left?

Quebecois or Canadian? Jewish or Christian? Gretzky or Lemieux? Make up your mind, these are matters of utmost importance and you can’t have it all.

But wait a second. Why can’t we? Just as multi-racial families once seemed socially impossible yet are now a cultural norm – why can’t we have two languages, two cultures, heck even two religions? Why do I have to choose? Why does having one imply losing the other?

I don’t know. Maybe I’m way off. But then again maybe part of preserving what you are is embracing what you are being becoming. So that’s it, I’m doing it. This year I’m really going to get into the holiday spirit. I’m going to do it all. I’m gonna spin that dreidle and hum that carol and love thy neighbour. I’m gonna fry those latkes and carve that turkey and yes, maybe have another gyro. Happy Holidays.

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