Passing. There’s no time like the holidays for it. Passing plates. Passing on obligations and invitations. Passing by the Salvation Army jingles and tourists gawking at Macy’s holiday window displays. And passing by all the trees, wrapped up and dreaming of living rooms.
Suddenly, nothing is secular, so everything is secular. I usually don’t listen to music through headphones—music was made for orchestras and turntables and studios and theaters and speakers. But in December, I do. It’s cold, it’s lonely, and there’s a whole catalogue of carols written to address the temperature and the accompanying existential squall. And all the best songs were written by Jews, of course. So, I put in my headphones and join my ancestors and pass.
When I was in fifth grade, I wrote a report about Irving Berlin. I chose him randomly—I browsed the biography shelves after my immigrant parents, who had waited to get the internet until it became necessary, dropped me off at the library. I remember opening a book and seeing a menorah on the first page and reading something about his Russian roots. Perfect, I thought. He’s just like my dad, this’ll be easy. White Christmas meant nothing to me at the time—I didn’t see it until this year and only because I’ve been consumed by religious inversions recently.
Hanukkah wouldn’t exist without Christmas. It’s been plucked out of scriptural obscurity and magnified to give Jews something to do. Or rather, something to buy, should we not succumb to the cheerful Christmas monolith. I don’t mean to deride the monolith—I mean to define it. I mean to trace its edges and describe its shape in a way that only certain kinds of outsiders can. Jews occupy a particular intersectional niche: we are frequently able to pass and comment both from the inside and the outside on what we see.