What Christmas Means to Me

Sheldon F. Gottlieb

As I write this, it is the end of February 2019. Four months prior, I nearly succumbed to a rare and potentially deadly medicinal side effect of a newly prescribed medication, as well as other ensuing nosocomial infirmities. I am finally able to work and finish this essay, the ideas of which began to gel just prior to my iatrogenic event. It was the beginning of November, and I recall being inundated by the media with societal preparations for Christmas and with the usual arguments about “putting Christ back in Christmas” and decreasing the holiday’s commercialism.

Aside from the obvious reason of my Jewish heritage, Christmas never held any meaning for me—except for the inevitable questions about its magical aspects, its constitutionality, and the memories it conjured up in my mind as I learned about Jewish history along with American, European, and world histories. Throughout my life, I was haunted by the fact that much of the history taught in public schools stressed Christian contributions and downplayed or never mentioned the great Jewish contributions to the same history. I learned of these events only as I got older and did ancillary reading; the standard school texts appeared to have had pages of history removed from them. I also learned that in New York, to Jews and Roman Catholics, “P.S.” did not mean Public School but Protestant School. I learned that Christians were not going to permit Jews to get the credit they deserve for the growth and development of the United States, nor for their great contributions to Western civilization.

I used to ask my colleagues in history and political science departments about certain aspects of history and was amazed to learn their ignorance of Jewish involvement in these historical events. One professor of English—a very knowledgeable and decent human being—who taught the Bible as literature, had no idea who Rashi was.* Such an event led me to question how a person can teach hermeneutics or exegesis if the greatest and most influential Jewish exegete of all times wasn’t even known to the instructor. Everything seemed to be Christian-oriented. With the above as a major motivation, I began to think of how to discuss Christmas in its multiple lights. It was light that became my common denominator.

It dawned on me that the word me may have multiple meanings. Who is me? Me is I, the author. Me could also include all people who agree with the sentiments expressed below or all people who share historical memories of events described.

Me could be every person affected by the seasons of lights.

Before I continue, there are a few things about me and my writings you should know to help you understand what I am writing and to put it into proper perspective. I draw distinctions between religious, political, and similar philosophies and their adherents. I am too well aware that partisans do not all think alike; they are individuals who have their own interpretation of holy or seminal texts. Because of people’s individuality, I am well aware that one cannot stereotype people according to the theoretical tenets of a philosophy. I found it easier to refer to the theoretical aspects of the philosophy than the people. Yes, I may refer to specific people, but only based on my personal experience or based on their public utterances and writings. When referring to a large population of partisans, I consider it a constant caveat that not all are full supporters of whatever the philosophy is. That is why, throughout history and especially during World War II, there were those Christians who saved Jews from evil decrees. While writing, I realized that I mentioned events some of which may seem surreal. I can assure you they are all true and documented in the historical record; it is just that the education of most people is (has been) greatly restricted. Also, as I was writing, I suddenly realized I may have adopted, subconsciously, Mark Antony’s alliteration about Caesar being an honorable man when referring to light.

In the northern latitudes, as daylight grows short people compensate; many societies celebrate the shorter daylight with colorful artificial illumination.

Light is good. Colorful is great. The more colorful, the better.

Diwali protects against spiritual darkness.

Light chases darkness; it dispels ignorance.

Historically, light represents life, knowledge, enlightenment, and freedom.

Light is good. Colorful is great. The more colorful, the better.

The Jewish people celebrate a secular-religious event with an eight-day festival of lights—the Hanukkah. A festival of great meaning—freedom. If people want freedom, they must fight for it. Freedom has to burn in their souls, not just in a Hanukkiyah (the Hanukkah candelabrum).

No one just gives freedom. Freedom has to be fought for. Many would joyfully deny freedom. Others would joyfully take freedom away. Freedom also requires diligence, energy, passion, and intelligence. Jews have two more festivals celebrating freedom that incorporates these ideas, namely Purim and Passover. And Hanukkah, in part, remembers the one-day supply of holy oil lasting for eight days, thus implying that to understand the concept of freedom and to truly experience it requires a time factor. Freedom is not the result of a fleeting event.

Light is good. Colorful is great. The more colorful, the better.

Rarely mentioned, less understood: if not for the success of Hanukkah, there would be no Christmas!

I never understood making a religious holy day a national holiday. Unconstitutional? Oops! Two religious holy days—there is also Easter.

Can we have it both ways? National holiday and putting Christ back in Christmas? What about the First Amendment to the Constitution?

Light is good. Colorful is great. The more colorful, the better.

The coming of Christianity brought a new voice. Christians like to portray Christianity as the religion of love. However, depending on one’s perspective, there may be a different reality having an unpleasant tone.

No one will be pleased by it. But its truth must be acknowledged: Christianity is not a religion of love; it may be argued that it is a religion of hate. Yes! This was confirmed for me by personal experience, by history, and by a devout Roman Catholic colleague in Fort Wayne, Indiana, who knew his history.

After the public school I attended was forced to comply with government-mandated weekly religious released time education, inevitably the epithet “Christ killer” was hurled at me. It became the theme of my next day’s encounter with fellow students, followed by gang beatings in school stairwells and the teacher punishing the Jew and telling the Christians that such beatings should take place in dark alleys where they would not be seen. In winter, snowballs with rocks as their core were standard ammunition as our isolated Jewish neighborhood was attacked by masses of teenage boys; by Easter there was no snow to cover the rocks. Often the police had to be called to break up a religion-based fight.

I never understood how one kills a god. I never understood how I killed someone who lived a long time ago—long before me—and whom I never met. Stereotypical thinking, an essence of irrational prejudice.

A religion of hate.

Hate! Hate! Hate who? Hate the Jew!

War of the Popes.

Day after day, week after week, month after month, decade after decade, century after century. Unceasingly! Relentless hate! Relentless war—against who? Against the Jew!

The festival is colorful. But the underlying message never changes.

Jews are Satan’s children.

Jews are Christ killers.

Deicide! Deicide! From far and wide they came: Cyprian, Hippolytus, Justin, Origen, Tertullian, and others. They developed the early Roman Catholic patristic literature of total condemnation of the Jew, which thereafter undergirded the Church’s centuries of war against—whom? Against the Jew! But it wasn’t just the Church that benefited from their illogical and pernicious thoughts; it was the Church’s numerous offshoots as well. Jews killed Christ!

Kill the Jews!

Hate! Hate who? Hate the Jew!

Light is good. Colorful is great. The more colorful, the better.

Irrationality and prevarication reign over religious thought. Jesus was a Jew—the son of a Jewish woman—but he, like all Jews, is the son of Satan; therefore, Jesus, the Messiah and Savior, God, is the son of Satan. Wow! Jesus, the Jew, also killed himself, because he, as a Jew, is guilty of deicide. But Jesus not only killed himself; he also was his own father, the father of God, and the Holy Spirit. Reason is dead.

Britain, home of the Magna Carta, is also the birthplace of the Blood Libel—the claim that Jews used the blood of Christian children to make the Passover matzah. Yet Jews are forbidden to drink blood. This religious voice is not rational, is it? “To be a Christian, reason must first be torn from the mind of humans”—Martin Luther said that.

Yes, light is good. Colorful is great. The more colorful, the better.

Yet the Magna Carta, the iconic document considered as a foundation of justice and freedom from oppression, omits the Jew, except to regulate Jews’ financial deals for the advantage of their Christian borrowers—especially the royalty and barons. The riots of the city of Lincoln, the slaughter at York, and the expulsion of the entire Jewish population from England in 1290 showed the lack of protection of human rights it offered the Jew.

Pogroms. Endless attacks. Endless rape. Endless death. Hate the Jew. Cleanse the community. Long-term, enforced conscription. Convert them. Cossacks! Remove the vermin. Rid the scum.

Hate! Hate who? Hate the Jew.

Light is good. Colorful is great. The more colorful, the better.

The water is poisoned! The wells! Get the Jews away from the wells! Jews poisoned the wells.

But Jews are dying too. Jews poisoned the wells. Jews spread bubonic plague. But Jews are dying too. More irrationality.

Hate the Jew!

Light is good. Colorful is great. The more colorful, the better.

Endless religious disputations. The rabbis must not win. Church officials referee. Who else? Endless challenges.

Jews lose.

All must convert. Forced marches to the baptismal font. Christianity’s concept of justice.

Hate! Hate who? Hate the Jew!

Light is good. Colorful is great. The more colorful, the better.

Decade after decade.

Hate grows. Never diminishes.

Banish the Jew!

Catholic Brits banished Jews in 1290. Austria did the same in 1421; as did France in 1394; Hungary in 1349; Italy (Sicily in 1492, Naples in 1510, Milan in 1597); Spain in 1492; and Portugal in 1497.

Hate the Jew!

Light is good. Colorful is great. The more colorful, the better.

Eventually came the epitome of hate: Kristallnacht, death camps, crematoria, systematic death by the hating of Jews.

The fires! The fires! THE SHOAH!

History repeats: Religion-based hatred has returned in the twenty-first century’s teen years, so terrifyingly similar to that of the mid-twentieth century. This time Christianity is grasping the proffered hand of Islam more than ever before. The marriage of two hates. Hallelujah!

Light is good. Colorful is great. The more colorful, the better.

Evolution’s descent of humans has no Adam and Eve, therefore no original sin. No sin: no need for Jesus Christ, Lord and Savior. No need for the virgin birth. No need for the Trinity. No need for the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus. No need for the mass, the Eucharist, and no need for the irrational concept of transubstantiation.

Therefore, the historical, hate-filled memories of Christmas, when married to science, means that there is no need for Christmas.

Light is good. Colorful is great. The more colorful, the better.

 


Note

*Shlomo Yitzchaki (1040–1105), medieval French rabbi and commentator on the Talmud and the Tanakh. Best known as Rashi, an acronym for Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki.

Sheldon F. Gottlieb

Sheldon F. Gottlieb is a retired physiologist and professor of biological sciences. He is the author of The Naked Mind (Best Publishing Company, 2003).


As I write this, it is the end of February 2019. Four months prior, I nearly succumbed to a rare and potentially deadly medicinal side effect of a newly prescribed medication, as well as other ensuing nosocomial infirmities. I am finally able to work and finish this essay, the ideas of which began to gel …

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