Offbeat holiday custom combos make me chuckle.
First is the Hanukkah menorah made out of sushi. So what’s wrong with that? As long as the fish fit the regulations of being kosher and there’s no shellfish, it’s technically okay. Chenchi Schmukler, the rabbi’s wife at the Alevy Chabad Center in Las Cruces, occasionally includes homemade sushi at her marvelous meals. But sushi with latkes (the traditional Hanukkah fare)? I don’t think so.
Another comical example comes from a Japanese store display last September. Some might call this “cultural appropriation,” insinuating that one should stick with one’s own ethnic/religious customs. Yet, in a way, it’s flattering that someone in the Japanese corporate world wanted to emulate American culture. However, next time they need to do their homework more carefully.
The Japanese seem fascinated with Christmas and call it “kurisumasu.” For decades I heard stories about their nailing a Santa Claus to a cross for Christmas, despite it seeming more Easter-like. After finding this bizarre image online, I was disappointed to learn that it had been photoshopped. Snopes.com confirmed that there was no truth to this event. Even though it’s not valid, I include the photo because it’s such a startling image.
Then there are strange and incongruous mixtures here in the U.S. during the Christmas/Hanukkah season. I remember my own childhood conflicts being Jewish at Christmas time. I felt deprived without a Christmas tree and the imagined fun being had by my Christian classmates.
ModernTribe.com targets Jewish shoppers and seems to have inventory addressed to this cultural conflict. They sell a Chrismukkah Stocking to be hung over the fireplace and filled with presents. The only difference is that instead of Christmas images on the stocking, the images are apropos of Hanukkah.
They also sell what seems like a more tongue-in-cheek yarmulke (skull cap) trimmed in red and white Santa Claus colors and called a Yamaclaus. Listen to the company’s description:
Why settle with one holiday, when you can crash them all? If you’re a lonely Jew on Christmas, a half-breed interfaith, or a gentile celebrating one of those eight crazy nights, with Yam Waclaus you’re automatically an honorary believer. If you’re feeling extra goyish, spread the love of Chrismukkah – the hybrid holiday where flaunting your Yamaclaus is your religious right.
The above examples reveal that strict cultural rules about holiday celebrations are becoming less rigid, in great part due to globalization and growing intermarriage. Whether one approves or not, it is a reality.
My late husband, Harold, once accompanied me to a workshop devoted to interfaith issues. The leader broke us up into small groups and later when we all came back together, Harold whispered to me, “We don’t have any intermarriage in our family, do we?”
Highly amused, I answered, “Well, you have a Vietnamese sister-in-law, a Black nephew, a half-Iranian Muslim granddaughter, a Mexican American son-in-law, and an Italian American daughter –in-law, but other than that, no.”
What was so beautiful about Harold’s question was that he thought of these family members as JUST FAMILY; he didn’t see any ethnic or religious labels separating us from each other.
Three cheers for Harold! If only the rest of our world could see things the same way.
Norine Dresser is a folklorist who is very proud of her interfaith family and the cultural riches they bring to one another.