Christmas From An Atheist Jew’s Perspective

Image from

Disclaimer: This post might offend some religious sensibilities. Any offense is unintentional.

Alright, so, I’m not really Jewish, at least, not in the raised-as-a-Jew sense. I was raised Presbyterian, or as I call it, the lazy man’s Catholicism. Presbyterians believe a lot of the same things as Catholics, but they’re not nearly as strict about it, and there’s not much crossing or kneeling going on in a Presbyterian service, which just makes it that much easier to fall asleep. I should know; I was nudged awake many times during church.

Anyway, back to Judaism; my great-great-grandmother on my grandmother’s side was Jewish, which means that I am technically Jewish, since Jewry is passed down from females. If your mother is Jewish, you’re Jewish.

In olden times, it was really the only sensible way to tell since everyone was going around “knowing” whomever and you couldn’t really be certain who begat who, but there was no doubt who your mother was. It’s fairly obvious and on the record which vagina you emerged from.

My great-great-grandmother was from Hamburg, Germany and subsequently moved to Hamburg, New York. Apparently, that part of the family really likes Hamburgs. She had eight children with her Protestant husband. One of those eight children was my grandmother’s mother who had thirteen children of her own, of which, my grandmother was the youngest. My great-great-grandmother emigrated to America well before World War II, so she escaped that whole Nazi Germany chapter, but her relatives did not. I had relatives in Dachau.

I like the concept of being Jewish. As far as religions go, theirs is pretty cool. Even though it does have a lot of rules, they don’t go door to door proselytizing and handing out pamphlets. In fact, it’s pretty difficult to become a Jew. If you weren’t born Jewish, you have to convert and it involves going to classes and taking tests or something.

I only recently discovered that I’m Jewish. I went most my life thinking that I was a WASP (white Anglo-Saxon Protestant). We had a small menorah in our house growing up. A year or so ago, my sister asked my mother why we had it and she told her about my great-great-grandmother. My mother didn’t realize that meant we’re all Jewish, too.

This news was unsettling for my mother who has become more religious in the Jesus way as she’s gotten older. For me, who’s gotten less religious in any way as I’ve gotten older, it didn’t bother me and I wish I had known sooner. It totally made sense why I have so many Yiddish words in my vocabulary. In the end, we all embraced our Jewishness with an awkward high five, fist bump, handshake:


I’m still not sure which box to tick on forms though. Finnish-German-American Jew isn’t an option. I wish they had a “Euro mutt” box.

Even before I was Jewish, Christmas time as an adult has always been a slight annoyance. I don’t have children nor am I one. Shopping for anything around this time of year is a hassle. I had to buy pecans and corn syrup (for delicious homemade Christmas pecan pie) last weekend so I could avoid going to the grocery store this weekend.

I went to Macy’s for something before Halloween and they had Christmas decorations up. Christmas decorations before Halloween. Seriously, people? Can’t we at least wait until after Halloween for Christmas decorations?

And the music… oy, the music. Hark and jingle your jolly St. Nick! Tralala-parump-a-falalala!

Seriously, when was the last time anyone went dashing through the snow in a one-horse open sleigh or trolled the ancient yuletide carols? When was the last time you saw boughs of holly for sale? And why would you deck your hallway with it? How do you give someone eight maids-a-milking? Isn’t that sort of slavery? Also, “Myrrh is mine. Its bitter perfume breathes a life of gathering gloom” from We Three Kings isn’t very uplifting.

Anywhere you go this time of year, you’re forced to hear lords-a-leaping, mangers-a-sleeping and flocks-a-keeping. This is the same music we’ve all been forced to listen to all of our lives whether we celebrate Christmas or not. There’s nothing new here. It’s still cold outside, baby, and we’re still wishing for a white Christmas. It’s omnipresent and annoying.

In addition to being a new Jew, I’m also an old atheist, so I have the double whammy. I don’t celebrate Christmas in the religious sense. I do celebrate Christmas in the Christmas lights, freshly baked pie sense. I have a tiny two-foot tall Christmas tree in my room because I like the lights. That’s about as Christmassy as I get.

This post was going to be a rant about rabid consumerism, and how the true spirit of the holiday (see It’s A Wonderful Life) has been lost amid Black Friday deals and yadda yadda, but I’m too tired to fight now. You go on with your Christmas. I’ll go on avoiding it as much as possible. Hopefully, I have enough food to last until December 26th.

Happy holidays, everyone, whatever your beliefs (or lack thereof).

Image from
Image from