It used to be that you wouldn’t see much (or anything) in the way of seasonal decorations, or hear much in the way of seasonal music, until immediately after Thanksgiving. “After” may be putting it a little too forcefully: Santa Claus always made his Ritual Appearance in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. This, to many people, was the starting gun for the Christmas season.
But the way things are going, I figure it’s only a matter of time before they start putting lights up right after Labor Day. Who knows just how far this can go? Tisha B’Av?
As a Jew, I don’t have to worry about all this Christmas business, aside from trying not to get sick of hearing the blasted music. Even our Gentile friends acknowledge that “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” starts grating after you hear it for the 1000th time.
But I can tell you, if we were running this holiday, we’d know when to start the festivities - and when not to. Let me refer you to a brilliant little piece of satire, Hilchos Xmas (“The Laws of Xmas”), written a few years ago by Akiva and Ilene Miller. Their premise is, what if Christmas were a Jewish holiday? How would it be observed?
First off, the Millers acknowledge that their premise is ridiculous. The central point of Christmas precludes it from ever being a Jewish holiday, and if you don’t understand why this is, e-mail me or leave a comment and I’ll be happy to give you a long-winded explanation of the obvious.
But there are so many aspects of how the holiday is celebrated - in America, particularly - that have become semi-secularized elements of popular culture, that you can see the potential for humor. Jewish observance is based on Jewish law, and the codification and interpretation of that law is flat-out complicated. Just imagine Talmudic scholars arguing over what sort of tree is acceptable for use as a Christmas tree, and this is what you get.
I won’t pull too many chunks out of the Millers’ magnum opus here (read it yourself!), but here’s one that is oh, so appropriate:
1. PREPARATIONS FOR XMAS MUST NOT BEGIN1 BEFORE2 THANKSGIVING.3 THIS APPLIES TO PREPARATIONS WHICH AFFECT THE HOLIDAY MOOD,4 BUT NOT THOSE WHICH ARE DONE IN PRIVATE.5
1 This contrasts sharply with Shabbos, for the mitzva of honoring Shabbos applies all week long. For example, if one finds a particularly good food during the week, one should save it for Shabbos even though it is now only Sunday and Shabbos is a week away. However, Xmas preparations may not begin too far in advance, in order to fulfill the dictum, “It’s beginning to look a lot like Xmas.”
2 This is because of the principle that two festive occasions should not be mixed into each other. Note the decree of the great R.H. Macy, who established that Santa Claus may not appear in the Thanksgiving Day parade until after all the other floats have passed.
3 There are some who begin preparing for Xmas as early as Halloween. This is wrong, and they will be called upon to account for their evil ways.
4 Such as setting up the Xmas tree (some say even buying one,) or playing holiday music on the Muzak.
5 Such as buying gifts or buying the Xmas dinner turkey. Cooking the turkey may not be done before Thanksgiving because it will appear to be a Thanksgiving turkey.
There’s lots more of this stuff. Unless you’ve got a nodding acquaintance with Jewish law, you may not find it funny. Personally, I think it’s hysterical, especially the parody of the Passover Haggadah at the end:
If we would have a beautiful tree, but not have stockings hanging from the fireplace, it would have been enough.
If we would have stockings hanging from the fireplace, but not get today off from work, it would have been enough.
If we would get today off from work, and not get off on Erev [N.B. - the evening before] Xmas as well, it would have been enough.
If we would get off on Erev Xmas as well, but not get presents, it would have been enough.
If we would get presents, but not a delicious dinner, it would have been enough.
If we would have a delicious dinner and no dessert, it would have been enough.
If we would have dessert, but not watch the football game, it would have been enough.
If we would watch the football game, but not see our team win, it would have been enough.
If we would see our team win, and have a hangover the next morning, it would have been enough.
(Pick up the eggnog and say:) But we do have a beautiful tree, and we have stockings hanging from the fireplace, and we got today off from work, and we got off on Erev Xmas as well, and we got presents, a delicious dinner, and dessert, and we watched the football game, and saw our team win, and so we will now toast our team, and pray that we do not get a hangover tomorrow morning: “Yay team!”
As for me, I’ll just go and turn on the radio now. Maybe they’ll be playing something...non-seasonal.