Saturday, December 20, 2008

Neil Gaiman's Hanukkah Christmas

I know any number of Jewish people who keep kosher, but will make an exception for bacon, because it is such a great food that, well, how could ha-Shem object? Likewise, Christmas trees are another case for a special exemption, as Neil Gaiman has known from a very young age:

It was trees all the way, properly decorated ones, with tinsel and glass balls and a star on the top. We lobbied and we lobbied hard, and we would not give up. My parents would not countenance it. They had not had Christmas trees when they were children; instead, they had parents who disapproved of Christmas trees. You couldn't, my mother told us, be Jewish and have a Christmas tree.

I was a precocious child, and I had read widely, and I struck. "But it's not Christian," I said.

"I think you'll find it is, dear," said my mother. "That's why they call them Christmas trees, after all."

"They are actually," I told her, proudly, and precociously, "a pagan relic. The trees. The thing of people bringing trees into houses at the winter solstice and decorating them has nothing at all to do with Christianity. It's from pagan times."

I'm not sure why it was better to be a pagan relic, but I hoped it was, and it seemed to shake my mother's certainty. Like my teacher, she knew better than to argue
theology with an eight-year-old.

Whether it was, as I thought at the time, my precocious argument or (more probably in retrospect), my sisters' huge, pleading eyes and trembling lower lips, I do not know, but my father went to the local market and picked out a Christmas tree for us and brought it home. We decorated 'it, and were content. Having won the Christmas tree battle, we had, somehow, won the Christmas war.

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