Joy to the (whole) World?

Thursday, December 10, 2009 | 6 Comment(s)

Blog-o-sphere readers.  I need your help.  I need perspective.  I need to know if I am crazy. (Wait)  Rephrase.  I need to know if my interpretation of the following events is correct or if i am being clouded by my biased-colored glasses.

I also need to preface this story by saying that i genuinely and truly love my landlords.  I have been living in an "in-law" apartment connected to my landlords' house for the past 4 years or so, and in that time I have had no major disagreements (except no dogs.  grrrrrrrr) and have been given cake, cookies, dinners, birthday presents, Hannukah beers (8.  One for each night--amazing).  They are a family of 4 (mom, dad, daughter, son) and they have really welcomed me into their lives as well as their home and I will always be incredibly thankful for everything they've done for me.  With that said . . .

The other day I was chatting with the landlords (not their kids) about the holidays coming up and, as often happens, the fact that I am Jewish came up.  As it does.  I have, in my first few years living here (solo at that time) politely declined requests to put a candle in my window (i rocked 8 candles instead, what WHAT ;)) or to put a wreath on my door.  My feeling is that this whole "Jewish thing" is not super familiar to them but they really do go out of their way to try and remember that I don't personally celebrate Christmas (i do enjoy it at my gf's parents' house though).  This is worth noting, as the mother likes to decorate their house each season (very festive), and this "holiday season" seems to be a tricky one for them, in that they are trying to consider my feelings (and the thought DOES count).  In our discussion, the mother jokingly lamented how difficult it was to find outside floor mats (yes, we have seasonal floor mats) that weren't specifically Christmas oriented.  They were so pleased to find ones they described as just saying "Joy".  How great is that!  I said, "that's great." (again, i can only get so excited about seasonal mats-christmas hannukah or otherwise).  I pictured a nice tan mat with "JOY" written in black across it.  I, was delusional.  This, is the religion neutral "joy" mat currently residing outside my front door:

So. Once again.  Is it me?  Am I crazy.  I mean, the "O" is quite clearly a Christmas tree ornament, yes?  You don't hang green balls off a menorah (you wouldn't want your chestnuts roasting on an open fire).  I've spent some time looking at this thing, and trying to wrap my head around a world in which this is the "neutral" decoration they decided upon, paying special attention to the fact that they shouldn't get anything "Christmas-y".

Now, I'm not really mad at them.  I'm not.  Especially in this case, they really did make the effort.  And I'm not the Hannukah police.  But at the same time I can't help but think two things.  Let's number them.

1.  In the end, this is my (and my gf's) front door.  I feel like we should have final say about what we have to look at every time we get home.  And personally, this particular "Joy" doesn't make me feel particularly joyful.  And I'm a joyous guy. . . .           joy.

2.  This idea that that mat (say it 5x fast) is religiously neutral (unless i, in fact, am the crazy one here) is the type of negligence about this season that really gets to me.  This idea that Jews are "complainers" or "over-sensitive" for not wanting these symbols to represent them or in their homes.  No, your wreath is not "kinda non-denominational cause it's natural."  No, it is not "just a decorative mat" that I'm making a big fuss about.  I bet you if i put dreidel (which my spell-check believes in misspelled btw) mats in front of a whole bunch of houses, I wouldn't get a lot of "oh it's just a fun game with candy" reactions.  There is a tremendous double standard in the amount that minorities are expected "just deal" with the larger majorities gross oversight of their reality.  And when they don't want to "just deal," they are the problem.  And perhaps it's because I'm a social psychologist, but what this makes me think about most powerfully is that if I feel this way as a Jew (a relatively high status minority), I can only imagine how difficult it is for other minorities.  I mean, for racial minorities, every day is Jewish Christmas.  Something to think about.

Tomorrow is the first night of Hannukah.  If you celebrate it, I hope yours is filled with joy.


  1. Matt, I'm sorry, but every time I look at that "neutral" mat, I get the giggles. It's an effing CHRISTMAS ornament in the middle! I think it's really sweet that your landlords try, but wow, did they miss the boat! (Maybe they thought they'd go half-Christmas, half-joyous holiday season since you have a multi-religion household? ;)

  2. Perhaps you should show them this post. Review it for yourself first and then pass it on to them. There is nothing offensive in here, but it gets your point across. Just a thought.

    On another thought, I celebrate Christmas but a good friend of mine is Jewish and he and I have gotten fairly close in the last year. Because he is in my life, I've noticed a few new things (new to me) about Hannukah vs. Christmas in the public eye. It drives him crazy that in the big business building across the street from our work, there is a big decorative Menorah, right outside the bank. And I've noticed that all the holiday commercials say "Happy Holidays" but when they sing their little diddies, it's to a Christmas song, not to something like "Dreidel Dreidel Dreidel".

    I wish you a happy winter, fantastic Hannukah celebration, and an awesome end to 2009!

    On a related note, perhaps you'll enjoy this...

  3. Great video Midwest Girl. "French, over here with the Germans." Hilarious. Thanks for the hannukkah wishes and I agree with your jewish friend, a big menorah on public lawn is no better than a big christmas tree. In fact, it probably "hurts the cause" even more.

  4. There's one detail I'm not getting--is that exclusively your own door, or is it a shared entrance that they also use? What I'm thinking is that if it's also their own front door, and it is their house, they not-unreasonably wanted something appropriately festive to greet their own guests. They seem to have tried to find the most denominationally neutral mat they could buy, but take it from someone who does a shitload of shopping for holiday household decorations--it's pretty much impossible to find something that says "holiday-season-festive" and doesn't also have some kind of Christmasy icon on it.

    I have the exact same problem finding neutral holiday cards for TAs and staff, for whom I don't know *what* they celebrate: "Oh, here's a nice snowman...shit, he's wearing a holly sprig. Here's an engraving of children ice-skating...with a pointettia motif as a border."

  5. Hey John,

    Our door only enters our house. They do have a matching mat directly across from what I would call their "back door," which is primarily used when other people come over. But no, it is not a shared entrance.

  6. Oh my god. Every day IS Jewish Christmas.