Monday, November 29, 2004

'Tis the Season to be Israeli

From now until December 26 I am more happy than usual to be a Jew in Israel. No Christmas lights, no gift-shopping hysteria, no Santa Claus, no office parties, no carols, no special concerts of Handel's Messiah. This is not to say that we don't have frantic holiday preparations during the weeks before Passover and Rosh Hashanah (Hannuka is less frantic, being a minor holiday here), but the difference is more than religious. The tone of celebration exemplifies a primary cultural difference: Relationship-ism vs. Materialism.

Before you jump on me for over-generalizing, stereotyping, or sounding judgmental, read on. I have been thinking of the reasons behind this difference for 16 years, and I've concluded it has to do with geography: the size of the USA, combined with or perhaps causing the New Frontier-endless-opportunity-invent-yourself individualism that makes America great, simply discourages even a functional family from staying in one place from generation to generation. Perhaps the most rigidly orthodox believers of all stripes - the families who disown their less-observant or non-observant members - stay in one spot for more than one or two generations, but I don't think they are typical. Upward mobility usually means physicial mobility.

The others who have moved beyond the one-day visit radius sometimes just have to send a gift and/or a card to mark a holiday. It's natural that the Powers of Merchandising and Greeting Cards stepped in to fill the void. Pretty soon (that is, after a generation or so), the idea of the gift displaced the idea of the visit, even when the visit still happens. And if your loved-ones are scattered in various cities, visit logistics and finances can become real obstacles.

So come to Israel next is still the place where Xmas started.


The Lioness said...

I went out with a friend last night - I HATE Christmas!!! The whole city was stuck, people lemminging their way in and out of everywhere and it was evening already, it was a minor horror story, i'll be very happy when january comes, it's just plain insane.

squarepeg said...

The lack of xmas hype is one of my favorite things about Israel. In the old pre-Internet days, we were really cut off from it and it was delicious to hear absolutely no mention whatsoever of the materialistic goings-on "over there".