According to the latest statistics, approximately one out of every four people in this country has no religious reason to celebrate the birth of Christ.
I am one of those.
As such, I noted the spectacular tree going up in Rockefeller Center and smaller versions in public spaces throughout the country, such as the one now at the intersection of Cass and Front. Its arrival underscored the establishment of the annual Christmas bubble. Living within the bubble, you are expected to join in the festivities.
It was not always so, at least during my growing-up years in mid-century Brooklyn.
I was about 6 or 7 when my sister, five years my senior and playing the role of wise older sibling, sat me down and informed me that there was no Santa Claus.
Admittedly, I had already started to question the story of the pudgy, white-bearded, pipe-smoking elf sliding down chimneys to distribute toys from his bulging sack before reversing back up and then onto his sleigh and off into the night sky to the next house, and the next, and the next.
It wasn’t the mathematical impossibility of accomplishing all that gift-giving in one night that troubled me. There was a simpler problem.
Our two-family house with its flat roof had no chimney.
I suppose, if I thought about it at all, I figured the lack of a chimney was a concern for our Irish landlord’s kids on the first floor. How did Santa deliver presents to them?
For presents they most certainly received.
My sister and I did not. As a Jewish family, we did not celebrate the holiday in any fashion except as spectators. I do recall going downstairs Christmas day to see what those kids got. And my sister and I would walk around the neighborhood in the evening during the season to check out those houses that were decorated. In our mixed ethnic neighborhood, some were, and some weren’t.
That was just the way things were.
I never asked my sister why she felt compelled to disabuse me of any notion of Santa Claus. Maybe she thought I was unhappy that we did not receive presents.
I don’t recall that being the case. It was like the houses. Some were lit up, some weren’t.
It was okay to celebrate the holiday.
It was okay not to celebrate the holiday.
In my own lifetime, I experienced the movement away from being a bemused observer to being pressured to join in, to be absorbed into the bubble.
I observed how due to its proximity to Christmas, Chanukah, a relatively minor Jewish holiday, received much greater attention. If we didn’t want to be absorbed into the bubble, we would compete with it. Some would start calling a Christmas tree a Chanukah bush.
In my view, an absurdity and disrespectful to both holidays.
As I grew into my teens, my parents bridged the gap by giving me a present between the two holidays about the middle of the month after Chanukah had come and gone but before Christmas.
Because of the relentless media and marketing pressure these days, I don’t think that compromise is viable.
You’re either in the bubble.
Or you’re not.
You’re in the restaurant dining on a glorious meal.
Or you’re outside with your nose pressed to the glass.
Maybe you walk on home, or maybe you choose to eat in a restaurant of your own choosing.
But it seems you have to do something.
Stephen Lewis, originally from Brooklyn, New York, is a retired college English professor and writer whose novels include two mysteries set in northern Michigan.