No offense to Buddy the Elf, but I am not a Christmas person.
Which is different than saying I am not a Christian (which I am not) or that I am Jewish (which, it happens, I am).
There are plenty of Jews who adore the Christmas season -- Irving Berlin practically invented our contemporary notions of a quintessentially snowy, New England-y Christmas when he wrote White Christmas. I’d also wager that Matthew Sklar, former Bar Mitzvah boy and composer of Elf the Musical, enjoys the yuletide season.
Plenty of people with no particular religious affiliation also swoon to the sounds of carols and sleigh bells. On the other hand are streams of Christianity that abstain from Christmas celebrations like Jehovah’s Witnesses (too pagan) and other sects who find no biblical sanction for a December 25th celebration of Jesus’s birth. For New England Puritans, Christmas was a bacchanalian horror-show of drunken licentiousness they were glad to have left behind across the ocean (no fans of Twelfth Night were they).
So, while Christmas is a Christian holiday for many, it isn’t necessarily so for others.
The Christmas we see in Elf the Musical is a distinctly American holiday. For many in this country, Christmas is about family, generosity and a cheery optimism amidst the short, dark days of December. It’s those ecumenical themes that lend themselves well to a “holiday” season that lassos-in other religious observances like Hanukkah and Diwali as kindred festivals along with cultural observances like the sincere Kwanzaa and the satirical Festivus.
I don’t think it puts me at the sharp tip of the spear of the “war on Christmas” to acknowledge this reality. Nor do I believe its puts a person at odds with those values if they decide Christmas isn’t their vehicle of choice to express them.
Hanukkah began last night, and I for one get irked when it gets enlisted as a kind of “Jewish Christmas.” It is a bit overblown for a post bible-era holiday about energy-efficient lamps and insurgent military campaigns. We get to eat fried foods for Hanukkah, that ought to be enough. There is absolutely zero SparkleJollyTwinkleJingley in my Hanukkah, thank you. It can make you feel like you’re out-of-step with the rest of American culture.
But, as a confirmed Grinch in a family of Grinches I have to confess that we all walked out of Elf the Musical with enormous smiles on our faces. If that’s discordant with everything I just wrote, then so be it. The genius of the American Christmas is that it’s so hard to resist, and for an evening of theatre, we didn’t.