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Popaganda Episode: Subverting the Holidays

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There's no escaping the holidays. Our only hope is to make 'em our own. This episode tells four tales of subverting the holidays.

First, we talk with author Sherman Alexie about his take on Thanksgiving. Then, we get advice from the folks behind Adbusters and the Story of Stuff project on celebrating the season without getting caught up in consumerism. From there, we talk with a vegan chef who is transforming America's most meat-centric holiday, Thanksgiving, into a vegetable feast. To round it all out, Bitch editorial and creative director Andi Zeisler reads an essay about Jewish Christmas. 


Popaganda: Subverting the Holidays by Bitch Media on Mixcloud

This episode of Popaganda is sponsored by Glad Rags—get 15 percent off your order at GladRags when you shop through Bitch.

SHERMAN ALEXIE ON THANKSGIVING 

COMBATING HOLIDAY CONSUMERISM WITH ADBUSTERS AND STORY OF STUFF 

 

VEGAN THANKSGIVING 

 

REFLECTIONS ON JEWISH CHRISTMAS 

 

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Thank you to Cyrus W. Smith for digging up the weird Christmas music used throughout this show. "Shut Your Pie Hole" cross-stitch is courtesy of Subversive Cross Stitch

This show was generous transcribed for free by transcription service Rev.com. 

TRANSCRIPT

:

Sarah:             This is Sarah Mirk of Bitch Media and this is Popaganda, feminist response to pop culture podcast. 

                        The holidays are coming.  There's no chance of escape.  You can't beat time.  The calendar page will turn, and suddenly there will be Christmas decorations on every corner and voicemails about Thanksgiving plans to return.  Your best shot at enjoying the holidays is to make them your own, to take the major days we celebrate as a culture and in some way change the ritual or the narrative to be something that feels good to you.

                        This episode tells four tales of subverting the holidays.  First, I talked with author Sherman Alexie about his take on Thanksgiving.  Then we get advice from the folks behind Adbusters and the Story of Stuff project about celebrating the season without getting caught up in consumerism.  From there, we talked with two people who are transforming America's most meat-centric holiday, Thanksgiving, into a vegan feast.  To round it all out, Bitch editorial and creative director Andi Zeisler reads an essay about Jewish Christmas.  Stay tuned.

[musical break]

SHERMAN ALEXIE ON THANKSGIVING

Sarah:             How great would it be to share a dinner table with Sherman Alexie? The National Book Award winner, Spokane Coeur d'Alene Indian, and author of 24 books always has something smart to say, and his way of saying it is with a good-natured dark humor that illuminates the bad stuff of life with a warm and loving light.  A week before Thanksgiving, Sherman and I talked about the holiday and how he's made it his own, imagining the traditional Thanksgiving feast as a celebration of survival.

                        Why don’t you like to go home for the holidays?

Sherman:       Well, mine is fine, but I have so many friends who go home and then they're just miserable until February, and I don’t understand why people want to go back into that.  Everybody knows our house is the place to go when you finally decide you don’t need to be miserable.

Sarah:             Are you personally miserable when you go back home to your family?

Sherman:       No, no, I just enjoyed having created a new holiday.

Sarah:             Who comes over, and what is it like?

Sherman:       It's random.  It's random every year.  Generally speaking, it has been a brother-in-law or two in between relationships.  It has been friends, recently divorced friends, friends on their way to divorce.  It' has been abandoned Jesuits and abandoned lesbians.

Sarah:             Sounds like they're maybe a tragic collection of people.

Sherman:       Yeah.  I remember one Thanksgiving with this very sad dude I never saw again.  He was a friend of a friend who picked up my kid's xylophone and was playing it well and playing it sadly.

Sarah:             Ah, the sad xylophone of Thanksgiving.

Sherman:       Yeah, the sad xylophone of Thanksgiving.  He had a sad goatee, so if you looked at him, if you squinted your eyes, he looked like a pilgrim.

Sarah:             How do you think it changes Thanksgiving to having been with your friends rather than your family?

Sherman:       You choose.  It's always better to choose.  I spoke at a college recently and I had talked about this, about not going home, about the difficulties of your birth families.  Very interesting, a young gay man said that he felt liberated as soon as he knew he didn’t have to go home, back to disapproving family members.  Another young woman cried because she said even though she felt like she didn’t belong or was accepted, she was going to still keep trying.  We've been told, it's part of that family mythology.  We want to believe that myth of the American family.  The way in which we measure our love affair is by romantic comedy.  I think we measure our holidays by Christmas movies.

Sarah:             What do you remember about Thanksgiving growing up?

Sherman:       Pretty random.  We are poor, so we didn’t even always have food, feasting food.  Depending on my father's … my father might not be either because he was an alcoholic binge.  Randomly we’d have various people show up.  We have our family house packed then too, so random Indians would show up.  I remember one year, a couple of political prisoners who were thrown into a Spokane jail for illegal salmon fishing, knocked on the door and said that the guards had let them out and said go to the residents, find someone you can have Thanksgiving with.  It was an awesome name for Thanksgiving.  It was David Sohappy, S-O-H-A-P-P-Y, Junior and Senior.

Sarah:             Wow.  What was it like eating dinner with them?

Sherman:       They're pretty quiet.  They didn’t know us, but it's pretty funny that one group of Indians was helping out another group of Indians on Thanksgiving.

Sarah:             When you were growing up and now too, what did you think of a whole Thanksgiving story about native people helping out Pilgrims?

Sherman:       I wish we had a tougher immigration policy.  It's a love story, and it's still a love story.  We still love you even, if we really are your battered spouse.

Sarah:             Do you still tell the story of Thanksgiving and think about the Pilgrims and the Indians having a meal together?  Or has it become else entirely for you?

Sherman:       I think it's become that again for us in a lot of ways, the Indians helping out sad white people.

Sarah:             Because the sad white people are the ones who show up who are the brother-in-laws and the abandoned lesbians.

Sherman:       Yeah, and then the thing is, I have a lot of power and privilege in my life now, and the solid marriage and kids.  I am like the Indians living … I feel like I've been living well for 15,000 years now, and then all these poor explorers are showing up.

Sarah:             That’s a funny way to think of it.

Sherman:       My family, my wife and sons and I, we've made a very stable, safe home.

Sarah:             Do you feel like you've been able to make Thanksgiving your own?

Sherman:       Yeah.  It's interesting.  I'm sitting here waiting for my son, on the bus.  He has his bus route.  He's made the city's smaller for himself. He has reinvented the city for his 16-year-old self that he didn’t do when he was 14, and much in the same way you take the holiday and make it yours.  That doesn’t strip it of its original meaning or its context.  There's still the really sad holiday as well.  It is a holiday that commemorates the beginning of the end for us, the death of a culture.  I guess you could say Thanksgiving is also about survival, look how strong we are.

Sarah:             When do you think about that on Thanksgiving?  When do you think about survival?

Sherman:       When I'm talking about it, during the day.  There's a lot of jokes leading up to those days.  I'm sure I'll invite white friends over and tell them that we randomly choose one white person to eat, the one with the best marbling, which is a good thing that we choose a white person because if it was everyone, it would probably be me.

Sarah:             You've gone soft.  Was Thanksgiving sad for you growing up, or was it a good time?

Sherman:       Really there was always a time for dark comedy.  Thanksgiving for Indians is like a Mel Brooks movie directed by David Lynch.

[laughter]

Sarah:             Maybe you should write that movie.  What do you think would happen in that movie?

Sherman:       I’ve always thought, I've considered writing a giant western farce, Old West farce, Blazing Saddles from the point of view of an Indian boy.

Sarah:             What would happen if you and David Lynch and Mel Brooks all told the story of Thanksgiving?

[laughter]

Sherman:       I think art would be done, it would be over.  There'll be nowhere to go after that.  That’s an amazing … I can't even begin to think about that.  It would star Isabella Rossellini as Sacagawea.

[laughter]

Sarah:             That would be really good.  What kind of jokes would you grow up telling about Thanksgiving?

Sherman:       The same stuff I'm saying now.  My parents, in whatever state they may have been in, were as funny as me. It comes from them.  And that cranberry sauce better be canned, that’s always the case.  There is some fundamentalism involved as well.  People are telling me how amazing their home-made cranberry sauce is, I don’t care.  I want nothing to do with your home-made cranberry sauce.  I want my can.  I want to be safe like the can.

Sarah:             How do you talk to your kids about the Thanksgiving story?

Sherman:       You just tell them the truth, the long historical nature of it.  They're quite aware of what happened to us, the genocide and the way in which we survive and the way in which my wife and I have survived our individual Indian autobiographies.  I guess it's trash talking, "Look, you tried to kill us all and you couldn't."  We're still here, waving the turkey leg in the face of evil.

 

[musical break]

Sarah:             Sherman Alexie's newest book, Blasphemy, is a collection of 15 short stories.  It's really good.  You should go read it.

[musical break]

ADBUSTERS AND STORY OF STUFF

Sarah:             Here's a heart-warming headline from the Cleveland Plain Dealer: “WalMart, giving one million employees who work on Thanksgiving extra pay, a turkey dinner, and 25% off a future purchase.”  Yes, WalMart will be opening at 6am on Thanksgiving and its one million workers will have to spend the holiday shelving toasters instead of spending time with their families, but at least they will get to screen a discount on a future Walmart purchase.

                        The time between Thanksgiving and Christmas is a commercial bonanza in America, as retailers big and small rush to push us to buy, buy, buy to celebrate the holidays.  This consumerist spectacle has its critics, of course.  Over 20 years ago, the people behind anti-consumerist media group Adbusters started up a holiday of their own, Buy Nothing Day.  I talked to one of the founders of Buy Nothing Day about the annual counter-holiday.

Kalle:              I'm Kalle Lasn.  I'm the editor-in-chief of Adbusters Magazine.  Almost 25 years ago now, I was the co-founder of Adbusters Media Foundation.  Around the early 1990s, we were having a bunch of brainstorming sessions about where we should go, and we were really down on consumer culture.  We felt that the consumer culture was turning citizens into consumers and creating a very ecologically unsustainable situation for future generations.  We were also sick of many of the -isms of the time, I mean, sick of feminism and environmentalism.  Whenever we heard the word -ism then we sort of cringed and dreamed of a different, more provocative, more telling kind of activism, and we started calling it culture jamming.

                        In our brainstorming sessions, one day a local Vancouver activist, his name was Ted Dave or he is Ted Dave I should say, he walked in to our office and he said, "Yeah, I've got it.  I've got it.  It's Buy Nothing Day."  Then in the next issue of Adbusters, we put a poster for Buy Nothing Day and started talking about it.  Those three words, Buy Nothing Day, at that time 20 years ago, they had a magical ring to them, and this social marketing campaign took off like … actually it surprised us how quickly it spread to first of all throughout the Pacific Northwest region and then the year after that it was already all over North America and creeping into Australia and the UK.  Within a few years, Buy Nothing Day was celebrated in 65 countries around the world.

                        What surprised us, even in the early days of Buy Nothing Day is that somewhere in Australia or London, England, people would suddenly say, “Sure, we got to have our Buy Nothing Day,” and they would sometimes change it.  They would call it No Shopping Day and then create their own activism around it.  After a while, the day had a momentum of its own that was almost independent from what we were doing.  Nonetheless, every year we try to stay in touch with all the groups that are still doing it, and we also try to push it into the next phase, it felt like doing a Buy Nothing Day for one day somehow wasn’t enough.  For the last few years, we've been talking about the Buy Nothing Christmas.

                        Last year, in one of our brainstorming sessions, some people were saying that we should, on top of Buy Nothing Day, we should have Do Nothing Day, a day that’s somehow even bigger than Buy Nothing Day.  It's a day where we look at this human experiment of ours on Planet Earth and wake up to the fact that we’ve become a kind of doomsday machine entering into some sort of a thousand-year Dark Age, and we have to do something.  A really good way to begin is to just to take one day off, a Do Nothing Day, and just meditate on how you're going to live your life from now on.

                        Everybody makes a beautiful thing about Buy Nothing Day and some other really successful meta-memes like that, like Earth Day and some other days and weeks.  Everybody creates their own meaning.  Some people think it's a celebration, some people think it's a provocation, an activist … an opportunity to be an activist, but by-and-large it's a very personal, make a pact with yourself and see what it feels like not to buy anything for 24 hours.  I think a lot of people … we remember a time when Christmas still meant something.  It was a profound … for some people almost a spiritual season when family got together and cooked together and ate together and ate stuff together.  Some of the best memories of my life all happened when I was 9, 10 years old and in my early teens celebrating Christmas with my family.

                        That, of course, we've lost that now.  That’s been hijacked by the commercial forces.  I must admit, I really like this idea of a Do Nothing Day, this day when you say, “Well, I don’t know what's going to happen on Do Nothing Day.  I'm just going to just disengage for 24 hours and just see what happens.”  On that day, suddenly on a whim you may decide to phone up a friend and go for a hike with your friend, or you may just decide that you want to just think about your life and putter around in a garden.  God knows, but this idea that you blank your mind out, and on that day you try to live in a way that you haven't lived for a while.

                        On Thanksgiving Day, make a little pact with yourself, and say that “On Black Friday, I'm not going to do what everybody else is doing, dashing off to the malls and getting involved in this consumer fest, but I'm going to do something totally different, and I'll decide on that morning what I'm going to do.”  Then go and just play jazz, a spontaneous day that will really do something.

[musical break]

Sarah:             Like Adbusters, anti-consumerist media project The Story of Stuff, encourages people to celebrate holidays in their own way.  The group makes little videos about all the energy and materials that go into making consumer products and how the world would be better off if we didn’t feel the need to go out and buy new piles of stuff every year.

Announcer:    This is a story about a world obsessed with stuff.  It's a story about a system in crisis.  We're trashing the planet, we're trashing each other, and we're not even having fun.  The good thing is that when we start to understand the system, we start to see lots of places to step in and turn these problems into solutions.

Sarah:             I talked with Story of Stuff community outreach director, Allison Cook, about how she celebrates the holidays without being consumed by consumerism.

Allison:          The Story of Stuff, we make short cartoons about where your stuff comes from and how it's made and its social and environmental impacts.  We released the original Story of Stuff in 2007, right before Christmas.  We originally thought that the movie was just for other conserving people like us.  What became really clear is that there are a lot of people who are super-dismayed by the way that we consume endlessly, and the terrible things that that does for the planet but also the terrible things that that does for workers and for our pocketbooks and for our sense of self and for our actual physical health.

                        I think as a kid, I definitely had in a lot of ways a pretty typical, upper-middle-class American child in relationship to Christmas is the holiday that my family celebrates, so presents were very much a big part of the holiday and the season.  I think the things that always got me most fixated were the traditions that my family still practices with a lot of bigger panache.  My family actually goes caroling every Christmas Eve, and so that’s always been one of my favorite parts of the holidays.  We have like 40 or 50 people over at my parents’, crammed in my parents’ house, and then we have a big meal and then we go and sing out in the streets of Los Angeles where I grew up.

Sarah:             What’s your favorite carol to sing? That’s adorable.

Allison:          We sing all of the standards like “Feliz Navidad,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “Let It Snow.”  But at some point, we developed this very funny tradition wherein we close the night by singing Bill Withers' “Lean on Me.”  So that’s actually my favorite one that we do, but it's not a Christmas song.

Sarah:             Can you sing us few bars of it?

Allison:          Oh, please don’t make me.  That’s so unfair.

Sarah:             [singing] Lean on me …

Allison:          [singing] When you're not strong, I'll be your friend.  I'll help you carry on …

[Lean on Me starts playing]

Allison:          Exactly.  And then the whole break down, "You just call on me brother, when you need a hand."  I went to an all-girls school and so we used to sing the song as “You just call on me sister.”  That’s very silly and very delightful and one of my favorite parts of the holiday, and has nothing to do with buying anything, which is nice.

Sarah:             That’s interesting.  What are other ways that you spent in celebrating Christmas and Thanksgiving with an eye on consumerism?

Allison:          I think that whenever people talk about consumerism it's important to make the distinction between consumerism and consumption.  Consumption is totally normal, like everybody does it.  It's good and healthy, and we should do it.  Consumerism is totally out of whack, frenzied and frantic, pattern of consumption where it's just like a more, more, more without thinking about whether we need it or what its impacts are, et cetera, et cetera.  It really is about that quality of time that you spend with people, I think that consistently when I look back at my memory from the things that have matter most to me in terms of my relationship to the holidays, it's about the time that gets spent.

So moving from Thanksgiving into Christmas, I think one of the shifts that I've made is I really try to focus on giving experiences or quality time spent together or something that doesn’t involve actual stuff when I give gifts.  For my brother and sister, we usually give each other time that we're going to spend together, doing something that we like to do, so for my brother and I, we'll go to the flea market together, that will be our thing that we do and exchange as a gift.  For my dad, I usually get him concert tickets to a show or a band that I like that he hasn’t heard of before.

                        I think most people, and certainly this is not the rule, but most people have enough stuff and they could have more ugly sweaters or gift cards to stores that they don’t shop at is not really how to express your love.  For some people there's a lot of pushback of shame or what have you or about store-bought presents and I think it really demonstrates how important it is for us to re-engineer the conversations, so that Christmas isn't just this stressful, crazed, guilt-induced, debt-ridden holiday and can actually be something more meaningful and valuable.

[musical break]

VEGAN THANKSGIVING

Sarah:             In the kitchen of Portobello Vegan Trattoria in Portland, the prep cooks are just whipping through mushrooms, kale, and onions they will dish up for the evening meal.  Every night is busy at the small delicious vegan restaurant.  But one of the biggest nights of the year is coming up fast.  Reservations for Portobello's all-vegan Thanksgiving dinner are already sold out two weeks before the day.  Like vegans and vegetarians all over the country, co-owner Dinae Horne takes pride in transforming the holiday that’s all about turkey into a feast that’s filled with vegetables.

Dinae:            I'm Dinae Horne.  I'm half of the owners of Portobello Vegan Trattoria.  I'm the general manager, and my business partner is Chef Aaron Adams.

Sarah:             You guys are planning a super-elaborate vegan Thanksgiving.

Dinae:            We do a vegan Thanksgiving dinner every year.  I supposed it's a tradition at this point.  Originally, we called it the Autumnal Harvest Dinner, but we've moved on to calling it Thanksgiving dinner in lieu of our guests out large calling it that as well.

Sarah:             Autumnal Harvest didn’t go very well of an idea?

Dinae:            I think it just confused folks a little bit.  We were attempting to adjust the potentially problematic nature of the holiday.

Sarah:             What are you dishing up for Thanksgiving?

Dinae:            It's a three-course menu, and there's an option for each course that’s gluten-free.  We've got pumpkin soup, roast beet salad, seitan roast, stuffed portobello, pumpkin pie or sweet potato mousse, so traditional foods, our take on those.

Sarah:             That sounds super delicious.  How do you think it changes Thanksgiving to have it be vegan?  Clearly it's tasty, but how do you think it changes your celebration of the holiday to have it not include any meat or dairy?

Dinae:            The thing that I appreciate most about it is that it gives people the opportunity to bring in their family members and celebrate a holiday that is a personal tradition for their family as well, but in a way that honors their own ethics and brings that to the table in a real way.  I think that it provides an alternative for people who maybe still really appreciate some element of traditional Thanksgiving that they get to bring to their family something that they feel good about.

Sarah:             Do you ever celebrate Thanksgiving with your family?  What's it like when you go home?

Dinae:            I went vegetarian when I was 12, and a lot of my family, my extended family, really thought that I was just doing it to be cheeky and so they would try to argue the chicken or vegetables and things like that and wasn’t something that …  it didn’t make the experience of the holidays any more pleasant, I'll put it that way, and originally I was eating a lot of olives and mashed potatoes.  When I would cook at home and when I started cooking more and when I got older, I really enjoyed being able to bring something to the table as well.

Sarah:             Talk to me about that wording.  Why were you guys steering clear of Thanksgiving, and why go for Autumnal Harvest?

Dinae:            I feel like there's a mythology surrounding a lot of American holidays that isn't necessarily true to form.  It's not indicative of what actually occurred historically.  A lot of people definitely have started to map their own meanings over those traditions, and I have an appreciation for that.  I think it was an attempt on our part to do so and to recognize the kinds of meanings we'd like to map.  But so many folks call and just want to make Thanksgiving reservation is the word that they have identified with.

Sarah:             Thanks to Dinae, but it's time for her to get back into the kitchen to finish cooking this evening's meal.

[musical break]

                        Most people are celebrating Thanksgiving without the backing of a commercial kitchen.  Bitch merchandise volunteer Jennifer Busby talked with me about how she's hosting a vegan Thanksgiving dinner that remakes the holiday into something else entirely.  She and her friends call the fancy potluck-style meal …

Jennifer:        Thanks Living.

Sarah:             What's Thanks Living?  Can you walk us through it?

Jennifer:        Thanks Living is a vegan, decolonized version of Thanksgiving, where we don’t kill any of our small animal friends, and I just wanted to have a gathering at my house with my friends and make a community where we can hang out and drink mulled wine and eat butternut squash and talk about how the land that we are living on is stolen.  I'm working on writing, I guess, a grace.  People normally say grace at Thanksgiving, and it's usually religious.

                        I think it's important to acknowledge in a secular way thankfulness for the food that we have, for all of the people and the resources that it takes to fill your table, to fill your grocery store, your farmer's market, any of those things.  With that, I think comes an acknowledgement of labor and of human rights, and of environmentalism,  And there’s all these different things happening at once, and I think that food in particular gives a really good window to talking about that stuff, so I think we'll just go from there.

                        I think that one of the things that I struggle with personally is worrying about being the best person and caring about things the most all of the time and figuring out what can I do to make sure that I'm not oppressing anyone, right now, and I think that this time of year, giving thanks, being aware of that struggle as an activist is really important.  It's easy to get burnt out.  I don’t want to have the saddest party in the world like I don’t want to just get together with people and be sad about how we can't fix anything.  I think it's important to celebrate each other and celebrate our connections and celebrate all of the positive things that we are able to do.

Sarah:             Happy Thanks Living.

Jennifer:        Thanks.  Happy Thanks Living to you.

Sarah:             Jennifer's Thanks Living is invitation only, but you can stop by Portobello Vegan Trattoria for some celery root ravioli anytime.  They're located on Southeast 12th and Division in Portland.

[musical break]

REFLECTIONS ON JEWISH CHRISTMAS

Sarah:             I swear that Christmas starts right after Halloween.  As soon as stores slap a discount tag on their pumpkin candy, they're setting up giant candy canes and rows of Santas.  Bitch creative and editorial director Andi Zeisler reads this essay about her Jewish perspective on America's ever-expanding holiday.

Andi:               Is there such a thing as a religious holiday becoming secular?  It's a question many of us ask on a yearly basis, now that the relentless Christmasing of the United States has brought us workplace Secret Santa exchanges, TV networks broadcasting days of films like A Christmas Story and Jingle All the Way, Pinterest board is devoted to the Elf on the Shelf, and a guarantee that wherever you go in the month of December, you'll end up hearing Mariah Carey sing “All I Want for Christmas Is You” at least twice.

                        As a culturally if not quite religiously Jewish person, I accept and tolerate this.  No matter what Sarah Palin might think, very few of us in the tribe are interested in waging a war on Christmas.  But the conventional wisdom that everybody, Christian or not, feels the so-called Christmas spirit can be othering.  When well-meaning supermarket workers ask about your Christmas cooking plans, when Jewish children are queried by strangers about what they plan to ask Santa to bring them, it's a reminder that to not celebrate Christmas seems both radical and isolating.  It can be even more so for Jews, whose own winter holiday, Hanukkah, has been elevated from a relatively minor one to something that’s generally hastily invoked as a measure of inclusion, an afterthought to Christmas well-wishes hastily amended.

                        Hanukkah has become defined by its proximity to Christmas, but despite the holiday's awkward appending to America's holiday, what’s often overlooked is that Jews have a long tradition of celebrating Christmas in our own ways.  Saturday Night Live's digital video, “Christmastime for the Jews,” sums up the meaning of this hacked holiday with tongue-in-cheek bluntness.  With a claymation style that harks back to Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, the video captures the particular magic of New York City on Christmas, where the streets are alive with Jews streaming into Chinese restaurants and movie theaters celebrating the holiday with their freedom to run the streets on which they're normally outnumbered.

                        The people who don’t celebrate Hanukkah, that is, the majority of Christians who are in turn the majority of Americans, can be aware of Hanukkah, yet not be in any way affected by it.  Non-Christians, on the other hand, have no choice but to acknowledge Christmas.  Besides the unrelenting hype of the season, it's also a day when businesses and schools are closed, public transportation options shrink, big cities seem to yawn emptily, and small towns are dominated by caroling and Christmas lights.  The most prominent of Jewish Christmas traditions, eating Chinese food on Christmas Day, became a tradition because Chinese restaurants were the only ones open on the holiday.

                        When I asked folks on Facebook and Twitter about the personal rituals that have grown out of being Jewish in a Christmas-centric America, I got some great responses.  Food, not surprisingly, was central to these traditions.  Plenty of people offered variations on the Chinese food and a movie standby, with one pal noting that her family changes up the type of Asian food each year, branching out to Korean and Thai as well as Chinese.  But others mentioned brunches with bagels and lox and dinner at famed Jewish delis like Katz's in New York or Canter's in Los Angeles.

                        Volunteering was also a theme mentioned by people who responded to my query.  One person remembered volunteering at the hospital where her mother worked as a nurse; another organizes a trip with her children to a local soup kitchen, after which they go to the movies.  The focus on giving back isn't surprising, given Judaism's emphasis on Tikkun Olam, or repairing the world, a concept than many believe encompasses social justice and community healing.  In many places, volunteerism is formalized.  Cities with large Jewish populations like Boston, Los Angeles, and Detroit organize free yearly Christmas dinners for homeless, transitionally housed or otherwise underfed citizens.

                        As someone who is raising a child who is both Jewish and Christian, I'm not alone in trying to figure out how to honor my son's heritage at a time when more and more holidays succumb to rampant commercialization.  For a parent, resisting Christmas is like trying to hold back the ocean with a broom.  But acknowledging the Jewish Christmas traditions, my own and others’, to escape the holiday season is a way to manage the yearly onslaught and teach my child that subversion too can be a holiday tradition.  When it comes with a big plate of Kong Pao chicken and the magic of two hours in the dark of a movie theater, the lesson is that much tastier.

Sarah:             Whether you're celebrating Thanksgiving or Thanks Living, Buy Nothing Day or Black Friday, the idea of subverting the holidays is to take the customs we're told are one size fits all and to make them our own.  Thanks so much to Sherman Alexie, Story of Stuff, Adbusters, Portland’s Portobello Vegan Trattoria, and Bitch volunteer Jennifer Busby for being part of this podcast.

                        If you learned something new on this show, please share it with your friends.  Post the link on Facebook or on Twitter.  The show is put together by the team here at Bitch Media.  We're a nonprofit, primarily funded by individuals, so please donate to Bitch and support feminist media.  This show is produced at Pagatim Studios in Portland, with help from producer Alex Ward.  Our jingle is by Mucks and Owen Wuerker.  And you can read feminist response to pop culture every day at bitchmedia.org.

 


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