Welcome to the Boomer mashup at holiday time. Besides sex, drugs, rock ‘n roll and Woodstock, many Boomers went off the reservation for marriage, religion, and parenting—intermarrying, adopting other religions or becoming atheists/Wiccans/Rastafarians, adopting their children, often interracially. We’ve created a multicultural mashup that both blooms and boomerangs at holiday time. It’s especially relevant this year, with the first night of Hanukkah starting on Christmas Eve.
Christmas? Hanukkah? Smush them together, as in Chrismukkah? Do neither—(especially if you’re neither Christian nor Jewish, like millions of Americans)? Make up your own holiday? Festivus? To complicate matters, one-fifth of all Americans now identify as secular— atheist, agnostic, or “nones.” (The pioneering “first modern standup comic” Mort Sahl once commented that “atheists are the people who don’t get any holidays and agnostics are the people who don’t know which ones to take).”
My own immediate family includes Jewish heterodox, Buddhist, JewBhu, atheist, Latina, Modern Jewish Orthodox, Asian, Israeli—and children by birth, adoption and step-parenting. (I met another boomer woman who did all the above, plus has children by two surrogate mothers, trumping me). How do we celebrate the holidays? Don’t ask.
And we Boomers haven’t stopped. More Boomers are remarrying, creating even more mashup opportunities. My kids and (technically ex) stepson are from second marriages for both parents, and my ex married again. One friend is attending the wedding of her widowed stepfather after going to the wedding of a half-brother; another will be attending the bat mitzvah of the daughter of a previous step-parents’ stepson who was adopted from Korea and who married an African-American. Will there be kim chee along with smoked salmon and sweet potato pie at the kiddush lunch? Plus, there are boomers still adopting—often interracially–who see their “golden years” as opportunities to build and blend more families instead of traveling, golfing, and worshipping the secular cult of senior sun-bronzed physical fitness.
What is a mashup? According to Wikipedia,
It’s “a song or composition created by blending two or more pre-recorded songs, usually by overlaying the vocal track of one song seamlessly over the instrumental track of another. To the extent that such works are ‘transformative’ of original content, they may find protection from copyright claims under the “fair use” doctrine of copyright law.”
My late ex-mother-in-law, Evelyn, (who was the adoptive mother of my ex-husband through a second marriage), liked to say, “you can’t dance at two weddings.” So when is our boomer mashup transformative and when is it a multicultural mess?
A boomer acquaintance sent an annual family letter describing her holiday celebration of Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa. Unable to fully integrate into the festivities Ramadan, (which involves fasting), plus Zoroastrianism, and other major Hindu, African and Asian religions and celebrations, she devised a menu from potato latke egg rolls to ham and yam fritters to vegan stuffed turkey to curried lamb Swedish kottbullars. The guests included her gay Swedish-American/Jewish son with his Puerto-Rican/Irish/Native American Wicca partner, and assorted relatives and guests whose identities all seemed to require at least four hyphens. Expansive inclusion or indigestion? Although her letter was brimming with sincerity and heartfelt good intentions, a few of the recipients thought it was actually a parody of political correctness.
Some boomers straightforwardly post photos of their Christmas tree and menorah. (The contrast of size and simplicity sometimes reminds me of David vs. Goliath, but all bases are covered and they’re happy). I was fascinated to find a post on the Aish website by one of Norman Cousins’ daughters–Cousins was editor of the Saturday Review, and one of my parents’ atheist, secular Gods. They didn’t know that every year Cousins and his wife, in an attempt to delight their four daughters and rescue them from the restrictions of religion and ethnicity, created huge, joyous Christmas and Santa Claus celebrations that were marvels of parental love and creativity. One—now Sarah Shapiro—decided the whole thing was inherently bogus and faux-holiday, and is now an Orthodox Jew living in Jerusalem.
Then there’s Chrismukkah, the ultimate mashup holiday, and every possible response to it–will it ruin my kids?— and Loolwa Khazzoom’s eloquent tirade about what it’s like for her as a double minority—Iraqi-American and Orthodox Jew—being run over every year by the Christmas Bulldozer.
The holidays can create a chain reaction of offending and feeling offended with their manufactured insistence on mandatory merriment and good cheer. And we haven’t even scratched the surface of what the holidays are like for American Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and the one-fifth “nones” –atheist, agnostics, or “others.” Or that race—despite eight years of our first African-American president—and racial and economic inequality–are still the hot button issues in America. Not Merry Christmases for Eric Garner, Michael Brown, the two NYPD police officers killed in revenge (ironically and tragically, one Asian-American and one Puerto Rican), or their families, the nine exemplary citizens murdered while at prayer in Charleston. (We won’t even start with the terrorist horrors of the past few years in Paris, Orlando, Lebanon, Africa, Israel,Syria, Berlin). Our boomer mashup hasn’t resulted in world peace, equality or justice.
Is there any hope? Check out an organization (created by boomers Diane Tobin and the late Gary Tobin) called Be’chol Lashon (In Every Tongue). Their newsletter is fascinating—whether or not you have any connection to the Jewish community—because it’s right on the mashup frontline of race, ethnicity, and religion. Read it for frank, deeply felt personal accounts on the ongoing process of experiencing and integrating belief, race, and ethnicity. (Plus, there’s delectable recipes and music).
My own family still hasn’t quite figured out our boomer mashup celebrations, and every year, the holidays highlight the challenges. I am thankful for the spice in our life—the colors, variety, and flavors of our dilemma—and that we will never be bored. Meanwhile, a boomer friend from Latin America who is both Catholic and a born-again Buddhist just asked me the significance of Jews, Chinese food, and Christmas Day. Last year, I turned down an invitation for a movie and Chinese food that came too late–I had already committed to a Christmas Day potluck with holiday music that would enable me to get home just in time to light Shabbat candles. This year Christmas Day will be at Kung Pao Kosher-Comedy-standup comedy with Chinese food. The Chrismukkah mashup is still a work in progress.
For many of us, the recent election was a repudiation of multiculturalism and tolerance–“let’s make America white again”, (not to mention the so-called “the war on Christmas.)” My Catholic-Buddhist friend–a slender, gentle woman with spectacles–has already been harassed by two angry, red-faced men who towered over her and who told her to “go back where she came from–comprende?” Too late–our mashup is here to stay. Let’s pray that the shared messages of these holidays–love, peace, good will, religious freedom–bring light into the darkness–regardless of which holiday or how many we do or don’t celebrate.