Every year around Christmas, I think what a burden it is to be Christian and consider joining another religion with fewer Yuletide demands. Addressing the cards and pretending I like fruitcake leave me exhausted. I toyed with the idea of becoming a Buddhist monk, which is just exotic enough to be hip, but then I remembered they have to set themselves on fire if a war comes along. As much as I dislike Christmas, I still prefer it over immolation.
Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t celebrate Christmas, which makes up for having to knock on doors and irritate people. I was leaning toward them, but then I discovered that in addition to not acknowledging Jesus’s birthday, they wouldn’t acknowledge mine. Jesus is probably humble enough to overlook someone ignoring his birthday, but I’m not that virtuous. I send out reminders the week before. One’s own birthday is the perfect holiday—an entire day of gifts and accolades and getting to pick what you want for supper. I’d be a fool to give that up.
Muslims don’t recognize Christmas, a definite plus, but they have to pray five times a day while kneeling on the ground. I have bad knees, so forget that. Plus, I would have to learn to read the Quran in Arabic and visit Mecca before I die. Foreign languages aren’t my strong suit, and I hate long airplane trips. I would be no good at fasting during Ramadan—I’d have to sneak away to the Dairy Queen. The Muslims I know are nice people. If they caught me at the Dairy Queen, they’d forgive me and give me a second chance. But every now and then an odd little sect within Islam lops off someone’s head, and I wouldn’t want to risk it.
I don’t know much about Hindus, but whenever I see them in an old-time movie, there’s always a snake in a basket nearby. If there’s one thing that bothers me more than Christmas, it’s snakes. I realize most snakes aren’t poisonous, but they always look like they’re up to no good, and I don’t trust them. It was a snake that led Eve astray in the Garden of Eden. Who needs the competition? If anyone is going to lead a woman astray, it should be me.
This leaves Judaism, a religion I’ve admired since I was in the sixth grade and a Jewish family, the Greenbergs, moved to our town. Their younger son, Jim, was in my grade, and we became good friends for the three years they lived in Danville. He wasn’t my best friend ever, but he was a good enough best friend that if someone were ever to accuse me of being anti-Semitic, I could be indignant and say, “Some of my best friends are Jewish.”
I always try to have at least one best friend in each minority group so no one can say I’m prejudiced. I’m friends with a Native American, lots of African-Americans, a handful of Muslims, and three Puerto Ricans. I used to be friends with a Canadian, but it didn’t work out, on account of the Canadian tendency to be boring.
For the three years Jim Greenberg was my friend, I wanted to convert to Judaism to get out of going to church. Unfortunately, membership in Judaism requires a rather painful operation on one’s member, so I stuck with Christianity. But every year around this time, I think of all the money and trouble I could have saved if I had converted. The Jewish people celebrate Hanukkah, but that doesn’t appear to be near the effort of Christmas.
Converting to Judaism would have solved my ham problem, too. I don’t like ham and haven’t since I was little, when I would watch my mother open a canned ham, dump it in a pan, and bake it to the size and consistency of a softball. I love bacon, so even if I became Jewish, I would still eat it, even though it would be a sin. Religious people are usually opposed to sin—not enough to stop committing it, but opposed to it in theory. Personally, I think everyone should sin occasionally, lest they become self-righteous and believe they’re better than everyone else. My grandmother Gulley was a non-sinning Baptist. I loved her because she was my grandma, but if she had said a cuss word every now and then, she would have been more interesting.
I’m starting to go bald on top of my head, so converting to Judaism and wearing a yarmulke would solve that problem. Oh, I suppose I could become Baptist and wear a seed-corn cap, but there are lots of Baptists in my town and no Jewish people. If I became Baptist, I would be one of many, and it would take forever to work my way up the ladder. If I were Jewish, I could open a synagogue and be the rabbi my first day there.
Jewish people had a rough time of it this past century. Things are better now, thank Yahweh. Every time I read about the Holocaust I get so mad I want to beat up a Nazi, but I don’t suppose rabbis can do that. I know we Quakers don’t like it when our spiritual leaders punch people. That’s the downside of religion. It prevents you from doing to certain people exactly what they deserve.
Another benefit of leaving Christianity would be no longer having to share a religion with Pat Robertson. Several times a week I read about him saying something stupid, and it makes me embarrassed that we belong to the same faith. If I were Jewish, I could say, “Oy vey, that Pat Robertson, what a schmuck.” Even though he isn’t Jewish, Pat Robertson is a big fan of Israel and hauls planeloads of people there each year to show them where Jesus was bar mitzvahed. I suspect he’s always wanting Israel to blow up its neighbors so the Rapture will come and he can go to heaven sooner. I guess being 82 isn’t close enough. Oy vey, what a schmuck.
In addition to giving my religion its savior, the Jewish people also gave me my favorite delicatessen, Shapiro’s, on South Meridian Street in Indianapolis. When I was a kid, my father would take us there every year on Christmas Eve for matzo balls. I would become Jewish just for the food; the fact that it would get me out of Christmas is a bonus.
Some Christians wouldn’t join another religion for fear of going to hell when they die, but I figure if Judaism was good enough for Jesus, it’s fine for me. Becoming Jewish would also get me out of the second-worst day of the year—the day after Christmas. It takes my wife and me eight hours to pack up and put away all our Christmas decorations, haul the tree out to the county fairgrounds, vacuum up the needles, move the furniture back into place, and take the gifts we don’t like to Goodwill.
Back during the Cold War, a crank in our town told me the Communists would take over America and make it a crime to celebrate Christmas. It worried me then, but now, like all aging men, I think wistfully about what might have been.
Illustration by Ryan Snook
This column appeared in the December 2012 issue.