The Jewish Valentine's Day?

12daysochristmaslightsAll this week I have been serving long days on a jury. Although I tried my best to get out of it, I found the entire experience absolutely riveting and educational. I cannot commend the work highly enough. Working with 11 very different people to come to unanimous agreement on a complicated case is difficult but very rewarding. In the end, we found the defendant guilty, which was a hard decision to make during this time of year.

While you're serving you're not allowed to surf the Internet, so my daily paper reading was greatly limited. One thing I did get to read was The Examiner, a free newspaper distributed in my city. Each day it has been running through the "12 Days of Christmas," counting down to Dec. 25, with a picture of local readers acting out each verse of the song.

I know that many journalist types aren't religious, but certainly someone at that paper knows that the 12 Days of Christmas run from Dec. 25 to January 6, right?

Those churches that keep the liturgical calendar, of which I am a member, are in the season of Advent right now (or Nativity Lent in the Eastern churches). It's kind of the opposite of the American Christmas season. While other people are busy partying it up, we're supposed to be in prayer and repentance. And then when everyone else is in post-Christmas mode, we're celebrating a 12-day season.

I commend The Examiner for trying to do something to engage readers, but it's kind of funny or sad how much newspapers miss the religious aspect of this time of year. One reader sent along this very funny chart in The Washington Post making fun of how vapid made-for-TV Christmas movies are. But a lot of mainstream media reports fit in that same genre with heartwarming stories that indicate the meaning of Christmas is anything but religious.

One area I would like to see reporters cover is what this time of year is like for Americans who are not Christian. The Boston Globe's Christopher Muther had a very funny entry in that category with his story about how young Jewish singles party on Christmas Eve:

Christmas Eve is perhaps the most important night of the year for the city's Jewish singles. While Boston's gentiles are tucked away with their eggnog, plastic Santas, and enough sugar cookies to feed the population of Luxembourg, something massive has happened in the clubs. Christmas Eve has evolved into Jewish Valentine's Day.

Muther talks about the Matzo Ball, which is a popular Boston party held on Christmas Eve. It's facing competition this year from Let My People Go, a New York-based group. He spends quite a few paragraphs talking about all the heavy imbibing at these parties.

Mayshe Schwartz, a Brookline-based Orthodox rabbi who wears a baseball cap embroidered with Hebrew symbol chai (which means living) and answers to the nickname Schwartzy, thinks the advent of Christmas Eve as Jewish Valentine's Day has more to do with loneliness than the consumption of large quantities of booze.

"At some point, many Jews feel isolated at Christmas," he says. "There's a whole country celebrating something, and you can only run with it so far, then at some point, you can't. You don't have a Christmas tree, stores are closed, everything you're watching is 'Miracle on 34th Street.' It was only logical that these giant singles parties would evolve from this."

The story was rather fluffy but the actual topic -- singles parties on Christmas Eve -- doesn't really lend itself to much substance. It would be nice to see more in-depth stories about what it's really like to be a member of a minority religion.

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