A taster of the upcoming second issue of my zine, Anarchia. Shouldn’t be too much longer til it’s done.
Growing up as a Jew in Aotearoa/New Zealand, the month of December has always played host to some weird feelings that I’ve never quite been able to pin down, and certainly never able to name. This year, for the first time, I have really tried to dig deep within myself and work out what it is about the “holiday season” that really gets to me, and for the first time, I have been able to get a real feeling for the issues, and to put a name to them – Christonormativity.
Christonormative practices legitimise and privilege Christianity and Christian practices as fundamental and “natural” within society, to paraphrase Cathy Cohen’s definition of Heteronormativity. In doing so, of course, they serve to delegitimise my experiences and culture as a Jewish person and further alienate me from the surrounding society. Needless to say, this becomes most noticable in the “Christmas period”, with advertisments, songs, signs, trees, tinsel and family gatherings, even amongst my nominally atheist friends.
In a South Park episode I once saw, Kyle, the Jewish character, sings a song with the chorus “I’m just a Jew, a lonely Jew, on Christmas”. Indeed, this has traditionally been the feeling I have had around this time of year, as many of my friends return to their parent’s hometown to celebrate this so called “secular, family holiday”. I recall when growing up never quite knowing how to talk about this – even on a simple level, as a child, wondering what to say in January when friends asked “so, what did you get for Christmas?” The question was asked with a surprising frequency, even from friends who knew I was Jewish. My answers changed from year to year as I became more and more sure of my own culture – what began as attempts to fudge the question and move the discussion on soon moved into affirmative statements of my Jewish identity, These affirmative statements, however, are often met with a response that I’m sick of hearing: “Christmas isn’t a Christian holiday, it’s a secular family one!”
This is the key to Christonormativity – rather than outwardly and openly forcing Christianity upon people (as in the Inquisition), Christonormativity seeks to make Christian practices applicable to all and to allow non-Christian practices only so long as they reside within a Christian framework (see the relatively new tradition of giving presents at the Jewish festival of Channukah, often at a similar time to Christmas). In doing so, it disempowers those who are not part of the dominant Christian culture and gives them two choices: assimilate or consign yourself to the margins.
Through the implicit threat of violence, this pressure to assimilate or marginilise has been internalised by the Jewish community. Right through my childhood, we were told it was not a good idea to be “too” open about our Jewishness, and in a community where the majority of people have family members who either survived or were murdered in the Holocaust, this feeling was especially strong. We should be proud of our culture, we were taught, but there’s no need to take it beyond the walls of our homes and community centres. The threat of violence was visualised by the community security that would stand at the entrance to any community event. This threat was further reinforced by many ultra-Zionist members of the community – those who would constantly state that Jews needed Israel because, even though New Zealand might seem friendly at the moment, things could change at any moment, and ultimately, we could only trust Jews to look after Jews.
Many friends of mine who have moved to Israel from elsewhere have expressed how one of the things they enjoy most about living there is the fact that they live in a culture where it is normal to be Jewish and to celebrate Jewish holidays – in short, Israel has replaced Christonormativity with Judeonormativity. Unsurprisingly, the dominant culture pays little heed to the many Muslims, Christians, Druze, Bah’ai and others who live there, who have become the minority cultures and again, given that same choice – assimilate or be marginalised. Again, the threat (often acted upon) of violence is used to enforce and display the power of the dominant Judeonormative culture.
There is a third option that the varying forms of religonormativity tries to hide from us, an option infinitely preferable both to assimilation and to marginalisation. This option, of course, is social revolution – a revolution to destroy not only religonormativity, but also capitalism, patriarchy, statism, racism and all other forms of oppression and social control.