One Jew Reflecting on Christmas: A Postscript
I write this on the morning after the Superbowl.
Yesterday evening – not having a Superbowl Party to attend and not being very interested in sitting at home, watching the game (though we do love the commercials) – my wife and I went out for a bite of dinner, followed by an exciting evening of grocery shopping and a visit to Starbucks. As we drove the streets of Davenport, Iowa, I could not help but be struck by how empty they were. At the restaurant, we were 2 out of their 3 diners. Most of the staff were gathered round the wall mounted TVs, watching the game. While there were some people in the grocery store, relatively speaking it, too, was empty. Then, at Starbucks, we were the only customers.
As we left Starbucks, heading for home, my thoughts traveled to two places:
The first was to Jerusalem, back in 1970, when I was a first year student at the Hebrew Union College. It was Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish holiday calendar (except for Shabbat). I do not know about how it is today but in those days, on Yom Kippur, the usually crowded streets of Jerusalem were eerily empty and quiet. The only moving vehicles were the occasional military jeep. The silence and stillness seemed to emphasize the sanctity of the day.
The second was not so much a place but a document – the last posting I placed on this blog: “One Jew Reflecting on Christmas.” In that posting, I bemoaned the changes I have been witnessing as to the very nature of Christmas Day in our society. As I stated in that posting, it was not that long ago that out on the streets, Christmas Day, you might say, belonged to the Jews. We would go to the movies and, except for the Jews, they were empty. The same was true for the Chinese restaurants; the only restaurants that were open on Christmas Day. Everyone else were gathered in their churches and homes, with their families, celebrating their sacred holiday. However, this has become less and less the case, as with each passing year the movie theaters have become more and more crowded, as have the Chinese restaurants. Indeed, this year, the movie theater was more crowded than I ever remember seeing it.
Driving home last night, on Superbowl Sunday – revisiting in my mind one Yom Kippur in Jerusalem 43 years ago and Christmas in the Quad Cities just a month and a half ago – I came to the realization, with a bit of a shock and sadness, that it is not that the American people have lost their sense of sacred occasions. Rather it is that they have changed their views on what they hold sacred. The place in their hearts once held by Yom Kippur and Christmas now is held by the Superbowl. The church and the synagogue have been replaced by the stadium and the sports arena while the Christmas family dinner and, to a lesser extent, even the Passover Seder, have been replaced by the Superbowl and tailgate parties. The streets of Jerusalem on Yom Kippur are now the streets of America on Superbowl Sunday night.