Friday, 10 December 2010

Is it cheaper to be a Jew?

As an atheist from a Muslim country, I  love celebrating Christmas in the UK. I love the athmosphere and the lights, the presents and the smelly candles in our homes. Everything looks and feels pretty and cozy.  To me, it is a cultural, family holiday. But also, a very expensive one.

I have been thinking, looking at my bank balance online this morning, just how costly Christmas is. I am not even talking about presents. I am talking about all those little things that add up. Starting early in December, things spin out of control. I am amazed at how demanding my child’s school is, to start with.

 No uniform day this Friday! Send a bottle of wine! one week, and then a box of chocolates the week after. Give us some money towards a school trip to such and such place, and some Christmas presents for the teachers, too. Oh, and bring some food for the party. Donate this and donate that. Don’t forget the poor, the blind, the disabled and the homeless. Come and buy lots of useless second hand stuff at the Christmas Fair.

Outside the school, there are endless parties with secret Santa presents for kids, millions of cards to exchange with friends and family, the tree, of course (and I must have a real one! Approximately £50) and the decorations: inside and outside the house. It simply does not end.

My child, just like any of her friends, does not just get one present. She gets a few. So does everybody else in the family. I have never even questioned just how expensive our holidays were until I spoke to my Jewish friend in the States.

I knew she become more Jewish since she emigrated from Baku, so I wanted to know what they did during the winter holidays these days. As a Soviet child, I cannot imagine not celebrating the New Year. I wanted to know if their family, with both her and her husband coming from the same soviet childhood as me, still had some sort of a celebration for such a lovely event. The answer was short. No, she said.

Really? I wanted to know. Not even a yolka? No yolka would just break my heart.
No, she said. No Christmas tree. No decorations. No presents. No New Year and, of course, no Christmas either.

Wow, I thought. How much cheaper is it to be a Jew?!

My friend got competitive. ‘Well, not really,’ she told me. ‘We buy presents for Hanukkah and Passover!’

‘In fact’, she said, ‘Our friends recently reminded my husband that he should, traditionally, be buying his wife new jewellery and dresses for Passover!’

Nevertheless, by my primitive calculations, being a Jew is cheaper, whatever she says. Not only they don’t have to participate in the whole Christmas charade, they also don’t acknowledge Halloween. And Halloween has been annoying me for an awfully long time. Why can’t the Brits borrow something useful from the Yanks? Like a baby shower? I would love a baby shower. But no. They go for Halloween, with all the silly costumes, pumpkins and more decorations.

Thinking about this made me wonder what would, should we carry out a survey, be the cheapest religion to belong to, from the holiday expenses point of view? Is being a Muslim cheaper? I know Azeris are not the best representatives of the Islamic world (so I hope) but I don’t remember people going as crazy over Muslim holidays as the Brits do at Christmas. There was a lot of food, but hey, that is a normal day for Azeris, anyway. But there were never any presents, or parties, or decorations. My knowledge of religious holidays is, as you might have realized, quite limited. But I reckon, as I struggle to make my money last till the next pay day, that living in a Christian country is definitely pretty costly. In my next life, I want to be a Jew. Or an atheist... Hold on, aren't I one already? Hmm...


  1. Brits don't have baby showers? What about bridal showers? I think you should start the trend.

    My husband is Jewish so I get two sets of holidays, though sometimes they get combined, as in last year's "Eastover."

  2. Please tell more stories about you shouting "yolka" at your tree

  3. Lame. All the ex-Soviet Jews I know in America (including me) still have a yolka and celebrate New Year, along with the Jewish holidays. Plus, it is CRAZY expensive to live life as a real Jew, sending your kids to private Jewish schools, keeping kosher, etc. We always think it's cheaper to be Muslim or Christian. Vive la difference! I snovim godom :)

  4. @Shannon: No! No bridal showers either! Can you frigging believe it? But we have Halloween big time now, so it is OK.

    @Vicki: well, I would have thought so? Thus my shock that she said no, we dont celebrate neither xmas nor New Year. Private schools are expensive whether you are Jewish or whoever else, trust me. :) That falls into a different expenses category. we are discussing holiday costs only! :) S novim schastyem, dorogaya. x

  5. Shannon expressed what I was thinking while I read your post: no baby showers in the UK? In Peru it's very common to have baby showers. And bridal showers too.
    I have issues with both kinds: they are usually held on weekdays from 6 pm. People arrive starving. The food is all ready to be eaten... but no one is allowed to eat until I don't know who gives some kind of signal. And besides that, on baby showers, the mom-to-be opens up all the presents and shows them as she opens them. There are lots of oohhs and aahhs involved.
    As you can see, they are not my kind of event.

  6. No contest: The cheapest religion is Jainism--not a lot of fun, though, and hence, not very popular. Most festivals revolve around fasting, meditation, cleaning, self-criticism, and trying to not kill worms and insects...

  7. Yes u are Jewish and an atheist!

  8. I hope everyone realizes that spending money wasn't always part of Christmas. Big corporations use the holiday as a pretext to steal our hard-earned dollars. They are bombarding us with ads ("Christmas is giving!") and other propaganda.

    At the end of the day, you either have holiday spirit or you don't. Spending a small fortune on Christmas lights for your house, 8-foot tree, and gifts for friends and relatives is not going to replace it.

  9. @Ani: Wow, that sounds like a perfect religion for me, don't you think? :))) As long as it involves beating myself with chains whenever i accidentally kill a worm. Can I still kill spiders?

    @Riyad: yeah, yeah, yeah...we all know that. How much did you spend this year on your daughter's presents?
    Anyway, I agree that all these holidays are ridiculously commercial these days, however! I love giving presents. and I love receiving them. and I love the festive spirit in the air. as someone mentioned to me on FB earlier, complaining about it is just a part of the enjoyment. :)

  10. Always a pleasure to read these enlightened articles and comments. Jaïnism seams interesting, since I already refrain from killing insects, even spiders !
    We are still on the same brainwave, since I also wrote about Christmas for atheists, but it is in french. I don't spend one dime on Christmas or any other celebration, but then I don't have children. It is families and schools you can't escape !

  11. Always a pleasure to read the enlightened articles and comments...
    I refrain from killing insects (even spiders !), and I might indulge in fasting, meditation, cleaning, and self-criticism, so maybe I'm a spontaneous Jaïn ?

  12. Fasting instead of overeating sounds great right about now :)
    My friends offered to throw us a shower even for our new puppy. Americans just love the showers and throwing a party for them is a breeze. As a hostess you get to mingle and enjoy yourself and not be stuck in the kitchen all night. What's not to love? :)
    Say, we throw you a virtual baby shower from this side of the ocean, what do you think?

  13. @Nata: sounds lovely. But, with the shower being virtual, all the presents would be virtual, too....Not so much fun!

  14. Presents can be real, that's what USPS is for :)

  15. @Nata: ah, now you are talking! :)

  16. It is good to live a little bit out of society... like we do. We decide for ourselves what celebrate and how. But my son is already in MGU.

    So just wait a little bit and maybe in 20 years (I mean when your coming child will be 20) it will be easier ;).


  17. Scary,

    Why do you have to insult?. Being a Jew is not cheap or expensive. I am a Jew from Azerbaijan and even soviet times we didn't celebrate New Years. Just you know since you are an expert on everything Azeri related. Why a Jew has to celebrate Xmas?

    Just because you don't have a spiritual foundation, God knows what you call yourself, that doesn't mean others from Azerbaijan don't have it either.

    I seriously doubt you are Jewish or raised as Jewish.

  18. @Anonymous sensitive Jew: Gosh, I have too many questions!

    a) Where did you see an insult in? It was a joke, for goodness sake! Does a "religious foundation" have ANYTHING to do with a (lack of)sense of humor?

    b)I never said I was a Jew? Where the hell did you get this from? That I was "raised as a Jew"? :)))

    c) Did I say you HAD to celebrate xmas? Did I, really?

    d) Are you living in some parallel universe?

    Oh, I despair sometimes, honestly.

    You know what I think it is? You saw the word Jew and you ASSUMED straight away I would mean it as an insult. I never did.

  19. Awww, poor Scary Azeri... I guess you were most probably upset when you wrote your last comment but I can't help smiling while reading it :) You're so adorable asking all these abc'd questions like why, why, why, what did I do again? :)
    Personally I did not see even a miniscule bit of an insult in the current blog. On the contrary, I find it extremely cute you trying to figure out which religion would be cheapest to belong to while everyone knows you're an atheist.
    But I do remember reading about you having a mixed blood and one of them being Jew. This was one of your very 1st blogs. You mentioned you thought Jew was a nation not a religion until you reached certain age. Sorry, I don't mean to cite your own writing back to you :)
    I think I know what you mean with 'You saw the word Jew and you ASSUMED straight away I would mean it as an insult'.
    I am half Kurdish you see, t.e. napolovinu kurdyanka :) It upsets me even now when I remember my classmates calling me 'You Kurd' as if they were calling me chmo or any other equally insulting word. Please don't get me wrong, I don't get THAT upset when I recall it. Thankfully I've managed to get over it and it did not traumatise me too much and I've grown up to be a very positive person, honest :) So my point is, maybe there's a similar reason for the Anonymous sensitive jew to post that comment in that tone which I personally think was inappropriate.
    Anyways, when I started to write this comment I just wanted to say, I LUUUUUUUUUUUV your blog! Just love it! Love it! And also wanted to ask you, please, please, please don't ever, evER, EVER stop blogging :) Please excuse my familyarnost, but it's just I feel I know you so well (from your writing, not personally) that you don't seem to be a stranger to me at all :)


    P.S. I also really love these 'star' or 'plus' things, if you will, that come out of the cursor when I move it here and there :) And I DO move it here and there a lot just to see them coming out and falling halfway down and then disappearing. Tried to catch a few but with no luck obviously :)

  20. @Matanat: Thank you. :) I remember saying about having some jewish blood in me, so to speak. But that definitely did not mean I ever claimed to be a Jew, or have been raised as a Jew. 1/4th and on the wrong side does not make me any more Jewish than say a Tatar. which I also have a little of. :) Maybe I need to write more jokes about being tatar, so tatars get pissed off with me, too.

    I cant possibly imagine what could be wrong with being Kurdish? :) I guess maybe it was more in the way they used the word that sounded insulting?

    The stars are actually meant to be a magical fairy dust. To sprinkle some seasonal cheer, you know. I took them from this russian "everything for blogger" blog, I am their follower. Last year I had snow flakes.

    PS Have you just become a follower for the second time? I see your name coming up twice in the followers list. Thanks twice then. :) 149 was annoying me for a long time now. 150 sounds much better. :)))

  21. @Scary: Can we have a vote on the fairy dust thing?

  22. @riyad: Why, is it not manly enough for you? :) Festive cheer, man...festive cheer! Will remove after the holidays. :)))

  23. I love your first sentence. I read it to my husband hoping he'd laugh with me, but I guess he is too religious for that. Every time he gets serious like that I say to myself "значит хорошие, надо брать" :-)

  24. Go on Scary, write something about being tatar, you know you want to :)

    Yes, festive cheer is good. I know Riyad is one of your most devoted (and most welcomed) readers. Perhaps next year you could try something more masculine to make him happy :)

    Oops, I'm so sorry for that! I wasn't sure if I already was your follower. The thing is first time I tried to join something went wrong and I assumed I didn't. Then I found out to make Scary Azeri very, very happy I just need to become her follower which I did do thinking for the 1st time but turns out for the 2nd. I realise 150 must be an important number for you, maybe somewhat triumphant even and I've spoiled it for you :( I'm not world's most internet literate person, you see.

  25. @Tatevik: Ha-ha, I use that expression all the time. such a classic, isn't it? Oh, you just made me crave this movie so badly...wish I had it on a DVD here...

    @Matanat: No need to apologize. I am happy. As for masculine new year decoration of the blog...I cant imagine what it would be.