I commented one of my email discussion groups that I can well understand why a lot of Dutch people seem to resent the way American-style Christmas is moving in here, because it tends to push out their own Sinterklaas traditions. Quite a few people pointed out that it was after all people’s own choice to celebrate one or the other, and merchant’s choices when to add more hours and sales for the holiday and so on. Which is of course all true, but it’s not much help if as an individual you need to shop for Sinterklaasdag presents and the stores are still closing early, only to add Sunday Christmas shopping hours once it’s too late for you. It’s difficult to bring your own best childhood memories alive for your kids, if the TV is alive with imported Frosty and Rudolph (and if you don’t happen to want to forbid television watching entirely). And as a lot of Americans keep complaining, if you happen to be an observant Christian it’s difficult to focus on the religious significance of Christmas when you’re being bombarded with messages about presents.

I’m more sensitized to all this because I did grow up being bombarded with Someone Else’s Holiday every December: in our majority Jewish public school we learned songs about Santa, and no matter how many of the stores in the local mall were managed by or shopped in Jews, they still had red and green lights everywhere. Individual choices? Maybe. Maybe a lot of those stores were part of chains and the decisions were made higher up; maybe they figured Jews were used to Christmas decorations and wouldn’t mind, but Christians wouldn’t patronized a store that wasn’t full of holiday spirit. Maybe other parts of the region weren’t as heavily Jewish as my immediate area. I don’t know.

I wouldn’t say I was harmed or traumatized by any of it, particularly, but it was just one more of those things that will convince a kid that the world of grownups often just doesn’t make sense. I don’t think it’s easy for a member of a dominent culture to realize just how easily unnoticeable-to-them things can marginalize people whose traditions are different; they say things like, “But everyone here is free to celebrate however they want!” which is true …. but every time you go out to buy Chanukah candles and the stores only have Christmas ornaments, or you look for a Sinterklaas hat and find only Santa caps, you get the message, “You’re not like us. You’re different.” And that’s fine, when you’re a guest in another culture as I am right now. But it’s not so fine, when you’re at what’s supposed to be home.