The commercialization of holidays is not a mystery to North Americans. We see it, we buy into it, and we acknowledge its presence. What struck me, after watching Glee’s Christmas special was that not only does the commercialization of Christmas make the holidays marketable, it also has the ability to marginalize religious minorities through the very same process. In last week’s episode, and unlike last year’s Christmas special, the fact that characters Rachel Berry and Noah Puckerman are Jewish, was almost completely ignored. I asked myself why this was, and all I could come up with was that Christmas sells, Chanukah doesn’t.
Apart from a mention from Sue Sylvester near the beginning of the episode that this was the time of year when “Jewish kids felt awkward”, or at the very end where Berry throws in a “Happy Chanukah” between the Merry Christmases of her Salvation Army bell ringing friends. Moreover, Berry is featured as making a Christmas list to aide boyfriend and total babe, Finn Hudson, in giving her what she wants this year for…Christmas.
I am not saying that people from other faiths and cultures cannot or should not participate in other cultures’ traditions. That would be plain racist, or something like that. My issue with this is mainly due to the fact that while Berry and Puckerman’s Jewish identity seem to be a celebratory part of their characters during the rest of the season, it is clearly kept in the closet or swept under the rug, during the Christmas episode. No mention of celebrating other traditions were mentioned, in fact, they were mocked.
The producers of Glee are pretty good at highlighting social diversity and addressing it in cheerful, satirically stereotypical, and sometimes fashionably flawed ways (Kurt). But, when it comes to Berry and Puckerman, especially exemplified in last week’s episode, they seem to shy away from celebrating the two character’s own diversity. The two are assimilated into the Glee Christmas pot for all of North America (and abroad) to devour.
We all understand that Glee has become a major commercial entity – the sale of songs alone on iTunes is almost endemic. A Christmas special, like all the networks successfully shove down our throats, is a typical feature of prime time television at this time of year. It also appeals to the religious and commercial majority of North America who actively believe in, or at least materialistically participate in, the Christmas holidays. I don’t think Glee feels it necessary to incorporate a more multicultural view because it doesn’t have to, particularly at a time of year when “Winter Wonderland” on iTunes has probably already sold by the million.
I do not claim to have any broad knowledge of the Jewish faith or their cultural traditions. However, I think I can make the observation, albeit from an non-Jewish perspective, that Chanukah is not, nor ever was, a commercial holiday. At least to say, Chanukah has not bent over to the corporate gods that be and kindly asked to receive “swollen goods”. Christmas is different here in the consumer pop-culture society of North America. Christmas comes out in the malls and stores months in advance, all in attempts to show you how important it is to buy shit you don’t need, while heavily supporting the Chinese economy. Stores like Walmart and K-Mart have a new “layaway” program for consumers that allow you to purchase toys and electronics at a rate of 10% of the total price as of October 17th. With a one time service charge of five dollars and a whole 48 days to pay the remainder of the total costs of your gifts, this program makes it easier than ever for people to buy shit at Christmas they don’t need!
While that was a tad off topic, I really needed to point it out mainly to highlight another way that this time of year has become such a vapid excuse to sell as much stuff to us as possible. While Glee does this in a slightly more upbeat and musical way, it still is an example of Christmas commercialization. The point here is that Glee presents a case where minority identity and culture become subsequent to majority belief systems and seasonal commercial patters of commodity.
Do you think there is a problem with this picture? Does the fact that Puck and Berry’s jewish culture is almost outright ignored raise any flags in your mind? Is it ok to be proud of your Jewish heritage during the rest of the year, but shameful during the Christmas “period” often extended way beyond the days on the calendar in order to sell us things?