I’ll take my holidays commercialized, please

By Naomi Borrebach / Columnist

As far as I can tell, one of the biggest gripes that most Americans have about the holiday season is the rampant commercialization, which pressures people to obtain the perfect gift for every aunt, cousin, sibling and friend in their social networks. I already saw glittery, gold angels and fake snow on sale at a craft store the other day — and it’s technically still summer. 

The extreme commercialization of American Christian and secular holidays is annoying — probably 95 percent of the American public is sick of Christmas music by Dec. 25 — but there are some benefits to mass commercialization, including acceptance and accommodation. 

Christmas is a guaranteed day off work and school for most people, yet most Americans have probably never heard of or witnessed a celebration of Eid al-Fitr, the holiday celebrating the end of Ramadan; Holi, the Hindu celebration of spring and colors, or Succot, the Jewish festival of Tabernacles. Good luck finding the things you need for those holidays at a local Wal-Mart or explaining the need to take time off work for them to a cranky, overworked boss. 

This week is the most holy week of the Jewish year, with the New Year, Rosh Hashana, having occurred last Thursday, and the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, happening this Saturday. While pomegranates and brisket were flying off the shelves in the grocery stores of Squirrel Hill last week, the rest of the city carries on unbothered. It’s difficult to focus on the holiest and most special few days of the year while everyone else is going about business as usual.

There’s no palpable holiday spirit for American Jews — or Muslims, or Hindus or any number of other religious minorities — in most places. 

For those who observe religious holidays, pre-holiday stress doesn’t usually entail buying presents, but instead,  asking professors for permission to miss class or trying to find substitutes to fill shifts at work. Many of us work frantically before and after the holidays to keep pace with classmates, and it’s not always easy or possible to fit in religious and family obligations with the reality of college life. Many students I know can’t really afford to miss class, so they compromise: They might take their backpacks to the closest synagogue on their lunch break, for instance.

While Pitt doesn’t gather statistics on the religious affiliation of its students, informally, we can gather that there are significant communities of Muslim, Jewish and Hindu students at Pitt. The University does have an admirable policy regarding religious holidays, though: It states that professors must excuse student absence resulting from holidays as long as students contact their professors in a timely manner and ensure that all of their work is accounted for. However, a columnist can dream: It would be amazing to have some major, non-Christian religious holidays as days off school. Asking that Pitt give us more religious holidays off school raises obvious logistical questions. Where would these extra days come from? Would the university be required to give a vacation for all eight days of Hanukkah or the entire month of Ramadan? I would suggest extending the semester for about a week, which would only slightly cut into summer break, but would allow the University to give more days off while maintaining the same amount of instructional time. As for deciding which holidays to recognize universitywide, ask the students who observe them: Any Jewish student would tell you that Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are days that one ideally takes off, but no one would ever skip class for the more minor festival of Hanukkah. 

Plus, more time off for religious holidays would allow all people to enjoy one of American Jews’ most celebrated traditions — eating Chinese food and seeing a movie, then purchasing discount candy and holiday goods the next day.

Be wary of holidays such as Passover, though — while special, nonleavened holiday food does tend to go on sale toward the end of the week-long festival, half-price matza with a side of bitter herbs doesn’t sound nearly as appealing as the food of other holidays, like chocolate rabbits or pastel-colored Oreos.

While my request might seem radical, for those of you in the religious majority, consider what it might feel like to fit your most important holiday celebrations and observances into a one-hour break between class and recitation, with none of the themed Starbucks drinks, special time with family or holiday spirit that accompanies a certain time at the end of December. And for those of you who celebrate less-recognized holidays, please accept my apologies in advance, and feel free to express your vitriol in a Letter to the Editor. 

Happy New Year! Naomi resolves to consider meeting some deadlines and to more promptly respond to emails in the year 5774. You can reach her at [email protected]