If anyone is capable of ignoring the commercial hysteria at Christmas, it would be the Taoist. “In general, those aspects have nothing to do with the time and season. Those are evidences of how society has moved away from the natural path and from the deeper path of spirituality.”
American Taoists celebrate Christmas, but it is greatly modified by their Eastern philosophy. “Most people find a certain balance, because in this country you’re not born into a Taoist family in the same sense that the Chinese experience. So people on an individual basis come to some kind of integration of their paths, especially if they’re in a family context, with their beliefs in terms of Taoism, nature, and so on. I think probably most people seem to approach it from the perspective of trying to recognize the spiritual significance of that time of year and put up with the general folderol that comes with it, and, if they have kids, to allow the children to feel a part of rather than apart from it.”
Joe Schloss has been a fixture in North Park for over 50 years. Schloss moved to San Diego from New York City in 1937 at the age of nine, and shortly thereafter, his late father David opened A&B Sporting Goods in North Park. As the current owner, Schloss has been an active member of the school sporting community and Little League as well as a major supplier for many years. Any kid who played sports in San Diego in the ’50s or ’60s would remember the Schlosses for their friendliness and service. Although he is Jewish, Schloss enjoys Christmas. “I don’t celebrate it at home or send out any cards, but I do decorate the store. It’s nice to be in an area where the spirit of Christmas is strong. It’s a good time of the year. From a business standpoint, I’ve been around the Christmas element since 1946. Naturally, it’s always been a good time of year for the retailer, although our area has changed somewhat. We’re not into the retail business like we used to be because of the shopping centers. From the Jewish faith, I recognize all of my Christian friends who are very involved in the Christmas holiday.
“My dad, Dave, was the Santa Claus in the North Park Toyland Parade for probably 15 or 20 years, and not very many people knew that except for some personal friends. He used to stand at the end of the parade and people would smile and laugh and he would see people and call out their names and they’d look up like, ‘How does that man know my name?’ He had a great time doing that! Whether he was Jewish or gentile, it didn’t matter, he really enjoyed the job.”
Dr. Jefe’s Body Piercing shop would seem a likely place to find alternative religions, but Jeff Fagen, its owner, is a practicing Jew. Raised in Philadelphia, Fagen, 35, has lived in San Diego for 11 years. Fagen describes his Judaism as “somewhere between Reform and Conservative. I’ll go to the synagogue on holidays and Chabad dinners.” Like Schloss, Fagen decorates for Christmas at work while practicing Judaism at home. “Why would I put up a Christmas tree at home? I’ll decorate the store for it, for the majority of the people. It’s a festive season. You know, the Christmas tree came around not because of Christ. It came around from newer civilizations and was adopted in society. Like gift giving — we’ll do a gift exchange here and we’ll have stockings and stocking stuffers here. I have a son, and I’m raising him in the Jewish faith. We celebrate Hanukkah — every night for eight nights — every year.
“Christmas doesn’t bother me at all. Nowadays, it’s so commercialized that it’s really about business. You know, the parents stressing out about money for the gifts for the kids — that’s not really Christmas and what Christmas is. They’re thinking about their children, and the ones who don’t have children are thinking about the parties. Being a business owner, I look forward to Christmas because it’s usually kind of a bonus time of year for me. We’re always busy then.”
One of the local Jewish community’s most visible spokesmen is Morris Casuto, director of the Anti-Defamation League. Casuto, 58, belongs to a Conservative synagogue and, like the other Jews interviewed, doesn’t mind Christmas at all. “I may be a somewhat unusual individual — I happen to love the Christmas season! I probably own close to a dozen Christmas tapes and CDs — not ‘Jingle Bells,’ but the ‘Oh Come All Ye Faithful’ variety. I think it’s among the most beautiful religious music ever written. When I was growing up in New York, before the period when we started calling this the ‘Winter Season,’ it was the ‘Christmas Program,’ and I was in a choir singing Christmas songs at public school. I could still give you a few verses of ‘Adeste Fideles,’ but I could never bring myself to sing the line ‘Christ the Lord.’ I would hum that — it was a little beyond what I was prepared to do.
“I grew up in New York City, and during the winter holiday, students were off and they had term papers to write, and I would use the 42nd Street Library for research and walk down 40 or 50 blocks in Manhattan, and it was a phenomenal experience. Last year, I was back in New York on business, but I had a chance to see the tree again at Rockefeller Center, and it seemed much smaller to me than I remembered it. My family and I have a tendency to go out and find the best-looking Christmas lights we can find around different parts of San Diego.”
Although he enjoys looking at decorated homes, Casuto draws the line when it comes to nativity scenes in public parks. “We have been and continue to be troubled by sectarian religious displays on public property. I understand that there are large numbers of people, almost invariably Christian, who say there is nothing wrong with that. I wouldn’t be surprised if they couldn’t see what’s wrong with that, because to them, it doesn’t indicate that this is a Christian nation. And if it is a Christian nation — and people have said this — that somehow Christians hold a position higher on the ladder than anyone else. We’ve heard individuals say that you can’t be as ethical or moral if you’re not a Christian, and elected officials have said that if you’re not a Christian, you can’t go to heaven, or you’ll go to hell. It doesn’t particularly worry the Jewish community because we’ve been having a dialogue with God for 5700 years! But the impact of an elected official saying that leads one to presume that there’s a possibility that belief will have an impact on how they make their decisions and interact. The Anti-Defamation League went after Senator Lieberman. We basically said, ‘Hey, enough! People aren’t going to be electing you because of your theology. You’ve made your point about who you are — now talk about the issues.’ We got a lot of flak for that. When you’re a member of a majority religious faith in a country, it is easy to see your religious symbols as benign. When you’re a member of a minority religious faith, it is less easy to see that.