It’s the most wonderful time of the year – Christmas. It’s the time when we watch our Hallmark movies, pull out the festive wrapping paper, and weave through the line of children ready to meet Santa when shopping for gifts at the mall. Growing up, I loved Christmas. I also loved Chanukah. With both these holidays usually falling around the same time, it was always the perfect storm!
The holidays are extra special through the wondrous eyes of a child, no matter what faith you’re from or which holidays you are mandated to celebrate, and that’s how I felt towards Christmas. Every year, my mother’s side of the family (a mix of Jews, ex-Catholics, and Baptists) gathers at my aunt’s house for dinner and gifts. I loved going to my aunt’s house for Turkey (never ham!), admiring her angel decorations, and placing ornaments on her Christmas tree.
I remember asking my Mother when we could get our own Christmas tree and never getting a straight answer. When I was an adult, she told me that she thought having a Christmas tree in our house may have been confusing when she was trying to raise us Jewish. I understand that, but there were other parts of the two holidays melting together that were much more bewildering.
For example, my belief in Santa Claus. To enliven the experience of opening our presents under the Christmas tree each year after dinner, my aunt excited us by talking about her friendship with Santa. In the weeks leading up to the day, she would tell us about how Santa would come over for coffee or sit at her section at the restaurant she served at after his shift in the mall.
One day, we came over and she told us how we “just missed him,” as well as the magical sound of his reindeer’s hooves clomping on her roof as they took off. It caught her off guard when I asked how come she didn’t ask him to stay a few moments longer, so she responded by saying, “Well, it wouldn’t be fair for Jewish kids to meet Santa when there are Christian kids that still need to meet him.”
Although my aunt’s play and fantasy were well intended, her quick-thinking response reminded me that, as a Jew, there will always be a boundary between Christmas and all other “Jews for Christmas.” Living in a country where Christmas is the major holiday, it’s only inevitable that many of us will grow a fondness for the season’s ambiance no matter our familial and religious backgrounds. However, I have found myself in situations beyond childhood when I’ve had to explain and defend my appreciation and connection to Christmas to Jews and gentiles alike – as if appreciation for Christmas invalidates my religious identity.
For example, I remember explaining to a past non-Jewish friend how I love Christmas and consider myself to be a “Jew for Christmas.” When I finished, she told me in a patronizing tone why Jews who liked Christmas made no sense. Granted, I was among only a handful of Jews that she had ever met, yet I couldn’t help but be turned off by her attitude toward something so innocent. I also experienced similar, albeit less invasive, questioning during Sunday school from other Jewish children when I talked about my holiday plans; it never felt like I had the right to enjoy Christmas as much as I did and still do.
My mother was right (as always); it is confusing at times to be interfaith, even if my religious beliefs have little to do with Christianity. However, it encourages me to wear my Judaism on my sleeve while enjoying both holidays. My mother’s side has shared the miracle of Christmas with me, and this year, I’ll share the miracle of Chanukah when I bring over my menorah for us all to light together.