I‘d like to propose an alternative way for non-Christians to navigate the Christmas season: Embrace it and enjoy it.
I look forward to the Christmas season all year. I love the music (although I wish stores would broaden their playlists) and delight in the decorations. At the darkest time of year, the warmth and light of this season are there for all to enjoy. It’s wonderful to see my fellow citizens celebrating the holiday that means so much to them. When a stranger wishes me a Merry Christmas, I happily wish them a Merry Christmas too.
I am also moved by the beauty of some of the religious aspects of the holiday. Ever since our first visit to Rome many years ago, my husband and I stay up to watch Midnight Mass from the Vatican. This fall, following a week in the Utah National Parks, we spent a day in Salt Lake City. We got to hear the Mormon Tabernacle Choir rehearsing. Guess which televised concert we plan to watch on Christmas Day?
And I say all this as a committed Jew, deeply immersed in Jewish family and communal life. For me, Christmas is like going to someone else’s birthday celebration. It’s not my party, but I can sure enjoy the cake. Most of all, I can enjoy helping my friend celebrate.
This is how we raised our four children. I recall little angst about why we had no Christmas tree or why Santa would not be dropping by our house.
When children are secure in their own traditions, they feel free to embrace the celebration going on around them.
Had any one of them complained about feeling left out, the response would have been a firm “Get over yourself!” Raising strong, confident children requires them to learn how to manage such feelings. Children must be taught how to broaden their perspective. They will be better people and better citizens as a result.
Perhaps our family had a bit of an advantage in savoring the beauty of this time of year. For over twenty years our children were babysat by a couple that was God’s gift to us. Despite having ten adult children of their own, and so many grandchildren that I lost count, this dear couple found room in their hearts for four more kids. They became our kids’ grandparents in every sense of the word.
Each December they had a special party at their home just for our family. Their festive table was laden with Swedish meatballs, lefse, and a dozen different kinds of home baked cookies. A gift for each child sat under the tree. A few ornaments had been set aside, waiting to be hung. Our kids reveled in the boundless love and generosity that this couple showed in sharing their holiday with us. We all did.
Now our kids are grown and raising their own Jewish families. One couple volunteered to ring the bell for Salvation Army a few weeks ago. Their baby came right along with them. One of our granddaughters is now old enough to go to The Nutcracker this year. That was an annual tradition when her mother was a child. I’m thrilled to make this a three-generation event! Most of all, I hope our children will teach their children that sometimes feeling excluded is a choice. Other choices are possible.
A final story. Every now and then, Christmas as “a friend’s birthday party” becomes Christmas as “everybody’s party”. This year, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas (JCRC) held its annual Hanukkah celebration at the American Swedish Institute (ASI). Our festival combined lefse and latkes, a delicious cultural fusion that represented the best of Minnesota. Amid the splendidly decorated rooms of the historic Turnblad mansion, each representing the Christmas traditions of a different Nordic country, there was something more. As part of its Celebrations of Light festivities, ASI graciously invited the JCRC to design a room celebrating Hanukkah. Such generosity inspires the deepest levels of gratitude in me. It reminds me of what a blessing it is to live here among such people.
So bring on the carols, the decorations, the spirit of giving, and the air of celebration. Christmas is a holiday that our neighbors share with everyone. Why not get on board and enjoy?