I love Christmas lights. Always have.
Kind of ironic, right? After all, I’m Jewish and therefore, I don’t celebrate Christmas. Yet, it’s hard to avoid Christmas and all that goes with it. Between the advertisements, television shows, music, etc, Christmas is everywhere. However, for me, Christmas is just another day.
And that is why at this time of the year, I feel very much like a minority, an other, and an outsider. These days that fact does not bother me, but that was not always true.
When I was a kid, I was jealous of those who celebrated Christmas. There were presents, Christmas trees, and stockings hanging on the mantle. What kid wouldn’t want that? Even more than all the festivities, celebrating Christmas was being part of the fabric of society and being just like everyone else.
It wasn’t really Santa Claus that interested me. My mother took care of that early on.
“Santa Claus won’t bring me presents cause I’m Jewish, right?”
“You don’t need Santa Claus. I’ll bring you presents.”
And that was that. Good enough for me. While the legend of Santa seemed jolly and fun, by the time I got to thinking he wasn’t going to visit me because of my religious affiliation, I was more interested in the presents. And I was going to get them anyway.
But that didn’t take away the otherness. Everything was closed, nothing was on television – remember it was the prehistoric days before cable and the internet – and I was bored. Even worse, I was sure everyone else was inside enjoying a beautiful and perfect holiday just like on the television shows I watched.
One year my mom made an impromptu Christmas Eve party for my brother NG and I. I’m not sure where my older brothers or my dad were. Anyway, the only thing I remember was we had snacks including peanut m&m’s. It wasn’t fancy, but it was a nice surprise. And for one Christmas eve, I didn’t feel so left out.
As I got older, I didn’t care as much about Christmas. I accepted it as a day that cemented my outsider status. When I was in my 20’s, I started going to the Matzo Ball. I’m not sure who started the Matzo Ball, but whoever did was a genius. It’s a dance party for Jewish singles that’s held every year on Christmas Eve, and there are a bunch of them around the country.
I was never really into the club/dance party sort of scene, but I did enjoy getting out on Christmas Eve. And no, I never met a woman at the Matzo Ball with a pickup line of, “So, uh, I’m circumcised.” Anyway, I would have a few beers and maybe loosen up and dance a bit. It was really just an excuse to go out and hang out with the other ‘others.’
By the time I got married, I was more enmeshed in the Jewish world and knew less people who celebrated Christmas. I changed the channel when a Christmas song/television show came on. So, while Christmas and its trappings were still omnipresent, I was able to get away from them to some degree.
This break from the holiday had an interesting effect. I came to enjoy the holiday – in my own way. I actually like some of the songs – especially Bruce Springsteen’s version of Santa Clause is Coming to Town. I like the thought of families and friends gathering. Most of all, I like the fact that people are generally nicer to each other during this time of year.
When my children were young, Christmas worried me. As every parent knows, children’s shows are on all the time and when December hits, every show has the same theme: Christmas. Actually, that’s not true. About one show a week focuses on Channukah. All of a sudden, there’s a Jewish neighbor or friend. Anyway, I worried my children, like me, would feel left out.
Both boys have expressed such feelings to some degree. One way, I’ve handled this is telling the boys my mom’s story about bringing them presents. While this doesn’t remove the otherness, it reminds them that they aren’t being cheated.
Ultimately, acceptance is the only option. Christmas has some wonderful aspects to it even for those of us who don’t celebrate. This year my family will appreciate one of those aspects when we drive around on Christmas Eve and look at the lights.
To those who celebrate, Merry Christmas. To those who don’t, remember and appreciate all the wonderful holidays and traditions you do celebrate.
Those Matza Ball parties were never my favorite scene, but they did provide a few good memories.
I would describe my experience there in pretty much the same way.
I feel you! When I was a child I was so excited, and now I don’t even want presents… sigh
Don’t want presents? Why not? It’s always fun to receive presents!
And I hated not being Jewish because y’all got presents for like a week!!! And you had a special candle! I thought I was missing out! 🙂
I guess it’s all matter of perspective! And I hope you and your family had a great Hanukkah!
So true Kate. Perspective. Appreciate what you do have is the moral.
I always thought being Jewish was cool. I took pride and still do take pride in the scripture in Romans 4 that says Abraham is the father of all. When I read it, I sat yeah! So in many ways the otherness of your being “other” inspires me to get to know you, and that getting to know you makes my world bigger, because it causes me to stretch beyond my own borders.
As a child that is hard to understand. For me, the mere fact that I was different from other black kids in my neighborhood made me have that “other”feeling. I couldn’t quite understand why my way of seeing things was so different from the other kids. At the age of eight, I was rebelling and asking the legality of a Jim Crow system in the South and the kids in my neighborhood were busy playing.
I was an “other” then and in many ways, I am still an “other.”
That otherness within me has opened the eyes of my heart to appreciate mankind and see the face of God in every individual.
So, stick with your otherness. You have a fellow companion traveling along.
Thanks for joining me on the road. We are all others in some way. That is what makes us unique and special.
P.S. It is cool to be Jewish! And it is cool to be your religion as well.
I have always wondered how Christmas was received by those who don’t celebrate it, especially those of the Jewish faith. This time of year, Christmas permeates everything.
I saw a little clip of Adam Sandler singing the Hanukkah song. Do you like that one?
And is it Hanukkah or Chanukah?
I don’t think there is a truly correct way to spell Channukah. After all, it’s not an English word. All the different spellings are kind of funny.
I do like that Adam Sandler song. Funny.
If it makes you feel any better, I spent my youth feeling bad for all the Jewish kids who didn’t celebrate Christmas! I remember those prehistoric days when there was nothing on television and all the stores were closed, even the gas stations. At least now we have the internet so life goes on almost as normal…maybe?
Thanks for sharing all these thoughts!
Great, so I had your pity.
Anyway, you’re right there are more options these days.