We’re Jewish. Our husbands are Jewish and our kids are Jewish. We’ve been Jewish for thousands of years. It’s not news to us that we don’t celebrate Christmas. We’ve never had a Christmas tree. Never cooked a holiday ham. Never strung the bushes outside our homes with colored lights.
But that doesn’t mean we don’t enjoy yours.
As our children were growing up, we worked hard to shape their Jewish identity. We drove them to Hebrew school on Sunday mornings, made matzah ball soup for 30 Passover guests, and stayed enthusiastic while packing food baskets with their youth groups. Each December, as their friends were anticipating Christmas, we’d have to remind our children that our family lit Hanukkah candles a week ago, and they had already opened their presents.
Still, we would pile the kids into the car and drive to the Italian neighborhood, where we’d all ooh and aah over the houses with thousands of Christmas lights and the one with the flashing Santa that flew across the roof. If truth be told, we are a bit jealous of your lights. Hanukkah is the Festival of Lights, so why didn’t we think of stringing holiday lights along our roof and fence? We have to content ourselves with the glow of nine Hanukkah candles.
Now our kids are grown. Their identities are established. We did our best, and they are making their own choices. We can relax and enjoy the fruitcake and the tinsel.
In the melting pot that is America, we like to see the ingredients. We want to know what you’re celebrating. We don’t have to share your beliefs to appreciate your holiday and revel in the season. It’s out there for everyone to enjoy. In fact, we can’t avoid it.
We like getting your Christmas cards. We like seeing the photos of your kids and reading your glowing family updates. “Billy made the travel soccer team again! All the cousins gathered for a fabulous family reunion in Pittsburgh!” We don’t own matching Christmas sweaters, but we do admire the fact that you got your husband and your teens to put them on and pose for a photo – and no one was frowning or making bunny ears.
In December, when we go into a department store for a set of sheets or some socks, we’re drawn to the aisles crammed with Christmas tchotchkes. Tchotchke is the Yiddish word for a cute knickknack or a child’s plaything, and we feel like children when we gaze upon the wooden Santas, snow-covered ceramic villages and sparkly mini poinsettia trees.
We wish we had a carton filled with Christmas decorations and ribbon garlands to dress up our living rooms once a year. The lone blue and silver Hanukkah banner we hang in the kitchen just doesn’t cut it. We love the tchotchkes of Christmas.
We’re honored when you include us in your family’s celebration. It makes us feel special, and it gives us an excuse to shop for a Christmas tchtotchke for you. We get a kick out of seeing “our” Santa-on-a-surfboard ornament hanging on your tree.
We enjoy fruitcake with its candied cherries and little bits of citron. We like eggnog, especially with rum. Christmas cookies? Yes, please. We look forward to a friend’s annual delivery of homemade, frosted butter cookies shaped like snowmen and angels and reindeer.
People have asked us, “Are you offended if I wish you Merry Christmas?” Of course not. The thought behind your sentiment is sincere. We’re comfortable with our minority status, and if you’re interested we’d be delighted to tell you all about Hanukkah.
Likewise, we’re happy when friends tell us about other traditions: Kwanzaa, the African-American celebration of cultural heritage; Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Lights; and Bodhi Day, the commemoration of Buddha’s enlightenment. That’s three more sets of holiday decorations for us to enjoy.
One day, we hope to be invited to someone’s house to taste the traditional Diwali dessert of gulab jamun, fried dough balls in sugary syrup. They sound similar to sufganiyot, the fried jelly donuts we eat during Hanukkah, and we’re sure we’ll like them. Invite us and we’ll bring you a fringed, orange Diwali lantern to hang in your home.