Regardless of how you spell it in English (Ch-, H-, one k, two k‘s, with or without the h at the end), Chanukkah is here! This year (2014) it started on December 16th at sundown and lasts for 8 nights (as always). While Christmas has the celebration of Jesus’ birth, stockings, a tree, and a jolly man in a red suit and his elves, most of the Chanukkah traditions truly vary from family to family. And in our family at least, there is no Chanukkah bush or Hanukkah Harry.
Last week, I discussed ten decorations and gifts specifically for Chanukkah, but I wanted to go a little deeper in this post and talk about how we plan on raising our Jewish children during the Christmas season. I want to be clear that there really is no perfect way of doing this. This is simply what I plan on doing as my twins get older, based on how I was raised. I will also say that we have the added complication (or benefit) in that my husband is Christian, so we do represent both holidays in our home. Our children, however, will be raised in the Jewish faith, while still respecting and honoring their father’s beliefs.
Christmas to us is like going to a friend’s birthday party. You can celebrate with her, be happy for her, and (hopefully) have a lot of fun, but it isn’t your party. You can enjoy her day without it actually being your day. In fact, when I was growing up and people would tell me “Merry Christmas,” I would respond, “Thank you! You too. I actually don’t celebrate Christmas, though. I enjoy Christmas.”
Truer words have never been spoken. I do enjoy Christmas. I love Christmas in fact – the decorations, the smells, the food, the family, and the warm fuzzy feelings. In our house, we have a Christmas tree, lights, and seasonal decorations. I also love Chanukkah. We have menorahs, dreidels, and blue and silver garland draped all over our house. For us, the decorations don’t make us Christians or Jews. They make us festive and help us get in the spirit of the season.
This year, our twins will be 13 months old at Christmas. We still have it easy. We can decorate the Christmas tree, light the menorah, spin the dreidel, and even go to the Christmas Eve service without questions.
FAMILY TIME: Next year and the year after that is when it will start getting hard. For us, we plan on explaining that since Daddy celebrates Christmas, we enjoy it with him, just like he does with us and Chanukkah. Because we are a family, we do things together, even if we don’t have the same religion and beliefs. Plus, how wonderful that we can have this extra-special time with our grandparents and aunts/uncles on both sides of the family at different times?
SANTA: Now, Santa is another issue altogether. Even up until the age of 5, Santa came to visit me on Christmas Eve, even though no one in my family celebrated Christmas. I think this was because it is very hard to explain to a very young child that Santa doesn’t come to your house because you are Jewish when he comes to your friend’s house. Again, because my husband does celebrate Christmas, we have a very easy excuse here, and Santa can come to our house. For those families that don’t celebrate Christmas at all, I can imagine that the way that this mom has dealt with Santa would be a great way to handle it: Santa is a feeling, he is magic, he is excitement. We can be a Santa to others, even if Santa doesn’t come to visit us. And honestly, after about the age of 5, when Santa stopped coming to visit me, I was ok with it. I was at the age where I understood that I was Jewish and we didn’t have a Santa. We had other wonderful traditions and holidays that were so cool and fun, and my other friends didn’t get to experience them.
“MERRY CHRISTMAS” vs “HAPPY HOLIDAYS”: I know that this has been up for debate in recent years because people have gotten offended with some people saying “Merry Christmas.” I personally say “Happy holidays,” because I want to include everyone and all the holidays. If someone wishes me a “Merry Christmas,” however, I am totally fine with it and wish them one in return.
THE SONGS: This might seem like a small detail to most people, but as a music-lover, I have always latched on to the Christmas songs. Overall, the songs can be enjoyed and sung for their feelings and meaning. The biggest difference is in that if a song uses the word “Christ,” I simply leave out that word. “Christ” means messiah or savior. Although I believe that Jesus was a wonderful man, as Jews, we do not believe that he was the savior or messiah. That is essentially the base difference of the two religions. Christians feel that Jesus was the messiah and will come again. Jews believe that the messiah has yet to come at all. Because of that fundamental difference, I just choose not to say that word in reference to Jesus. In that way, I can still enjoy and partake in the music while keeping my religious beliefs sacred.
So, it’s not pretty, it’s not always the best way to handle this season when you are of a different religion, but it’s how I do it, and it works for me and my family. I know that everyone has to find their own path, and when everything is about Christmas at this time of year, it’s difficult but not impossible.