BEING JEWISH AT CHRISTMAS – ELLIN CURLEY

Being Jewish during the Christmas season is like being a kid with your nose pressed up against the window of a candy store while all the other kids are inside eating candy. No matter how hard Jewish parents try to jazz up Hanukkah, eight candles can’t hold a candle to the sex appeal of corporate, commercial Christmas in America.

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Every year, for two months (or more), everything you see and hear glamorizes the season of joy and giving. It’s all lights and glitter. Since Jesus was Jewish too, maybe we could come up with a holiday celebrating his Bar Mitzvah? Even Bar Mitzvahs are tame and dowdy compared to the hype and excess of Christmas.

Cowboy and Menorah

But then I married a gentile! I could finally — legitimately — participate in Christmas!

The first thing my daughter and I did — a week after my wedding, as soon and as the Thanksgiving dishes were put away — was buy a gigantic, live tree. Then we hit every Christmas tree store in the county. We bought enough ornaments to decorate the tree in Rockefeller Center! We made sure to buy several Dreidels, Jewish stars, and Chai ornaments to remind our tree it was also Jewish.

almost christmas

My husband suggested I might want to join a 12-step program for ornament addicts, but even he had to admit, the result was spectacular. Our sun room is round, with windows on three sides. At night, when the tree was lit, it reflected sparkling colored lights for 180 degrees. It was fairyland.

We kept the tree up until March that first year.

After several years of holiday decorating orgies, the novelty began to wear thin. The effort required to transform the house into (and out of) a winter wonderland felt unreasonable. Unnecessary.

christmas wrapping paper

I began to feel pressured and overwhelmed, like most of my Gentile friends. I decided to go back to my Jewish roots and leave the Christmas responsibilities to my Methodist husband. We now have a small, fake tree that comes up from the basement every year, fully decorated, for 6 weeks of daylight in the kitchen.

Ironically, Hanukkah, in its present incarnation, was also created by Madison Avenue to give Jewish kids their own schtick around Christmas, and to give Jewish adults something to spend money on during the “holiday” season.

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These days, I happily light my Hanukkah candles and give, mostly small, gifts to my immediate family. I enjoy the festivities and fun of Christmas, but I’m at peace now with the simple, beautiful “Festival of Lights”.

Now that I’ve experienced how the other 90% live, I no longer covet my Christian neighbors’ holiday.

23 thoughts on “BEING JEWISH AT CHRISTMAS – ELLIN CURLEY”

  1. Wonderful Ellin. Every year our house is converted into a Christmas wonderland, and each year after we pull it all down I wonder if that’s the last time…………it takes days and days to put it all up, but once it’s done it is beautiful, I wake up every morning and walk through our wonderland house and feel the joy. And I love to see the children’s faces that come to see us at this time of year, sadly most of these children have grown up. I am presently waiting on the Next generation to bring back the wonder, joy and excitement. Maybe this year we will take a break, but I doubt it. We took a break a few years back, it felt a very sad, lonely Christmas that year! May your family enjoy Happy Whatever………..this is a new season which supposedly covers everything 🙂

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  2. Ellin, you’ve successfully completed the 12 step program. You’re like the rest of us. Free at last! Free at last! Thank God almighty, you’re free at last!!

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  3. I kind of agree. Christmas has been hyped to the ninth degree. I’ve seen stores start with their Christmas items in August. It was like they are trying to crank you up for this extravaganza. You tend to over spend on things you neither want nor need, over eat and if you are the mother of a larger family your cooking until the cows come home. It has become one enormous performance and in a lot of cases lost all its true meaning. We have seriously scaled back.
    Leslie

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    1. The rise of the Internet has really hoist the retail industry on its own petard. They can start running Christmas specials in July — and they do. Suddenly, malls are having to work a lot harder for the consumer dollar. Live traffic is way down in many places because almost everyone does at least some of their shopping on line. No parking problems, everything gets delivered. Easy peasy. I’m sure retailers never imagined they would be competing agains “the invisible enemy.”

      You are far from the only one who has scaled back. We all have, I think. There was no where to go but down. The economy shrunk. many of our salaries shrunk. There is less discretionary income for most people. Certainly those of us who live on fixed incomes can’t afford an annual financial blowout. Not like we are going to get a Christmas bonus to soak up the extra spending!

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      1. We started drawing names so we buy a present for one person. Then there are the children who always get a special gift. But that’s it. Certainly don’t need any more stuff around here anyway.
        Leslie

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        1. Part of the problem with the hype of the season is the sense of obligation it creates. You feel obligated to decorate every inch of your house, you have to buy gifts for everyone you know and you have to be full of holiday cheer 24/7 as your bank account and sanity diminish at warp speed!

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  4. I lived in Brookline Mass for two years, as a kid. The school I attended was about 95% Jewish, and when a holiday came, the entire school shut down. Three weeks’ worth by the end of the year. and what’s funny, greedy little Christian kids that we were, we envied you Jewish kids because you got All Those Holidays Off (forgetting that we had them off too since no school is going to hold classes for about 50 kids in eight grades…) and Eight Presents for Hanukkah. wow.

    Perspective, perspective.

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    1. Hanukah is a sweet little holiday, but it was never a really important holiday on the Jewish calendar. In Israel, you don’t even get time off. It’s a minor holiday, pretty much for kids … and making jelly donuts. The only reason it’s gotten so big in the U.S. is because of Christmas. The BIG festivals are Passover, Succot, Shavuot, Rosh HaShannah and Yom Kippur … and then there’s Puriim in the spring and a bunch of others I’m not remembering at the moment. But Passover is the biggie, at least when you live in a Jewish country, with Succot running a tight second.

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  5. I do get annoyed that the stores have the Christmas decorations out almost simultaneously with Halloween. I feel that is way too early. I think that like with most things moderation is the key to enjoying Christmas. Once if starts to feel like a chore you lose the magic. I see families put their tree up as early as November and I wonder if they are tired of it by Christmas. I like to put mine up the weekend before Christmas and it comes down promptly 12 days after Christmas as my mother used to tell me it was bad luck to leave it up past the sixth of January.. As we never had children our Christmas decorations have always been low key. I put up a tree because I like to and will do so this year even though it will only be me. My sister will enjoy it when she visits.

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    1. I used to get annoyed. Now, I just ignore them. The stores are having such a hard time competing with the Internet, they will do anything to attract shoppers. I guess if we want to continue to have brick-and-mortar stores, we will have accept the price … which is extending the season to grab as much of the seasonal spending as possible.

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    2. You sound like you have the true holiday spirit. You do things in moderation and because doing them brings you joy and good cheer. Enjoy doing the holiday “your way”.

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      1. Thank you I will. I love Christmas and if I had pots of money I’d enjoy buying elaborate presents as well as donating money but as I don’t I try to think of things that will still bring pleasure but also do some good in the world.

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  6. Being Jewish during Christmas means you’ve got the Gentiles by the short hairs.., It’s all good! I just generally don’t like the commercial bent on Christmas, and as a result don’t much like Christmas anymore. Sorry…

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    1. I think that before Madison Avenue turned Xmas into a decorating and spending frenzy, the celebration of the holiday was quite lovely. People made their own decorations and cooked special foods, sang holiday songs, even in the streets, and gave simple gifts to family and other special people. It feels like ithe holiday had more meaning, more good will to men and in the end, more magic.

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