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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.