I’m a Jew who hails from an upper-middle class Jewish ghetto on Long Island. My mother was Jewish, and grew up in Queens surrounded by Jews, but with almost no religion. My father was raised Orthodox in Leipzig, Germany, before he and his sister had to flee, leaving his parents behind. My brothers and I got presents on Christmas from Santa, and we continue to exchange Christmas presents as adults. Both of our parents are gone now, and it has only hit me recently how odd it was to be full-blown Jews who really did it up on 12/25.
This is a gchat with my brother, Adam Felber (who is — kvell, kvell — an Emmy-nominated writer and NPR personality) to try and understand how or why we did this, and if he feels as uncomfortable as I do about it.
me: OK so, WHAT UP WITH MOM and DAD doing Santa bringing gifts on Christmas? More likely, how did mom ever convince dad to do this?
Adam: I think she probably convinced him that it wasn’t a Christian thing – It was an AMERICAN thing.
me: As a reminder, we’re Jewish…
Adam: I remember
me: OK so did any other Jewish friends you went to school with do Christmas and Santa? Because none of mine did.
Adam: My memory is faulty on this one, maybe, but I seem to remember that a couple of our friends DID.
It just didn’t seem like a big deal. I remember debating the logical problems involved with Santa with the Levys from 2 doors down.
me: Were they believers in Santa? Were you?
Adam: They were not. They were of the opinion that if you were Jewish you could not believe in Santa. Mike Levy adamantly disagreed, and believed in Santa deeply. ME, I had no problem with the Jewish/Santa thing, but I was starting to have deep reservations of the feasibility of Santa’s operation.
me: How old were you? (this is going to be blackmail worthy)
Adam: At that point I was 6 or 7. It was beginning to frustrate me that he still believed in Santa, because I felt like as long as he did, I had to. So we had many long talks wherein I tried to convince him of Santa’s non-existence.
me: What was the main thrust of your thesis?
Adam: The usual. SUCH a big world, so many presents, and he does it all in one night? Also, how come a bunch of “elves” seem to make the same stuff as everyone else? With “Mattel” logos and whatnot?
me: And when did you stop believing & know the full 411?
Adam: I entrapped mom and dad.
me: Caught them in the act? Placing them under our… oh wait, we had no tree?
Adam: One evening after Christmas I started complaining to them about a broken toy. In truth, it might not have been broken.
me: ?And they mentioned a receipt?
The young Felber siblings at home
Adam: Mom said “All right, we’ll just have to take it back to the store where we got it.” I yelled “AHA!!”
me: KA-ZANG! Was Mike still a believer?
Adam: Mom laughed and yelled “Oh shit!” As I bolted up the stairs. I burst into our room and yelled. “Mike, there’s no Santa Claus! Come down!” At this point, even Mike was beginning to doubt, but we needed evidence.
me: But don’t you ever feel, like, as the holidays roll around and you have a kid… a need to do up Hanukkah as well? Even though we both know it’s a crap holiday?
Adam: I’m starting to wonder.
me: I mean, my boy started talking about Christmas in August.
Adam: I think Jews and X-mas presents — not as uncommon as you might think. It is definitely an “American” thing to me. But I don’t think I’d be doing Santa if I hadn’t married a Christian.
me: Could you just watch 12/25 roll around and not do it with your family…
Adam: No, that’d suck.
me: You’d miss it. I’d miss it. However guilty I feel about how sexy the holiday is compared to ours. I love hopping on the back of my spouse’s X-mas cycle…
Adam: But you and I both know Hanukkah is bullshit
me: I know it’s crap. Tell the cheap seats why it’s crap…
Adam: Well, we’re competing with the birth of the messiah, the living incarnation of God on Earth, who has been born to save mankind, right?
me: Oh yeah
Adam: And what do we Jews have to compete with that?
Adam: Fuel efficiency. They get God, we get a really nice value.
me: Ha! Don’t underestimate a bargain!
Adam: I mean, the savings are miraculous!
me: But we did still celebrate Hanukkah?.
Adam: We lit candles.
me: We lit candles. Said a prayer over them. And dreidel action.
Adam: Dreidels are pretty fun.
me: Wait, what? Dreidels are fun? You need to put the cap back on the Manaschevitz?
Adam: No – remember, I did several years of Hebrew school. Get several kids with their chocolate coins gathered around and screaming, with big winners and big losers… and you’ve got a party.
me: So, are you going to give play to Hanukkah this year?
Adam: Not sure about Hanukkah this year. You?
me: Yeah, I will?I’m guessing I’m going to haul out a dreidel?maybe light candles.
Adam: Sebastian will be getting Hannukah’d up in school. His pre-school (found and advocated by his Christian mommy) is at a temple.
me: So do you feel guilty about embracing Christmas? Because I do.
Adam: I don’t. Why do you?
me: Well because Hanukkah can’t compete… and seeing Hugo so excited about Christmas.
Adam: So were YOU
me: And there I am like, um, “look over here, here’s A FASCINATING CANDLE LIGHTING! And oh FYI, your grandparents were smoked by Hitler.”
Adam: Always with the Nazis!
me: Yeah but I felt SUPER GUILTY about Christmas once I realized we were frickin’ bizzaro Jews who did Christmas…As a kid, I felt the eyes of dead, blameless grandparents searing into me from above…
Adam: I’m not big on God. Or religion. So my allegiance is to our parents. And THEIR tradition, the one they made for us, was Christmas.
me: OK then. Maybe I’ll send you a dreidel this year so I can instill a sense of guilt in your kid…
Adam: Yeah, wish a happy Hanukkah to your uncircumcised kid for me.
me: HA!! And CUT! OK, let’s wrap it up. I am gonna fly…