We Jews have two choices in our approach to the Christmas season: resent it, or embrace it. I for one vote for a big, sloppy embrace. In the name of love thy neighbor and tolerance, I say we hug it out with Christmas already and teach our kids to do the same.
Why? We expect our non-Jewish co-workers, friends, and neighbors to show heaps of interest and concern in all things Jewish. During the High Holy Days we ask our kids’ teachers not to assign big tests after those long days at shul. We offer unsolicited explanations about why Hanukkah is not, despite unfortunate evidence to the contrary, the most important event on our calendar. For the week of Passover we bore everyone we know with the reasons we’re eating matzah and other weird stuff. (Yes, gentile co-worker, that “Kosher for Passover” salad dressing seems over the top to me, too.)
Tolerance is a two-way street. It would be chutzpadik and a bad example to our kids not to muster up some genuine interest in a holiday celebrated by a significant majority of our fellow citizens. So with that being said…
10 Steps to Lose the Attitude at Christmas
1. Stop lecturing everyone who says Merry Christmas. “Merry Christmas” doesn’t mean, “We want to convert you.” It doesn’t mean, “The Cossacks are coming so pack up the chickens.” More than anything it tends to replace, “Have a nice day.” Realistically, it also conveys, “I’ve been working this shift for nine hours, and I could not care less what holiday you celebrate or don’t.”
2. Eat peppermint bark. It’s chocolatey. It’s minty. It’s joy.
3. Get yourself invited to a Christmas party. Growing up in a heavily Jewish-populated suburb of Chicago, I was unaware of the Christmas happenings sprinkled throughout the month. Now that I’m raising my family in a neighborhood where we are among the few Jews, I love that we get invited to Christmas teas, tree-decorating parties, open houses, cocktail parties, and more. Show that you’re open to experiencing someone else’s traditions. It works both ways. I, for one, feel personally responsible for exposing many of my neighbors to Sukkot, or as they affectionately call it, “the holiday when you put that big fort in your yard.”
4. Appreciate Christmas break. They aren’t canceling school and days of work for Hanukkah and Kwanza, y’all.
5. Participate in the Jewiest Christmas tradition of all–The Cookie Exchange. If you’re not aware of the frenetic cookie baking and eating that happens during the month of December, then you’re missing out. Get thee to a cookie exchange pronto. We’re talking infinite varieties of cookies and an atmosphere subtly laced with the taste of competition. This is a tradition that speaks our language.
6. Take advantage of the small and temporary changes in scenery, tastes, and smells. When you’re in the routine of family life with young kids, even the slightest changes can add some pizazz to your day. Enjoy the new cup designs and festive syrups at your favorite coffee joints. (Hello, egg nog latte). Appreciate the brief appearance of gingerbread offerings everywhere you go.
7. Drive around and look at Christmas lights. It’s dark at 5:00. What’s not to like about added light for the month of December? Sure, some of the neighbors’ decorations are gauche. Make it a family custom to vote on the best and worst ones.
8. Find some Christmas music you can stand. The Alvin and Chipmunks Christmas song makes you want to scream? Some of your favorite artists have probably come up with Christmas albums by now. Michael Bublé has one. So does the cast of Glee. And you haven’t lived until you’ve heard Barbra Streisand’s rendition of “Silent Night.” Don’t judge; she does Avinu Malkeinu on a different album.
9. Cozy up at home and watch classic Christmas movies. Half of those scripts and scores were written by Jews. Consider it an ironic exercise in Jewish pride. Also, any holiday that encourages the Lords of cable television to replay Love Actually, the greatest Christmas movie of all time, is fine by me.
10. Bargain shop. You know those great “holiday” deals you’re still enjoying on December 20th even though Hanukkah ended. Those are Christmas deals, my friends. Let’s, as they say, not look a gift horse in the mouth.
For more on the Jewish take on Christmas, check out the Jews who did Christmas, how one family celebrates both Hanukkah and Christmas, and how Jews in the South deal with it all.