I’ve read with amusement the many Kveller posts detailing the importance of differentiating between Hanukkah and Christmas, the general distaste for people who sprinkle Christmas into their Hanukkah, and the ways to make Jewish children appreciate their own holiday without feeling like they’re missing out on all the Christmas fun. I get it.
But I’m going to admit that I’m a Jew who likes Christmas. I don’t celebrate the holiday per se, but I don’t shun it either. I enjoy seeing homes in my mixed-religion neighborhood decorated for both Christmas and Hanukkah and I feel the holiday festivity. But what I really appreciate this time of year cannot be found in either a wreath or an electric window menorah. My favorite part is the perceptible merriment that surrounds the holiday, beginning after Thanksgiving and continuing until year’s end. I truly appreciate the mental lift during the brutally cold winter days where it darkens by 5 PM. Holidays are special days to look forward to, for everyone, and I don’t see anything wrong with enjoying all of it.
Lest you think me a heathen, I will further elaborate. In my home, we only celebrate Hanukkah. There is no Hanukkah bush, blinking lights or candy canes. We light the menorah as a family each night, spin dreidels, and eat latkes. Most years I go into my son’s (public) school for the class holiday party. I’m there to represent Hanukkah. I bring latkes, chocolate gelt, dreidels, and a read a Hanukkah story for all the children to enjoy. I know my son will also be exposed to non-Jewish traditions such as building gingerbread houses and listening to Santa stories, and I’m OK with it. Since there is a tendency for a greater focus on Christmas than Hanukkah, I make sure Hanukkah is represented.
Each Christmas day, our tradition is to visit dear friends and join their extended family for the Christmas meal. It’s a family holiday, not a religious one for them, we are greeted with “Happy Hanukkah” and big hugs. The day is filled with way too much food, children running everywhere, and a lot of laughs. Come to think of it, it sounds a lot like our family’s Jewish holiday celebrations. It is very clear to my children that Christmas is not their holiday. But I see nothing wrong with our Christmas Day tradition of being with friends we love and sharing a happy day.
I simply like Hanukkah and Christmas because both holidays make people happy. The anticipation of and preparation for the holidays put people in a good mood. They are generally friendlier, more polite, and mindful of helping others who are in need. In today’s tumultuous world, a little extra good will and happiness make everyone feel better. When Hanukkah and Christmas coincide on the calendar, I see it as a bigger celebration. Everyone gets to do something special at the same time. More people are happy, generous, and able to look forward to a temporary respite from winter doldrums and everyday life. In my book, there’s nothing negative about that.
I respect the way people want to celebrate (any) holiday and keep it distinct, special, and fun. But there is a way to create a balance. Loving Hanukkah and enjoying Christmas are not mutually exclusive. Everyone has different traditions, and learning about them and taking pleasure from them does not threaten one’s own religion. I intend to enjoy the holidays–both of them. Before you know it, January will be here and we will all miss some form of the holiday spirit.