I completely expect readers to point out I am a contradiction when they read this alongside my previous Kveller post: Why I Started Telling Well-Wishers Christmas Is Not My Holiday.
Nevertheless, I am all about experiencing the joy of every holiday and being inclusive, even if it is not my holiday. I am teaching my girls to be proud of who we are and about other people’s traditions. For one thing, we are not going to hide from Black Friday and emerge after New Year’s. And I would be doing my children a disservice if we purposefully excluded ourselves from holiday activities our friends invite us to and pretend Christmas does not exist.
My childhood friends were all non-Jews, so my wintry December memories are full of tinsel and twinkling lights. In my home as an adult, there is the complete absence of red and green decorations. We don’t meet Santa at the mall, we don’t leave cookies out for him or expect him to visit at all. There is no Christmas tree. (We do not have a Hanukkah bush or Mensch on a Bench either.) The only lights you will see coming from my house are from the electric menorah in my upstairs bathroom window.
But all this does not mean we cannot enjoy the holiday season with friends who celebrate Christmas in their home. Case in point, I have very fond memories of decorating my childhood best friends’ Christmas trees with them. It was so much fun to unwrap all the ornaments as if they are tiny presents for the tree.
Also, we were little kids, so we did some mischievous stuff like put different nativity scene figurines in random parts of the house and gave the baby Jesus figurine a foam bathing suit care of Bathtime Fun Barbie (remember her?). Of course, I felt some Christmas envy as a child, but I was in a great position because I could enjoy the merriment and the cookies with without doing the break down and clean up the following week.
Last weekend, a friend invited my family to their home for a post-Thanksgiving brunch. As we were munching on waffles and drinking coffee (and some adult drinks), my friend casually mentioned setting their tree up after brunch. I nearly jumped out of my seat in response. “Can I help you with this?!” I think she was surprised by my excitement.
Here was an opportunity to relive a part of my childhood, and to introduce different world holidays and traditions to my young daughters.
So, we spent the remainder of the morning handing non-breakable ornaments to our toddlers. We all commented on our favorite ornaments and the ease in setting up the fake tree with built-in lights. When the tree was up, we crashed on the couch, watched “Despicable Me” and marveled at our handy-work (noting the lower third of the tree was congested with the sturdier ornaments carefully placed there by tiny hands). Feeling the welcoming spirit of the morning, we invited our friends and their kids to our house for one of the nights of Hanukkah, and they happily accepted.
If I am confusing my girls or exposing them to Christmas envy, my oldest daughter absolved this fear later the same day. My 5-year-old said, “Mama, I would be so upset if we celebrated Christmas because you have to wait a long time for your presents. I’m so happy we are Jewish.” All right, now we need to work on materialism. It is always something.