I don't remember ever feeling confused or left out by Christmas as a kid. Maybe it was because I went to a Jewish day school, so my friends weren't celebrating something I wasn't. Maybe it was because we still paid attention to it in our own ways, like when my dad would drive us around the neighborhood to look at all the lights. (An ironic tidbit: my mom's side of the family was celebrating Christmas, but we just weren't around for it, thanks to my dad.)
So I always thought it was weird when I grew up and met friends who said they hated it when Hanukkah came early in December, because they would be left out later in the month. I've never felt Judaism was inadequate in any way, though I suppose if you're one of the only Jews you know, you might need your own holiday as ammo against the onslaught of Christmas. But I never really stacked the two holidays up against each other, and I kind of hate that we do. They were different, are different, and should be different. It's only the timing that puts them in such an unfortunately locked orbit. My Hanukkah observance is the same every year, regardless of when it falls, and I love it the same every year, independent of whatever other holidays are going on.
But even I know that you just can't escape Christmas.
It's been on my mind a lot this season in particular, because the family I'm stepping into isn't Jewish (though our household is and will continue to be), and Christmas is a fairly big deal, as would be expected. Since no holiday where family gets together is ever a bad thing, I am happy to participate in all their traditions, even if it's not really my own celebration. But it hasn't come without mixed feelings. As a proponent of Jewish continuity, part of me feels a little hypocritical for even being open to participating. And then part of me feels like I've taken something away from my new family by having a Jewish home without a tree or decorations—I've altered the landscape of future Christmases. Though mostly I go along for the ride and try not to think *too* much in the moment, I have felt a strange pressure (from myself) to really dive in headfirst.
And with that pressure, comes the reminder that I don't really *get* Christmas. To clarify, I get the religious significance. I get the family togetherness. I get the creation of happy memories for kids. All those things are good. But I don't get the part where you have to plaster it everywhere and how if you don't deck the halls with adequate gusto, you might as well have struck a death-blow to joy on earth. It's a little demanding—and as a Jew, I know from demanding holidays.
That's the real zinger—I am a Jew. I always will be. So I'm not trying to actually celebrate Christmas, just honor the people in my family who are. l'll never have that sentimental attachment to Christmas and don't need to go whole hog with spirit. It's just not my holiday. But isn't that okay? And can't I participate in my own way that doesn't mess with my Judaism?
Aside from some rabbis I know, I'm sure the answer is, "Of course." But it doesn't quite cover it. So perhaps the bigger question I am struggling with is this: how do you honor both families and traditions and not dilute or insult either one? And how do you do it a way that doesn't make them compete against each other or force comparisons where none should exist?
I have a feeling these questions will stick around for many years to come.