Photo of a decorated and lit-up Christmas tree and a lit menorah taken from a ground perspective].
Courtesy of Aviva Cohen.
Every December I celebrate two holidays - Christmas and Hanukkah. Christmas is a big affair with extended family on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and it was even bigger when I was younger. Plus, in school, there are Christmas themed events (however subtly masked) and presents between friends. Hanukkah is an afterthought. My Jewish grandparents are here for Thanksgiving and when we were younger they left wrapped presents for us to upon during the holiday. Now, we go shopping together when they’re here. Sometimes we light candles, but after the first few nights we often forget. Usually one or two times we’ll have latkes, and every year I fail to convince my parents to buy us donuts. But the biggest marker of the holiday happening for me these days is the religious school where I work. I help kindergarteners sound out the words to the Hanukkah story but I can’t help feeling like I’m teaching them about a holiday I don’t even celebrate. At the same time as I advocate for more inclusivity in holiday greetings or events, I am barely celebrating the holiday I fight for. Instead I am celebrating a holiday that, however secular, belongs to a religion I am not a part of.
I say all of this for a few reasons. First, for all of us who celebrate both, or exist between multiple religions or cultures in other ways. I often feel guilty and strange about celebrating Christmas. It is likely that in the future I will not celebrate it. But right now it is a part of being a member of my family and that doesn’t make me less Jewish.
Second, I say this because I want everyone to consider how hard it can be to celebrate holidays other than Christmas this time of the year. Yes, more awareness that these other holidays are even happening is important, but Hanukkah is not Jewish Christmas, and they are often not even at the same time. For me, this simply means that lighting the candles, preparing certain foods, or spending time with my family is something that I have to go out of my way to do during the holiday. And I can only imagine how frustrating it must be for those families who celebrate only Hanukkah. It is like if Christmas were celebrated on an average weekend. Families have to choose between missing school and other obligations to spend time together or shoving the holiday in between the normal obligations of life. And parents have to actively choose to not give their kids the Christmas experience that has become almost a staple of American childhood.
And thirdly, I say this because for me Hanukkah is not the celebration of tradition and family that Christmas is for many. But I still have this with my Jewish family, with the holiday of Passover in the spring. So Happy Holidays, now, and year round. Celebrate whatever you want to celebrate in whatever ways you want to celebrate. And let everyone around you do the same.
And as always, don’t get caught up in a single story: