Christmas v. Hanukkah
Why Jewish holidays win in our house
by Emily Mendell
December 7, 2009
There comes a time in most Jewish parents’ lives when their child asks if they can convert to Christianity. The moment is predictable. At some point between the ages of six and ten, our sons or daughters make their well thought out case for conversion. It always takes place in December and goes something like this:
Child: Mom, do you think this year we could do the whole Christmas thing?
Mom : Do you mean like do the Jesus thing? The church thing?
Child : Uh, no. I mean the lights thing, the tree thing and the Santa thing.
Mom : Well, we’re Jewish.
Child : I know but can’t we celebrate both? Jake celebrates both!
Mom: Jake’s Mom is Catholic and his Dad is Jewish. That makes sense.
Child: Well, Sarah is all Jewish and her family has a Christmas tree! Can we?
And so the conversation goes. It comes as little surprise that our Jewish kids want to convert to Christmas. Not Christianity, mind you – but Christmas. Despite our attempts to elevate the hype of Hanukkah so that our children will have something worthy to celebrate alongside their peers, we Jews really can’t compete with the public exuberance that comes with Christmas.
Christian kids get the tree, Santa and his reindeer, and one mother lode of a morning complete with a pile of presents and a stocking full of goodies. Jewish boys and girls get a wooden spinning top, a candle holder, potato pancakes, and a cap of eight presents, including the last night of Hanukkah which inevitably yields something equivalent to a new pair of socks.
And then there are the decorations. Every year we marvel at the elaborate holiday displays set up at the houses in our town. We drive through the streets, ooh and ahhing over the beautiful arrays of lights, each of my boys picking their personal favorites, only to return home to what we laughingly refer to as “the dark hole at the end of the street.” It is the one time of the year when it is visibly apparent to our kids that we are different from most of our neighbors. Rightly or wrongly, they feel left out.
We could do as some Jewish families do and bring in a “Hanukkah bush,” put up some sparkly blue lights, or talk excitedly about a midnight visit from Hanukkah Harry. We know some Jewish families who make no effort to retain their Jewish identity and skip directly to celebrating Christmas, complete with tree, stockings and a visit from Santa. There is no religious significance involved; they do it for fun. Despite the appeal of this approach to our children, this is called assimilation and it is not for us.