I’m Jewish. I’ve spent countless hours in Hebrew school, and countless more at three-hour long holiday services. I’ve read from the Torah and Haftorah, I’ve had a Bar Mitzvah and I’ve attended the Bar and Bat Mitzvahs of my peers and family, muttering prayers under my breath at services which put many of us to sleep in the seventh grade.
December is an exciting month for many people, and I’m no exception. Hanukkah approaches, promising eight straight days of gifts and celebration, chocolate coins called “gelt” and staying up past midnight to make sure a lit candle doesn’t slip out of the menorah and start a fire. But Hanukkah isn’t the main reason for my love of December. If asked, most Jewish children would immediately declare that Hanukkah is their favorite holiday. I, on the other hand, would say that there’s one holiday superior to all — one holiday which no one would expect a Jew to love: Christmas.
Yes, Christmas is a Christian Holiday, and if you’ve made it this far in my article, it should be pretty clear that I’m not Christian. But that doesn’t stop me from celebrating Christmas every year: my family buys a Christmas tree and hangs up our extensive ornament collection; my parents fill stockings for me and my brother; and we place neatly wrapped presents under the dark green, needle-like leaves of a classic, conical evergreen. But why?
Some people may assume that we celebrate Christmas simply as an excuse to receive gifts. I understand why people think this, and I certainly don’t mind getting extra presents as a result of celebrating both Hanukkah and Christmas — who wouldn’t want more books, socks and uncomfortable sweaters?
But as much as I enjoy spending the entirety of my savings on presents, my family celebrates Christmas for a completely separate reason. We celebrate because, for each of us, the holiday holds a special place in our hearts.
My mom, raised Catholic, now engages in the Jewish community often — perhaps more than any other member of my family. For her, Christmas brings warm memories of her childhood like decorating the tree, unwrapping presents early in the morning and listening to her favorite Christmas songs, “O Holy Night” and “Jingle Bells.” For dinner, she and my dad cook up a feast of dishes my mom loved as a kid like turkey, stuffing and peanut butter cookies topped with Hershey’s Kisses.
For me and my brother, Thomas, Christmas is less nostalgic and more about the fun and spirit; the lingering excitement and anticipation throughout December is the best part. There are few experiences more uplifting than listening to “All I Want for Christmas Is You” by Mariah Carey on full volume while driving at night through a neighborhood lit with incredible yellow, green and red LED light displays and inflated Santa Clauses.
My dad, although less enthusiastic about the holiday than the rest of us, finds joy in both our collection of ornaments — many of which serve as mementos of our family’s travels — and the “Christmas spirit.” He likes the holiday’s effect on people; he thinks it makes people kinder and more welcoming.
Christmas not only makes each of us happy; it also brings our family together. Hanukkah is spread out over eight days, and it takes just ten minutes each night to light the menorah and sing prayers. Christmas, on the other hand, is an entire day we spend together — something that rarely happens in my family.
My mom works for a private organization at Yale University, and she often flies up to work with her colleagues in person. My dad is home three or four days a week, and he spends the rest of his time working as a professor at Tufts University in Boston. Thomas, a freshman at Duke University, comes home on vacations, but for the majority of the year he’ll be studying in North Carolina.
As you can imagine, this leaves us with little family time. Christmas is one of the rare moments when we’re all in the same place with time to spare. We play board games, watch movies and enjoy each others’ company. We love every minute of it.
Christmas means something different to everyone. Most people wouldn’t expect the holiday to hold such meaning with a Jewish family, but it can. Regardless of the religious aspects, to me, Christmas is about togetherness. That’s why we celebrate it year after year, and that’s also the reason I plan to celebrate Christmas with my future family.