Flashing strings of lights.
Spending and baking and eating—what a sight.
I've been looking at the American holiday season with a different lens. While I learned early on that not everyone celebrates Christmas, I hadn't really thought about how it might feel to other people, when the decorations, school programs, television commercials and everything else shouts—no, screams CHRISTMAS!
Recently, I had a conversation with one of my coworkers who grew up in a non-Jewish community. The school choir, of which she was a member, performed a holiday concert each year. She enjoyed singing some of the traditional, non-religious tunes. Religious Christmas songs were included in the repertoire, but there was no musical representation of Chanukah. She said sometimes that emphasized the feeling that she didn't fit in.
Certainly, the choir director and the school didn't purposely mean to hurt anyone. Back then (I hate saying that—it's a clear indication I am way past 35), people didn't really think past their own beliefs and experiences. Fortunately, that has changed over the years, but there is always room for improvement.
And here I am on the other side of her experiences—a minority among people who celebrate Chanukah. Fortunately, I don't feel left out. No one here at JUF minds my endless questions about how to spell or say different words, what they mean, which food goes with what celebration, and so on. Folks are patient, kind and respectful—a testimony to the people with whom I work and the overall attitude of this community.
For Christians, Christmas is supposed to be a celebration of Christ's birth, a time to spread peace on earth and bring joy to the world. Somewhere along the way, trees, decorations and presents appeared in the mix.
OK, I know. Who doesn't like trees, decorations, or especially presents? Making a list of our heartfelt desires and checking it twice (we were naughty sometimes, but mostly nice), and wondering which wishes would magically be granted Christmas morning was part of the holiday's mystique in my child's mind. I loved spending time at my grandparents' respective homes during what was essentially a two-day celebration of food and family.
We always went to church as a family, sometimes on Christmas Eve, sometimes Christmas morning, singing Christmas carols, hearing the story, celebrating not only the birth of Christ but, I suppose, the birth of our faith traditions as well.
When my husband and I had kids, we helped them focus on the holiday by singing "Happy Birthday" to Jesus and blowing out candles on a little cake. It was a simple way to get the message across that we worried would be lost in the commercial craziness. We taught them to be thankful and more than that, worked to demonstrate the joy of giving—whether money or time or material goods—our tzedakah, if you will. We hoped the message would follow them into adulthood and be passed to our grandchildren.
With all these things in mind, my holidays have become something bigger. Perhaps that is my gift this year—this connection to people, without it mattering whether we celebrate the light that lasted eight days or the one my faith tradition calls the light of the world.
Let there be peace, joy…and light!