I am proudly Jewish. And I love Christmas. Unabashedly. And “love” is not a word that I throw around lightly. I have felt this way my entire adult life.
Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year. People are just a little nicer, more charitable, perhaps a bit more likely to smile or interact with strangers. That alone is worth celebrating. Hanukkah may be the Festival of Lights but the houses adorned with Christmas lights have enthralled me since I was a kid.
Christmas matters — in different ways to different people. For observant Christians, it is a celebration of the birth of Jesus, the long-awaited Messiah and only Son of God. I do not subscribe to this belief, but to Christian faiths, it is foundational. Christmas and the days surrounding it are an opportunity for togetherness, irrespective of religion.
For the stress that can accompany gift giving, the practice may be part of what helps avoid the drama that family members tend to give and receive at Thanksgiving dinner. And as a driver of our economy, the Christmas season has no equal. It is literally the “make it or break it” time for many businesses; the presence or absence of a Christmas bonus” impacts countless more families.
Please do not misunderstand me — I love Hanukkah as well. The lighting of the Menorah, the blessings, the songs, the latkes all fill me with the warmth and comfort of a favorite throw blanket. But Hanukkah and Christmas are just not comparable. In strictly religious terms, Hanukkah is a relatively minor holiday. It lacks even an agreed-upon spelling. For family gathering and ritual practice, Passover and Rosh Hashana are much more important. On a commercial level, Jews constitute less than 2% of the US population. How much macro-economic impact can our December gift giving really have? And, at risk of heresy, there is a part of me that always thought the eight days of oil was more mathematical error than miraculous deliverance.
How many great Hanukkah movies are there? (If you recommend Eight Crazy Nights, I would recommend you seek professional help.) Christmas, on the other hand, has played a starring or supporting role in some of my all-time favorite movies — It’s a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Carol, Miracle on 34th Street, Die Hard. With apologies to Generation X, I never understood the enduring popularity of A Christmas Story.
The traditional Hanukkah songs are fine, but none has ever climbed the Billboard charts or been recorded by dozens of artists across genres and generations. I have no patience for Christmas songs before Thanksgiving or after New Year’s Eve, but I cannot get enough of them during the month of December. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that many of the best Christmas songs were written by Jews — Winter Wonderland, Sleigh Ride, Silver Bells, Let it Show, The Christmas Song, among others.
As it turns out, both of my daughters-in-law were raised Catholic. I love them for the people they are and for the families they have created with my sons. And I love that they have brought Christmas a little closer to my life. I’ve had the experience of helping my machatunim hang Christmas lights on my son’s house. All I did was hold the ladder, but the point is, I helped! I have also spent time on Christmas day with my other set of in-laws, surrounded by kids playing with toys pulled from under a Christmas tree decorated with a lifetime of acquired ornaments … just like in the movies!
“Christmas spirit” is all the ways the holiday motivates people to be kind to others. I would like to believe that I have that spirit. I think we could all use a little more of it. Or, in the words of Bill Murray as Scrooged:
For a couple of hours out of the whole year, we are the people we always hoped we would be.