Why We Don’t Celebrate Christmas. Again.

November 30, 2010


Lit Menorah

Answer: Because we’re Jewish.  You would think that’s a pretty easy answer, wouldn’t you?   It’s easy, but it’s not enough these days.

For as long as I’ve been a parent, I’ve had the same conversation with kids of a certain age in this house.  “Why don’t we celebrate Christmas?”  For the older girls (many years ago), it was a discussion of “Because WE are Jewish.  You have FAMILY that is not.”  Now with Leah it’s simply, “Because we are Jewish.”  But it’s still an ever present discussion.

Part of the reason this continues to be a discussion is because of how unreligious and commercialized Christmas has become.  I’ve had to explain (to the best of my ability) what Christmas is REALLY about.  Leah was surprised to hear that Christ had anything to do with it.  Extraordinary?  Not really, sadly.

The other issue is that Christmas, in its true form and its commercial form are major holidays for a majority of the country.  Hanukah is not one of our holiest days – it just happens to fall around Christmas – so we get that “major” halo effect.  So to kids it APPEARS important.  And, to be fair, EIGHT DAYS OF PRESENTS.  Hard to not be impressed with that part.

So Hanukah is fun and important, but Christmas is holy

And yet, the questions still come.

“But what if we hung blue and white lights outside?  Like the Israeli flag?”

“No, sweetie.  Christmas decorations are for Christmas.  And the holiday is more than just decorations, remember?“

“Do you think we could have a Hanukah Bush instead?  Maybe decorate it with Jewish stars?”

“No, sweetie.”

“Why not?”

“Because we’re pretty happy being Jewish.  And we don’t need to borrow Christmas traditions to enjoy Hanukah and appreciate being Jewish.”

But it’s hard.  There are more of you then there are of us.  Christmas messages show up the day after Halloween and don’t let up for months.  Leah is, right now, the only Jewish kid in her whole GRADE at school.

“Look, Mommy!  I got a cool bracelet today from my friend at school.”

“Oh, yeah?  What’s it say?”

“What Would Jesus Do?”

“Huh.  That’s a pretty bracelet.  Your favorite color, too.  I’m just not sure it’s an appropriate bracelet for you, sweetie.”

“Well, why not?”

“Because we don’t believe in Jesus that way.”

“Well, I believe in Jesus.  He sounds nice.”

“Yes.  He was nice.  And he did good things.  It’s nice that your friend believes in him and what he can do for her, it’s just not what we believe.”

“Oh.  Can I keep the bracelet?”

There was a larger discussion after that.  There is an ever-present, on-going discussion.  Even with Benjamin – mostly for clarity right now and some basic vocabulary, but it’s still hard.  There aren’t a lot of us – and stepping on the slippery slope of fun and pretty Christmas decorations has repercussions.  It waters down your own faith, it sends mixed messages – it contributes to the commercialization of what is a significant religious holiday.

Would I love to have some beautifully needlepointed stockings?  You betcha.  A dreidel doesn’t hold a candle to that shit.  And I’d love to go batshit nuts with an elegant tree and twinkly white lights on my house.  It’d be SPECTACULAR. 

But I don’t celebrate the birth of Christ.  And those decorations correspond to the holiday that celebrates that.  Even if America has forgotten that part.

This isn’t an “us vs. them” discussion with the kids – or with anyone really.  It’s really a discussion about things that are shared (Old Testament, anyone?) and things that are different.  And that different doesn’t mean “bad” – it’s just different.  Because what’s shared is good, but what’s different is really, really different.

And it’s more than a tree, or lights or a bracelet.

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27 Responses to “Why We Don’t Celebrate Christmas. Again.”

  1. elz Says:

    You know what I never understood? “Jews for Jesus.” If you are a Jew for Jesus doesn’t that mean you are actually Christian? Don’t get it. Talk about watering down your faith.

    It is hard to keep the meaning of Christmas at the foremost of the season’s celebrations. Two of my bosses hve said the same thing- Hanukah isn’t that big a celebration but it has turned into something bigger by virtue of when it occurs.

    • Pam Says:

      Jews for Jesus is technically impossible, if you understand the faiths. Many (ahem) would consider them cultish.

      • MainlineMom Says:

        Agree in part and disagree in part. Possibly because I don’t know everything about the Jewish faith, but I do know a lot. Jews for Jesus call themselves Messianic Jews, or Jewish Christians. I think it is cool if you are of Jewish lineage and believe Jesus is the Messiah, because they believe they share ethnic and some cultural similarities with Jesus that gentile Christians don’t. But if you understand the Christian faith, many Jewish celebrations and beliefs are considered no longer necessary and I don’t quite know why you would continue celebrating them.

        One of my former pastors was Jewish by birth. In fact, our church was named Berith Presbyterian (Hebrew for covenant) which was so confusing to the community the name had to be changed after fifteen years or so. But we also lived in a heavily Jewish community.

        Regardless, I do love this post. I respect your faith and your unwillingness to compromise, because yes…Christmas IS holy and all about the birth of Christ. It’s my job to make sure my family knows that. But we don’t celebrate exactly the same way everyone else does either.

        The thing is, Christians do celebrate the Old Testament and that’s why we teach our kids many many things about Jewish traditions and holidays. I love that Alex came home from the YMCA with a menorah picture he decorated yesterday, and Nathan gets to choose either a Christmas or Hanukkah book at school and I’m encouraging him to choose the Hanukkah book.

  2. Knighton Says:

    I am ever surprised by my Christian friends who skip the entire religious aspect of this season, and I’m always heartened by my friends of other religions who take their faith seriously. And I think this is all a result of being majority or minority faiths.

    There are more of us, so we can distort our traditions and commercialize the heck out of it. There are fewer of you, so you must protect the sanctity of your holy days. Not to say that there aren’t entire denominations and groups of Christians who regard our holidays as truly holy.

    In the old traditions, we are supposed to begin the season December 1st, with Advent (four weeks of prayer in anticipation of the arrival of our Savior), and end on January 6th (the recognition of His status by the Magi.) It’s not supposed to be a mad rush from Black Friday to December 25th; we’re supposed to make our hearts ready – and that requires a much slower pace.

    (Sorry for the rant. And thanks for sharing how you deal with all this within your family! xoxo)

    • Pam Says:

      “There are more of us, so we can distort our traditions and commercialize the heck out of it. There are fewer of you, so you must protect the sanctity of your holy days.”

      That is a REALLY interesting point. Size giving you the freedom to distort. Wow.

      And I love the idea of quiet reflection of the season – it’s almost like our High Holidays. xo

  3. Dia Says:

    Do you know what I loved the most about reading this post? I love that you are being intentional, and responsible, and respectful. You are intentionally and responsibly sharing your beliefs with your children, and giving them a firm foundation on which to build their lives. People seem to want to be so accepting of others’ beliefs and be so politically correct, that they have forgotten what THEY actually believe in, so they certainly cannot pass any beliefs to their children. (How’s that for a run-on sentence. One of the reasons *I* do not blog – people would have to take coffee breaks while I make my point.)

    And because you are teaching your children these beliefs, they RESPECT them. People (adults and children) cannot respect others’ religions if they do not have and respect their own.

    My daughter starts kindergarten next year in a school that has a large Jewish population. We also have a growing Muslim community within our area. I will teach her my Christian beliefs, but will also teach her to respect the differences of others’ and to celebrate the things we have in common. I remember religion not getting in the way of my childhood friendships, and I hope that is the same for her. Don’t all religions say to love one another?

    • Pam Says:

      “People seem to want to be so accepting of others’ beliefs and be so politically correct, that they have forgotten what THEY actually believe in”

      Run on sentence or not – it is an excellent point. I’ve always said life really is very black and white — it’s the folks that try to live in the grey areas that have it hard.

  4. Alana Says:

    Well spoken. I am impressed that you manage not to give into the commercialism that has become the “holiday season”. I wish that more people would revisit the true meanings of these holidays, and just slow down and enjoy being with family to celebrate them together. I am still appalled about stores being open on Thanksgiving, but that’s a whole other rant…

    • Pam Says:

      Oh the overlapping of holidays drives me INSANE. Can we not just take the time for EACH ONE respectively? Way too much commercialism has driven those decisions. I just wish more people would rail against it.

      • Sandy Cooper Says:

        “Oh the overlapping of holidays drives me INSANE. Can we not just take the time for EACH ONE respectively?”

        I totally agree. I have friends who brag about having their Christmas presents bought, wrapped and sitting under their decorated Christmas tree by Thanksgiving! I don’t get it.

        As a Christian parent, I can tell you, it is extremely difficult to preserve the holiness of this holiday in a society that glorifies the hoopla. It’s so confusing for Christian children to reconcile the whole Jesus/Santa thing. Shoot, it’s hard for ME to reconcile it.

        Loved your post…came over from Missy’s


        • Pam Says:

          Thank, Sandy! Sorry for the late response – was trying to enjoy some holiday down time. I may or may not have succeeded. 🙂

          Missy’s an old friend … glad to see we share someone quite awesome in common! 🙂

  5. Danielle (elleinadspir) Says:

    Wow. Great post. This was sent to me by a friend who thought I’d enjoy reading it. I grew up Jewish, but I did not live in a Jewish area and so I was one of only 3 in my class. My mom got us a tree and we celebrated Xmas as well as Hanukka. I married someone who was raised Christian…but we are both mostly non religious. But…I feel strongly that I am Jewish by culture. And we both seem to identify more with the Jewish holidays and practices. I try and teach him about all the holidays, but I agree that Xmas has been so commercialized that it’s hard. Anyway, I’m rambling. My biggest pet peeve, growing up and now, is when people find out I’m Jewish and all they can ask is ‘so do you do 8 presents?’. Very odd to me. Anyway…nice post.

    • Pam Says:

      I used to get the same question! Isn’t that funny? Like the 8 nights was the most important part of the whole deal! 😉

      Thanks for the kind words – and please thank your friend for sharing the post. I’m glad it was meaningful to you — and I’m glad that even though it’s been years that you are still embracing judaism. It’s a hard one to completely forget – and some times we just need to fall back into it in our own way to rediscover it. 🙂 Happy Hanukah!

      • Missy @ It's Almost Naptime Says:

        For the record, my 7 year old son and I had the first “Why do Jewish kids get gifts for 8 nights and we only get one day” discussion this year. So now you know why people bring it up. Envy runs deep and wide, regardless of which side you are on.

        • Pam Says:

          Tell your seven year old he’d get the same amount of presents, but would have to wait to open them for EIGHT DAYS.

          That usually takes care of the envy. 🙂

  6. Micki Says:

    I just wanted to say how much I enjoyed this post. It made me consider Jewish traditions as well as my own Christian ones.

    All the Christmas hype just makes me realize how fast we are living our lives and how we aren’t really paying attention to any of it. For instance, how we skip Thanksgiving almost completely. Hate that!

    I enjoy your blog very much. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    • Pam Says:

      Gosh, Micki, thanks so much for your nice comment. 🙂 And, yes, skipping Thanksgiving drives me nuts!

      Now even Leah says, “Oh, Mommy, LOOK! Someone has their lights up before Thanksgiving! That is so WRONG.”

      (I may have created a monster.)

  7. Amber, theAmberShow Says:

    I love that you’ve thought this through so well. We took the 100% opposite approach to your family, but just as thoughtfully, and I have SO much respect for your approach.

    I’m dying to know if you let her keep the bracelet.

    • Pam Says:

      She does, indeed, have the bracelet. I didn’t want to make an issue out of that, because then it becomes an argument about a BRACELET. And that’s not the important part, you know?

      She’s asked some follow up questions, and JUST realized that the CHRIST in CHRISTmas is for Jesus Christ. Somehow that started to drive some things home. Lol.

      Thanks for your thoughts, my friend. They mean a lot. 😉


  8. Karen Says:

    I grew up with Jewish friends and have always thought that the Jewish traditions were incredibly rich. In schooling my own children, we have studied those traditions and I am still awed at the beauty, symbolism, and dedication. I wish we had more of those customs in our church community.

    I shared this post with my husband as well as another about how an atheist celebrates this holiday season. My husband feels that we, Christians, have made this a secular holiday and now anyone can celebrate it without recognizing its significance. I argue that why on earth would someone want to celebrate a holiday (holyday) dedicated to Jesus Christ (Christ mas) despite the amount of commercialism that’s been added? It simply makes NO sense to me.

    All that to say, I loved this post and the dedication to draw your children along ancient paths so that they will know their way.

    • Pammer Says:

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment, Karen. 🙂 It is appreciated. And I would say there are plenty of rich traditions in the church. The communion ritual is fascinating to me — and I love the Advent calendar tradition as well. 🙂

  9. Anna Lewis Says:

    I hopped over here from Brent Riggs’s blog. Thanks for the perspective! I grew up with a lot of Jewish friends, but at the time I was atheist. Now as a Christian, we tackled many of the issues that you addresed as we celebrated our first Christmas with a child. Granted, he’s too young to realize what we do and don’t do, now, but my husband and I wanted to make sure that OUR perspective is correct so it will just filter down to him. We have decided that 3 magi visited Christ with gifts, so we will celebrate with 3 gifts. That way the gift giving is more about Christ than Santa. I am making a mental note of how you teach your children to appreciate and identify with their own faith in a community of different religions. Being respectful and accepting of other faiths should not mean watering down our own.

    • Pam Says:

      Thanks so much! I’m not familiar with Brent’s blog, so I’ll try to check it out. I have a friend who does the 3 gift thing – I love the idea, but I love anything that has some sort of meaning attached to it. 😉 Hope you had a great Christmas!

  10. TF Says:

    Great message, Pam.



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