‘Tis the season

By: Ceceley Chambers

For many years, I really hated the Christmas season. For me it was a stark reminder of what I was not. I was resentful of the “holiday” parties that were actually Christmas parties with a different name…. I mean really, one token blue dreidel decoration in a sea of red and green does not make it a multi-faith holiday party. I felt suffocated by the presence of Christmas decorations and music earlier and earlier in the year. And while I frequently participated in Christmas festivities with my non-Jewish friends and family, I would fluctuate between feeling awkward and resentful despite having celebrated Christmas for most of my life. I also worried about my children feeling like they were getting the short end of the stick by being raised Jewish with all this excess around, and yet the tried and true tactic of Hanukkah overcompensation was making me stressed and exhausted.

My problem was that I took everyone else’s Christmas celebrations personally as an affront to my Jewish identity. Then a few years ago, I had this radical realization: I am pretty solid in my Jewish identity! We celebrate all the Jewish holidays in some fashion in our home even if it might be a token acknowledgement; I have worked as a Jewish professional; my kids go to Jewish day school; I am fairly well educated in the culture, beliefs, and practices of Judaism (the religion of my birth). These are not universal markers for a strong Jewish identity, they just happen to be mine for myself; yours might be very different. However, what I realized was that my understanding of my Jewish identity is solid enough that it cannot be shaken by the observance of what has come to be a secular cultural holiday even if it has strong Christian roots.

So here’s what my confident Jewish identity has gotten me in terms of my relation to the Christmas season:

  1. An ability to laugh out loud in Target in August at the appearance of Christmas decorations.
  2. A jovial spirit when signing up for the office “holiday” potluck (complete with a Santa picture on the flyer but ironically being held on the first day of Hanukkah).
  3. An ability to give thoughtful suggestions to my husband’s holiday playlist. (Let’s try Judy Garland’s version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” this year.)
  4. A calmer demeanor for my children in the month of December around the holidays. (If I don’t find Christmas celebrations threatening, they won’t either.)

This cultivation of joy, laughter, thoughtfulness, and calm has allowed me to tap into the plethora of beautiful sacred moments that are available all year ‘round but have a special feeling this time of year. So it is with not an ounce of sarcasm that I wish you all a merry little Christmas, a happy Hanukkah, and a beautiful Shabbat.

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