By Justine Purcell Cowell
There is a 20-foot Christmas tree in the lobby of my condo. Fabulous, right? But being the half-Jewish Jew that I am, my response is two-fold. First, that beautiful glitz and gold sends a chill of childlike wonder through me. Second, it makes me curious about who decided our condo was Christian. Was there a juried vote? More likely there wasn’t much thought put into it.
It’s not like it would make my heart sing to see a menorah there beside that giant tree. It wouldn’t, maybe because Hanukkah is not a major holiday in the Jewish Calendar.
Even my rabbi said so. It’s a minor holiday that got elevated (okay, rabbi didn’t say this next part) in order to compete with offer us something that at least tries to be fun at Christmas time, seeing as we get denied the sackfuls of jolly-given gifts and the decorative support of every mall in North America.
It’s a confusing time for me. While I do enjoy a good latke, and I think menorahs are cool, Christmas has always had an exotic allure. Growing up in the predominantly Jewish suburb of Thornhill, everything was reversed: Christmas was the odd holiday out with only about one house in twenty covered in lights. “Christmas” was something for the people in those houses, something extraneous.
But that was a Truman Show effect, and it wore off at about the same time that young Christians stopped believing in Santa Claus. By age 13, I was all wised up and wondering who tried to pass off these no-name brand December festivities for the recognizable fancy brand the rest of the world has. That’s probably when I started paying more attention to the friends who celebrated Christmas.
And man, did they ever celebrate Christmas.
How I marveled at the sweaters and make-up that emerged from their magical trees. (And oh, how I borrowed those sweaters, how I shared in the joy of that make-up!) I liked turkey, and family, and presents. Some part of me definitely wanted in.
Hanukkah is not Christmas. It’s the compensatory holiday that Jewish parents give to their children. And the truth is, yeah, sometimes it stings a bit to not be a part of that other intensely celebrated ritual that spans from Halloween to New Year’s. But whichever way I try to hide it – whether with a defensive plug for Hanukkah or an aloof shrug – the truth is that I’d like to find my name on a tag under your Christmas tree.
So next time you’re wondering why you have to say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas,” and why everyone is so against this wonderful time of year, think of it this way: Christmas is awesome, and it’s all for you. But for the people who didn't grow up with Santa or trees or festive holiday traditions, it’s a weird time that we flounder through, enjoying vicariously perhaps, compensating with other things, or ducking out and hoping it just goes away quickly. In short, some of us just don't get it –because we never had it.
I think it’s time for Christians to start seeing their most choice holiday as unique, deserving to be shared, and dare I say it – something that many could probably use some education on the ins and outs of (like, what’s the deal with fruitcake?).
For me and the 20-foot tree in my lobby, it’s really not about religious inclusivity – it’s more about individual inclusivity. Not in that condescending oh-mi-gosh you never had Christmas way, but in that hey, Christmas is amazeballs in my neck of the woods, and you really need to experience it.
In other words… invite a Jew/Muslim/Hindu/Sikh/Heathen over for some part of your Christmas.
I guarantee they will say yes. And we’ll all be better people for it.