by Stefanie Wilder-Taylor
The other day a couple of my “mom” friends came over to my house with their kids for a mass play date and they were a little shocked at my Christmas display. Our tree was pimped out with tons of sparkly ornaments, there were snowman and Santa sugar cookies in the oven for the kids to decorate and of course there was a big jingly bed wreath on the door to greet them. “So, clearly you’re celebrating Christmas,” said one of my friends, slightly puzzled cause, oh yeah, I’m sort of Jewish. I’m a Jew who celebrates Christmas. I’m totally into it, from the Christmas carols to the spirit of the holiday, I’m down. I may possibly be wearing a Santa hat as I write this column.
I’m certain that this is a little a tiny bit puzzling to my Jewish friends and I understand why.
I really am one of the worst Jews I know. I’m barely Jewish at all besides my rabid love of bagels, lox and cream cheese and Woody Allen but, of course, if anyone were to disparage Jews in front of me I’m kick ‘em in the blintzes because you don’t mess with my people! It’s hypocritical I realize.
So why if I’m Jewish, have I gone so far the other way? I think it has a lot to do with the way I was raised. My mother proudly called herself an atheist and there was never much mention of being Jewish or of Hanukkah or any other Jewish holiday. From the earliest I remember, my family celebrated Christmas. We got presents on December 25th and stuffed our faces with chocolate Santas. The only difference was we weren’t allowed to have a tree because that was “too religious.” Looking back I realize that “too religious” really meant, too much work. Seriously, what the hell is religious about a tree? The point is, as far as I was concerned, I was not Jewish or Christian or any religion at all, I just celebrated Christmas.
And then suddenly, when I was ten, my mother woke up one day (at least it seemed that way to me) and decided she was Jewish after all. It was like Moses threw a torah and it hit her in the head. “We are Jewish,” she said sternly. “That doesn’t mean we believe in God, but culturally we are Jewish and so we are going to celebrate Hanukkah now.” It felt like some sort of holiday whiplash to go from Christmas to Hanukkah. We went from counting down all month for Christmas morning, reading “The Night Before Christmas” on Christmas eve just before hanging our stockings with care to sitting through the story of Hanukkah (which involved Judas, some Maccabees, possibly the desecration of a temple) and lighting a menorah. I resented the hell out it.
With no meaning given to either holiday, I eventually lost interest in both until I moved out to Los Angeles when I was eighteen with my closest friend and realized that I could do whatever I want. And that was the year I took Christmas back. We celebrated a tree, with eggnog, with friends who were like family and it was the best holiday I can remember. It was Christmas with heart. I guess I’ve just always wanted to repeat that. There were many years when I didn’t have a boyfriend or family around me and I didn’t celebrate anything at all but when I met my husband, I knew which holiday we would honor.
My husband, Jon, is not a Jew, he’s Episcopalian but he seriously knows more about Judaism than I do. His best friend growing up was Jewish, he’s been to a bajillion Bar Mitzvahs. Despite having to attend Hebrew school after my mother’s discovery about herself, I started too late and learned to little to have had a Bat Mitzvah. But Jon would have been fine with doing a little Christmukkah if that’s what I wanted. But I guess I don’t. Call it laziness, call it not being in touch with my roots, call it whatever you want but I celebrates Christmas and I’m really okay with it.
I’m a spiritual person. I believe in God (a God of my understanding) and I believe that whatever you celebrate, if it brings you together as a family, puts you in the spirit of giving and makes you happy that’s what’s important. That being said, I won’t be putting any nativity scenes on my front lawn, because after all, I am a Jew.