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.