Hanukkah is behind us and Christmas is rapidly approaching for my Christian friends and neighbors. The majority of people I encounter assume I celebrate Christmas and the ones who learn that I don’t simply can’t understand why not. I know this time of year must be entirely different for Jews who reside in Israel. With a Jewish majority observing Jewish holidays and not Christian or otherwise, it must feel different because Israeli society is influenced predominately by Israeli Jewish culture rather than Christian culture or society.
For me, the feelings and viewpoints I have about Christmas were formed way before I practiced Judaism. My family life was wracked with upheaval and moving around a lot, so the holidays just became an extra burden to get through. And, later on, the commercialism of Easter and Christmas further served to turn me away from the holidays for their religious terms and for the capitalism they are moved by.
To make a long story short, Christmas just really isn’t that big of a deal to me. I understand when someone wishes me Merry Christmas they are wishing me good things for the holiday season. But once in a while it is nice to be able to explain to a willing ear what the Jewish viewpoint is regarding the “holiday season” and my personal views on the matter.
The stories of people being trampled in stores during the kick-off of the holiday season do not impress me. It’s sad actually. But to me, the question is what do individuals of good conscience and families do to restore the true meaning of their holidays? While I’m not a Christian, I respect Christians who take their faith seriously, as I do all people who live according to their belief systems.
At my home synagogue in Iowa, many folks who came to Judaism by choice, like I did, have good memories of Christmas and respect their families’ continued practice of observing the holidays. In Iowa, where it snows in abundance, it is easier to get into the spirit of the holiday. One thing I liked about this time of year were the holiday lights. They were beautiful, and still are. As you recall, Jews just finished celebrating Hanukkah, the festival of lights. So the celebration of lights during this dark time of year, when sunset is earlier each day, is a good thing.
I wish you all a great holiday season. For those of you who celebrate Christmas - Merry Christmas to you.