Merry Christmas from your favorite Jew

As the climate gets a little colder, and the rosey noses and puffer parkas emerge, there’s one thought that floods the minds of more people than just Buddy the Elf –– Christmas is coming! Oh, and Hanukkah, too.

Annika Morris | Graphic Artist

I was raised by two Jewish parents. Every holiday season, we gather around a menorah and say the Hanukkah prayers as the candles flicker before us.

Don’t get me wrong, these are some of my fondest memories — our extended family holiday dinners, the game of white elephant that truly has no winner — but it’s very different from Christmas. 

It’s much more understated and holistically more intimate, hence why I love the holiday so much. But if we are being completely realistic, the holiday season isn’t centered around Jewish tradition — it’s centered around Christmas. 

And that’s just fine with me, because I love Christmas. 

It’s a holiday of cheer and rejoice and, amidst a plethora of chaos, the whole world lights up for a month. Everything is doused in red and green, and everywhere smells of fresh evergreen trees. Holiday menus are sacred and long-awaited, and everyone is just happier. Christmas lights shield the darkness of daily burdens more than my menorah ever could. 

Perhaps Hanukkah would assume this bright role had my family given in to the idea of a Hanukkah bush –– a concept created by ABC’s The Goldbergs, and a show any Jewish family has seen and resonated with. But alas, our miracle of light remains much dimmer in the shadow of the vastness of Christmas. 

Christmas traditions have brought about their own Jewish tradition counterparts, and it’s in part for these Jewish traditions which makes me love the Christmas season even more.

Everyone knows that Jewish people flock to their favorite Chinese restaurant on Christmas –– I’m not sure I’d be a true member of my Jewish community if I hadn’t done that at least once in my life. But what not everyone knows is that this is a long-standing tradition. 

The tradition dates back to 1899, when the American Hebrew journal criticized Jews for eating at a non-kosher restaurant when they needed somewhere to dine on Christmas day, according to an interview between NPR’s Robert Siegel and Rabbi Joshua Plaut. 

Plaut said something in the interview which spoke to my personal internal conflict during the holiday season: I feel almost guilty about my love for Christmas, as if it’s some sort of betrayal of my own culture.  

Plaut grew up with eyes as wide as mine for the holiday of Christmas –– he was the son of a prominent community Rabbi who would spend every Christmas as a child on Santa’s lap. He asked his mother why she’d willingly take him to partake in this tradition, and she responded: “Why not? All Americans did it, and you were as comfortable in your Jewish identity. So why not enjoy the holiday season?”

Internalizing Plaut’s mother’s words, I can understand and recognize my own faith in my Jewish identity while still partaking in the practices of another culture.  

The food, the festivals and the Christmas fun is something I look forward to year-round, just as any other Christmas-fanatic would. Christmas-themed parties and everywhere decked in ornaments tend to top the year’s events. 

Even at home, my favorite time of year has always been when Kenny’s Christmas Trees set up shop outside of our local grocery store. 

This year, my do-good Mensch on a Bench will sit pretty alongside an Elf on the Shelf as I celebrate the holiday season, no matter if it’s meant for me.

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One Comment

  1. Amanda, you captivated my interest from start to finish. The references to Buddy the Elf, The Goldbergs, and Chinese restaurants at Christmas brought back memories of my younger days (as well as a few tears).
    Your faith is apparent, your writings of family and traditions are a breath of fresh air in today’s world.
    This article is very well written! I will be sharing with my family and friends. I hope to read more from you in the future.