Tuesday, December 25, 2012
So this is Christmas...
I think I first realized my family didn't celebrate Christmas when we moved into our house in Marlboro, NJ, when I was about 4-1/2 years old. I remember our house didn't have a fireplace, so I asked my parents how Santa would be able to get down the chimney and give us our gifts. They explained that because we were Jewish, Santa wouldn't visit us anyway, and I'm guessing they must have explained Hanukkah. I figure that the prospect of getting a present every night for eight nights must have been more-than-suitable balm for a nearly five-year-old.
The story of Hanukkah, of the miracle following the destruction of the Holy Temple, when although there was only enough oil to keep the menorah lit for one day, it stayed lit for eight days, was an amazing one. I always enjoyed the ritual of lighting the menorah, spinning the dreidel, and singing Hanukkah songs. But how can a child not wonder what Christmas was like when Santa Claus, Christmas songs, and holiday decorations are such a ubiquitous part of our culture?
In high school chamber choir, I loved when it was time to roll out the Christmas songs, particularly the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's Messiah. (I'd like to still believe, with a little warming up, my old tenor voice could hit those high notes.) And as I grew older, I had the opportunity to experience many Christmas rituals, such as attending Christmas services at Washington's National Cathedral one year, decorating a tree, even going caroling. (All while maintaining the Jewish tradition of going to the movies and eating Chinese food on Christmas.)
I'm fascinated by the constant struggle in our society between celebrating Christmas and being politically correct. While I certainly don't think there's a "war on Christmas," I do think there's room to see both sides of the discussion.
When someone wishes me a Merry Christmas, I'm not offended. To me, it doesn't mean that they think their religion is somehow superior, that everyone should celebrate Christmas. I've always taken it that they want to share the joy of the holidays, and even if I don't celebrate Christmas, I take their wishes into the celebration of Hanukkah. But I respect those for whom hearing "Merry Christmas" when they celebrate Hanukkah or Kwanzaa or another holiday undermines their own religious identity.
Regardless of how you spent todaycelebrating Christmas with family and friends, watching movies and eating Chinese, spending time in spiritual reflection, or acting as if it was just another dayI wish you happy holidays, today and every day.