Christmas is everywhere.
As soon as Halloween is over, we begin to hear Christmas tunes in every shop, lights go up outside people’s houses, Christmas specials are already playing on TV. There is no avoiding Christmas.
But for those of us who celebrate different holidays this time of year, we often have to go out of our way to remember that we’re not, in fact, Christian and that we indeed have our own, rich culture.
My family is Jewish, but for my whole life we’ve celebrated both sets of holidays. Christmas and Hanukkah (Chrismukkah—thanks The O.C. ), Easter and Passover, Rosh Hashanah and New Year’s.
I love being able to celebrate it all. Jewish holidays especially (except for Yom Kippur) are fun, lively, involve a lot of delicious food, and, of course, boisterous Jewish friends who always end up singing rounds that get sloppier and louder with each glass of wine.
But this year, I didn’t celebrate Hanukkah. It wasn’t on purpose. Both my parents were away, and I don’t have many of my own Jewish friends in the city. And I was busy. I didn’t “have time” to buy a menorah and I was tired the first night to make it to a dinner party I was invited to.
How is it that I was able to go through a week of not experiencing Hanukkah at all, but Christmas is literally unavoidable? There is no way we don’t celebrate Christmas because the entire country is participating in it. The whole world stops on Christmas Eve. Stores shut down. People are locked inside spending time wrapped in blankets in front of a fireplace with their loved ones, enjoying warm apple cider and eggnog.
Or, are they?
I’m an Editor for Elephant Journal, and this is my first holiday season working here. I found out recently that, as a publication, we don’t shut down for the holidays. At first, I was surprised. You mean, we don’t get time off between Christmas and New Year’s?
This was a big change compared to my last job working at a big financial corporation where pretty much the whole of December was a ghost town and most people “worked” from home the week before Christmas.
I am not Christian, and yet, I felt like I should have this time off. Because the whole world does, right?
Not right. The whole world doesn’t celebrate Christmas. Much of North America does, much of Europe does, some of Asia does, some of South America does, but guess what? There is a big chunk of the world that doesn’t have anything to do with Christian holidays.
How is it that this one holiday has become so massive that we believe that time freezes and the world stops what it’s doing to celebrate and only think about these two days?
Christmas is commercialized. We know that. We know that it’s a billion-dollar industry and the reason that it’s so massive is because it has played into the idea that it will bring us love, belonging, and happiness.
But the reality for most people during this time is that it’s stressful and exhausting—we spend more money than we have on gifts for people who probably won’t even use them, we go into busy malls madly trying to find something for everyone, and then we’re stuck in a house for two days with family that we likely have a bunch of unresolved issues with, drinking away our annoyances at Aunt Sally who won’t stop mentioning how much food your cousin is eating.
I am disappointed I didn’t celebrate Hanukkah this year. I am disappointed because it’s so easy to fall into the Christmas trap and I don’t want to lose my own culture in this already predominantly Westernized society we live in.
To me, Hanukkah isn’t about gifts or money, and it sure doesn’t emphasize my own aloneness. In fact, it does the opposite. Hanukkah, to me, is a celebration of light. It’s a celebration of our heritage.
Hanukkah is about creating our own family out of the Jewish friends we have in the city. If someone doesn’t have a dinner to go to? Invite them. Bring their friends. We welcome anyone who needs a place to celebrate.
Hanukkah is about tradition. It’s about remembering our ancestors and where we came from and how we got to where we are today. It’s remembering that my people were forced so many times to forget who we were, that we have been murdered, tortured, enslaved, oppressed, and we have been almost eliminated from this world—but despite all of it, we have persisted.
I remember being a little kid, gathered around the menorah with my sisters and parents, singing a prayer as we lit a candle for each day.
I refuse to not celebrate my culture ever again. I will still celebrate Christmas this year, but I will not make it about material possessions—and my hope is that you won’t either.
My hope is that this world stops trying to prey on all of our insecurities and instead remembers that there is beauty in celebration—whatever it is that we are celebrating.
Maybe you, too, have a memory of being a child, waking up at six a.m. to go find out what Santa bought you, smelling the fresh pine needles, your dad’s morning coffee, or your grandma’s soft pajamas as you sit, eager, in her lap.
These are the memories we will remember. Not that $200 Game Boy (or whatever the kids are using these days) that you got one year when you were six and forgot about four months later.
I don’t want to forget my heritage and if that means making a little bit more effort to go out and buy a menorah while all I see around me are Christmas trees—well, I think I’m just about prepared to do that.
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