Growing Up Jewish During Christmas


Photo courtesy of David Holifield via Unspash (a free photo sharing site)

Thanksgiving is over, and for a large majority of Americans that means it’s time to put up their Christmas trees. Now this isn’t to say I won’t be participating in festivities as well, but how does being Jewish affect me this season?

An estimated 1.8% of the US population is Jewish, meaning in every sense of the word, they’re a minority. My life has been surrounded by Judaism from a young age, to promote me passing on the faith when I’m older. I went to a Jewish preschool, went to religious school for years, attend services regularly, and became a Bat Mitzvah at thirteen. It’s always been a sort of odd-one-out situation, making sure not to ruin the magic for anyone else, as a kid I went to school with the same strict instructions every morning from my mom: “Don’t tell anyone about Santa Claus!” December might’ve been a time to celebrate Hanukkah, but it was also structured around maintaining Christmas for others. Despite the inconveniences and precautions, Christmas has always been enjoyable for me and my family. Part of this is likely due to the fact that my dad is actually Catholic-meaning we give and receive Christmas presents but that’s about it. Yet with Judaism still being my faith there was always a bit of exclusion. Stores were decked out with poinsettias, mistletoe, and ornaments, and if I was lucky there was an endcap at the back of the store with a few measly dreidels and menorahs. Sure it hurt younger me that my own holiday was always lost in the retail rush, but we moved on and accepted our house would have to make up for it with Christmas decorations. In elementary school, the most prominent moment of exclusion was always music class. I’ll gladly spare the details, but it’s safe to say my teacher had no regard for anything but her own holiday season. Chorus was reserved for Christmas carols, and anyone who noted the lack of diversity was waved away. I even recall explaining to my teacher I celebrated both Hanukkah and Christmas, and she simply responded “No you don’t.”

Even if I’ve been excluded from certain festivities, growing up Jewish at Christmas has never provided too much of an issue. Yes, I have been told I celebrate “Jewish Christmas” and I have had people ask me if Hanukkah was the most important Jewish holiday (it couldn’t be farther from it, Yom Kippur holds that title.) However, it’s always boiled down to being just fine. Enjoying both holidays gave me a bit of reprieve, and from a young age I’ve understood exactly why my own religious holiday was overlooked. Regardless of the lack of Hanukkah movies or TV episodes, my own traditions have been special and sparked joy. Others plugged in Christmas lights, some lit Hanukkah candles, and I’m lucky enough to celebrate both each year.