Let’s spread the seasonal cheer

By Jo Hyams, December 14, 2012
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'Tis the season, again. It might seem like only five minutes have gone by since last December, but here we are once more, with Slade on the radio crooning about how they wish it could be Christmas every day, snowy scenes in every advert (even though they were filmed in July) and Brent Cross packed with desperate present-buyers and shops full of sequined clothing. To quote Coca Cola, the holidays are coming.

Christmas might not be our festival, but many of us still benefit from the public holiday, eating mince pies and exchanging yet more gifts. As Jews, we tend to find any excuse to get together for a day of food and family. Although we have usually just spent eight days gorging on doughnuts and exchanging presents for Chanucah, many of us can't help but get caught up in the seasonal goodwill. Yet how do we reconcile this with our own religious identity?

In past centuries, our ancestors arrived on the glorious shores of the UK with little more than the clothes they were standing in. They were given the opportunity to prosper in business, were able to find homes, build communities and practise their religion in peace - and all this in a Christian country. Surely we should say thank you to the country that has welcomed us? Isn't gratitude an important part of Judaism?

We don't have to celebrate Christmas but, by choosing to live in a Christian country, we surely do have a responsibility to support those who do. Of course, not all Christians are able to celebrate their big holiday in the way that we celebrate ours. It could be because they are working in hospitals or in the emergency services, or maybe they have found themselves in difficult circumstances, ill in hospital or living on the streets.

For Jews, being alone at Yomtov is a travesty

For Jews, someone being alone over Yomtov is a travesty. If they cannot join our table, the hope is that a neurotic Jewish mother somewhere will be sending over a food parcel. If we do this for our own community, surely we can extend this kindness to those who are unable to celebrate Christmas?

When, as in the past few weeks, there are difficult times for Jews in Israel and around the world, we see Jews stand united, tall and proud. For the most part, we don't lower ourselves to burning flags or setting up Facebook groups calling for the obliteration of other groups. Judaism is based on being kind to others and setting a good example for our own people as well as the rest of the world. As it says in Isaiah: "And unto your light, nations shall walk, and kings unto the brightness of your rising."

One way to rise to the challenge and set an example is by supporting our non-Jewish countrymen during the holidays. Christmas may not be a spiritual day for us, but it is a wonderful opportunity for us to show that we are a people who stand for kindness, community, gratitude and love.

For the sixth consecutive year, Tikun, where I work, is running the "Light up a Life" volunteering campaign. It is an amazing way to show a little kindness to Jews and non-Jews at this time of year. Whether serving food to the homeless, making a thank-you card for the emergency services, taking chocolates to a hospital or donating toiletries to destitute asylum seekers, it is a way to share in the festive season and make a huge difference in the wider community.

By the time Christmas comes, we may well have gorged on enough doughnuts and latkes to last a year. But who wouldn't want an excuse to eat more, spend time with family and friends and show a little care to those less fortunate than ourselves.

To volunteer go to www.tikun.co.uk/lightupalife

Last updated: 10:45am, December 14 2012