It happens every year. In December, my children and I feel like nasty party-poopers. It’s not pleasant to rain on other people’s parades, and we honestly don’t mean to. We simply can’t help being Jewish at the wrong time of year.
“Have you been good so Santa will come?” well-wishers ask my children as the festive season approaches. “What do you hope Father Christmas will bring you?”
My daughter still remembers the woman who said that she was sure Santa would be generous because she “looked like a very nice, Christian little girl.” It’s enough to make me wish I could repeat what my then toddler niece used to say when asked. “We’re not Christmas,” she’d state firmly.
I know people mean well. They are simply enjoying a time of year when people are nice to each other. Everyone is smiley and happy at Christmas time — but they become less cheerful when you reveal you’re not part of the Christmas club.
Still, I’m always surprised how others seem to take it as a personal insult when we answer, (reluctantly — we’re not Grinches), that we aren’t doing anything “special” for Christmas. It’s like an awkward conversation; you know you’ve said the wrong thing, but are not sure how to rescue the situation.
We don’t not celebrate Christmas to upset people. After all, it’s for a positive reason — we have Chanucah instead. Unfortunately, I haven’t found this small truth works particularly well. Rather ironically, Christmas is not really seen as a time to discuss religion.
Festive revellers seem genuinely put out. They worry for my “poor” children, who won’t ever get the chance to believe in flying reindeer or a fat man in a suit who comes down a chimney and gorges on mince pies.
I don’t tell them we have Elijah, who pops in for a glass of wine each April instead, not to mention eight days of Chanucah, rather than one big, stressful day on December 25.
I get the sense that some people think I am being a cruel parent. Although they are well aware that I am Jewish, colleagues and even friends expect me to put this on hold as the big day approaches. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been asked “don’t you even have a tree?” — as if a piece of greenery wouldn’t really matter (except that it’s a symbol of a festival we don’t celebrate).
I really enjoy Chanucah, singing the songs and lighting the Chanuciah. Chanucah makes me proud that we, as Jews, are still here, and I love sharing it with my children.
I know many Jewish families do mark the birth of the man Christians think of as the “Son of God”. There are also many interfaith families who come up with their own solutions. People should be able to celebrate as they see fit, and I know that many people talk about Christmas as a cultural rather than religious time. Mind you, the first part of the word suggests, at least to me, that the cultural argument is not entirely accurate.
Last year, at my work (The Times), I poured out my heart and explained my dilemma. I suggested writing a piece to show that we British-Jews-who-don’t-celebrate-Christmas are still proud to be British, and don’t mean to be difficult. No one wanted it — it was just too negative. Instead, they ran a feature about how to pretend that Santa had visited your house (eat a bit of a mince pie, leave an empty tumbler of whisky and some half-eaten carrots, if you’re interested).
It seems I am stuck with my predicament, and so are the children. Still, come December 25, we won’t be basting a turkey or stressing about roast potatoes. Instead, we’ll be off to Golders Green, hoping to get a table for a Christmas-free lunch. Happy Holidays!