Christmas and Chanukah — I get the best of both worlds

Student blogger Asha Sumroy tells us about her family's particularly inclusive take on the holiday season

December 12, 2017 17:16

I started writing this on my phone as I walked through a deserted early-morning Durham on my way to teach a lesson on Chanukah for children at Darlington synagogue.

The frost this morning is enough to make me excited for Christmas and every time I eat in the college I can't help but sit right next to the huge Christmas tree because it smells like home. With just a week, and a few essays, left before term ends I'm almost as excited as when I woke up and ate a whole advent calendar on the 29th November just because it was snowing.

Every year the time comes around where I'm confronted with this, maybe amusing, definitely amazing, reality of my religious identity.

Even though I was brought up Jewish, my parents' mixed-faith marriage means that Christianity has also always played a huge part in my life. It's hard to describe how my family 'does' this time of year. It's become the norm to go to church on Christmas Eve, come home and light the Chanukah candles, before leaving out mince pies and carrots on the mantelpiece for Father Christmas.

In lots of ways, I probably observe Christmas more 'religiously' than lots of Brits - opening my stocking before going to church again on Christmas Day and then coming back to Christmas dinner and more present opening.

I think it's fair to say that each family has their own special Christmas traditions, but kosher meat after Mass is arguably very niche. And for me, for many years, this was as much a given as going to synagogue on Yom Kippur.

But it's actually grown to be literally, the most wonderful time of the year. Part of this is undoubtedly being with family and the undeniable warming of Britain's hearts as the 25th draws nearer. But actually, there's something so much more important, and symbolic, about Christmas for me.

My parents gave me complete choice over whether I wanted to have a batmitzvah or not. To be offered at such a young age to essentially choose your religion is extremely empowering and, sadly, rare. And, actually, I was really close to leaving it all behind - I really struggled with the idea of God and hadn't really felt a connection to a Jewish community.

Over the year leading up to my 13th birthday, youth movement RSY Netzer became this community and helped me decide that this battle with religious ideas was the whole point for me. So I chose to be Jewish, and I believe that being able to make this choice for myself was one of the most important gifts my parents have ever given me.

This intentionality, this choice and the idea of struggling with and challenging religion is why I love going to church so much at Christmas. To connect to something bigger than oneself isn't exclusive to Judaism and to be able to do that in a setting which is so important to the Irish-Catholic side of my heritage is more than important to me.

And when the congregation go to receive communion and my dad, my sister and I stay seated in the pews I feel proud and I feel Jewish - and nothing makes me happier than to see my mum engaging with that something-bigger in the way she intentionally chooses to.

I know a lot of people would have a lot to say about this reality. But for me, it's empowering and it is an embodiment not only of two beautiful family histories, but of the pure intention that should be at the core of all religious beliefs.

Asha Sumroy is in her first year at Durham University, where she is studying Sociology. She is a member of Maidenhead Reform Synagogue. She is one of the JC's 2017 team of student bloggers: 

Read the next entry

December 12, 2017 17:16

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive