It may not be an actual yom tov but considering that many kosher butchers rank Christmas as their second busiest time of the year (eclipsed only by Rosh Hashanah), for many of us it’s obviously not far off it. That’s according to the butchers in my local stomping ground of Temple Fortune, but I imagine that statistic may not hold true in Stamford Hill or Broughton Park. There is of course huge diversity within our Jewish community in terms of how we “keep” Christmas.
What seems like a bit of harmless tinsel in a tree for some, may feel like full-on Avodah Zarah to others. If you need to Google that, don’t worry, you’re in the tinsel category. The point is that the way we Jews celebrate or ignore Christmas can be at wildly different ends of the scale. There are those who go full-on tree and crackers; those who may buy the crackers but feel the need inform everyone (and themselves) that “it’s just a bit of fun” before pulling them; and those who would never dream of buying crackers in the first place.
So, what kind of Christmas Jew are you?
The non-celebrating celebrator
You’re OK with a little nod to the festive season. In fact, a few crackers on the table bring you immense joy. But a tree and baubles? That’s a step too far. Unless of course a few little baubles end up hanging on a plant you already own. That’s still within the realms of a bit of fun without the level of effort that might tip you into officially “keeping” Christmas.
And, most importantly, no one could ever mistake it for an actual Christmas tree least of all Nana or Saba, olav ha-sholom, who “look down on you” at all family simchas with immense pride but would no doubt also “look down on you” if you put a Christmas tree in your hallway. Just without any of the pride. You may have switched your playlist from Omer Adam to Mariah Carey and East 17 in mid-December, but Christmas carols don’t trot off the tongue quite so easily. It must be said, and in fact it has been said several hundred times this month, that you do “love a bit of Christmas”. This helps you frame Christmas as more of a seasonal trend, like Corduroy, for example, as opposed to an actual Christian festival. On the day itself, there may well be a Christmas lunch and it will likely involve a turkey (kosher, of course) but it won’t be a full-on family affair.
Instead, your guests will be an equally half-hearted Christmas crew, who are also “not celebrating” Christmas other than having Christmas lunch with turkey, and perhaps some stuffing. And probably some mulled wine. And let’s not forget the mince pies.
A step too far: presents. Your kids will have to make do with whatever shmonzer they find inside their cracker.
The Christmas frummer
You find Christmas utterly irresistible. We live in multicultural Britain, so why not celebrate the sparkliest cultural moment of the year to the max? You ordered your turkey in November, booked your Ocado slot in July and the tree has been up since the December 1. And there’s no mistaking it’s a Christmas tree — even though it may have a Magen David at the top. The only thing that makes your fully festive house less Christmassy is all the Jews it ends up attracting – those friends who would never have a Christmas tree, and may even have been a little judgey about yours, but who do apparently “love a bit of Christmas”. Just not too much of it in their own home. And of course there are Christmas presents, too. Of all the things to deny oneself on this the most special of days, presents ought not be one of them.
A step too far: midnight mass. Apparently it’s davening-only in church. Chatting (and also, incidentally, pelting people with sweets) likely to be met with strong disapproval.
The festive rejectionist
You basically make Christmas dinner every Friday night and Shabbat lunch, plus four times over Rosh Hashannah, eight times over Succot, eight times over Pesach and then another four times at Shavuot, so adding another Shabbat to the yom tov meal calendar? No thank you very much. You do quite like a roasted chestnut though, and you may even admire some Christmas lights here and there – but that’s where your festive spirit ends. Within your own four walls, there’s not a trace of it. G-d forbid! And anyway, you’ve only just packed away your succah decorations. There’s no decking the halls with boughs of holly or fake grapes and fairy lights until at least next Succot. In fact, the only thing special in your house over Christmas, is the bumper Bake Off episode you plan on watching and the only turkey on the menu will be frozen schnitzel. And anyway, who would ever want to eat roast turkey when Hashem gave us chickens?
A step too far: Calling Christmas ‘Christmas’… to you, it’ll just be Monday, 25 December.
Whatever your Yuletide minhag, whether it’s sitting in front of a Christmas special or feeding 50 for a special turkey lunch with all the trimmings, enjoy your festivities. Wishing you all much strength and hope for a better 2024.