So, I grew up super Jewish. Well, not super Jewish by New York standards, but compared to most of the Jews I’ve met since I’ve been in the midwest, my family was VERY conservative. When I was a kid, December 25th meant only one thing, Mom’s birthday. Christmas didn’t have anything to do with it. My interaction with Santa Claus was relegated to seeing him at the end of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and on the rooftop of a house in an nearby neighborhood. I felt absolutely zero connection to the fat man in the big red suit. My husband still can’t quite believe that Christmas wasn’t part of my consciousness, but then, I haven’t brought him to Great Neck yet.
Dan and I met in the month of November and Christmas was fast upon us. He LOVES Christmas. He loves shopping and he loves people so buying gifts to make people happy around the holidays is a win-win for him. There’s no Christ in his Christmas which made it easier for me to accept on the one hand, and difficult to appreciate on the other. The anti-consumerist is me has a very hard time with all the conspicuous consumption that goes seems to count for Christmas, or as we refer it in our house, StuffMas. What was the meaning of all this stuff if it wasn’t tied to a big birthday party for Jesus?
When I decided to spend my life with Dan, it meant making room for Christmas. This didn’t come easily for me. I am often the only Jew in the room, which I am fine with, but this makes me feel like I should be more Jewish, that I should actively work against assimilation. The first year I lived with Dan and had to share my living room with a (dying) tree for the month of December, I felt like I was in some parallel universe. I was sure my grandparents were mourning for me, wherever they were spending the afterlife.
But I was determined. If I was going to live through Christmas, I was going to have to find a way to embrace it. Like Charlie Brown, I was looking for a meaning to the holiday. And though I didn’t realize it at the time, I did just what Lucy Van Pelt advised Charlie Brown to do to find that meaning. “You need involvement. You need to get involved in some real Christmas project,” she prescribed. While I didn’t learn about Christmas at Hebrew School, I did learn about making traditions. Through my love of cooking and crafting, I made peace with Christmas. This time of year my desk is covered in felt, jingle bells, googly eyes, and thread in the process of becoming ornaments.
Over the past few years I have spent a lot of time educating others about Judaism. This happens when you are part of a minority culture. I don’t intend to give that up any time soon, but, I hadn’t really thought about how much I could learn from to be opening myself up to experiencing aspects of the the dominant culture that I had missed growing up. In order to be a culturally responsive teacher, I need to have an understanding of my students and their experiences. Most of them celebrate Christmas at this time of year so while I am happy to share Chanukah traditions with them, I also need to be able to appreciate what they are experiencing.
Culturally responsive teaching is a buzz phrase in education at the moment, so it seemed obvious to connect this to my relationship with Christmas. But, I also realized I need to prepare myself to be a culturally responsive parent. When I started to orchestrate ornament and cookie making sessions with my stepkids, we were able to share experiences that would not have been open to me had I stayed holed up in my own culture. And now that Cora is on the scene, a 50/50 mix of me a Dan, I have to accept that part of her is genetically predetermined to Christmas. I’m still not sure how I feel about indoctrinating her into the Santa story, but I’ll be there for her with construction paper and cookie cutters.