I grew up in a Conservative Jewish home. There was no Christmas, and I was fine with that. I can remember only one or two of my friends having a tree and I had no real concept of the cornucopia of gifts they received early Christmas morning. As far as I was concerned, all that was special about December 25th was that it was my mom’s birthday. A day that all the streets in New York were eerily quite.
As my family has morphed and changed, Christmas has become part of my winter routine. (I wrote about my own coming to terms with this last year.) While I would be perfectly happy without it, I have come to embrace the parts that make sense to me – cooking and crafting with the kids, retelling old family stories, and enjoying extra time with my husband at home.
Perhaps because we celebrate both holidays, we never pit one against the other. The Chanukah I grew up with was not about competing with Christmas traditions, it was about celebrating our own. It’s ironic to me how many Jews celebrate a “Christmasy Chanukah” complete with so-called Chanukah bushes. Such an idea runs in complete contradiction to what the holiday is about–maintaining commitment to Jewish ideals when those ideals are challenged by others.
So, I was a bit disappointed when looking for a project to bring to Cora’s hippie hebrew school as part of our Chanukah celebration. So many of the ideas I found, some of which were very beautiful and well-crafted, look like Christmas projects in disguise. I am trying to give some of these ideas a chance. Afterall, if we want to make something festive with our kids, why not decorate the house? We put our menorahs in the window so others can see them; a sign of our freedom to practice our religion, out in the open. Perhaps garland and ornaments can contribute to that cause, but I can’t fight my longing for holiday projects that are distinctively Jewish. Your recommendations most welcome!