Two days ago it was Christmas. I have struggled with my feelings on Christmas since I was a teenager. I think I finally understand why. It’s because Christmas to me just feels plain lonely.
I think this lonely feeling started because of a question I have been asked over and over since I was a kid. It was asked in all kinds of different ways, but it always felt like it came down to an either/or. “Do you celebrate Hanukkah or do you celebrate Christmas?” My struggle was with whatever it was that was deeply ingrained into the people who were asking me the question. But I was not raised in an EITHER/OR home. I am an AND because of the people who raised me.
My mother was raised in a traditional Christian home in Saratoga, Wyoming. My father was raised in a traditional Jewish home in Denver, Colorado. When my parents first met as freshman at Colorado State University, my father told her that he was a Jew. As I recall her saying it, it was her first exposure to a Jew in her life. After my parents got married my mother went through a rigorous conversion process and determined to raise me and my brother Jewish. That’s exactly what they did. We were educated at Temple Emanuel, the same reformed Jewish Denver synagogue my father’s family had been in membership for generations before.
My own religious education gave me a good solid foundation for my life. I grew up celebrating Jewish holidays at home with my family and Christmas and Easter with my Christian relatives in Wyoming. We lit the menorah each of the eight nights of Hanukkah and opened a gift and I tore open presents Christmas morning sitting on the floor around a lit up tree with my cousins. It was heavenly. I felt like I had the best of both worlds and that these people were all in my family. It didn’t seem to matter that we belonged to different religious houses of worship. It was about family. It was about love.
During my adolescence the holidays seemed to become complicated for my family. My Jewish grandfather died when I was only 14. And my Christian grandfather started losing his memory and was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s the next year. My Christian grandmother grew weak and eventually exhausted taking care of him by herself. It all seemed very sudden to me and in my mind these troubling circumstances disrupted our family life. My family still celebrated Hanukkah, but Christmas just became complicated and bittersweet for me. We no longer celebrated Christmas with our relatives in Wyoming. Reflecting back on it now, this was about the time I became aware that my Jewish grandmother asked my mom if her gifts for me and my brother would be Hanukkah gifts or Christmas gifts. I don’t know if she was honesty confused or passive aggressive because I never had the courage to ask her, but I do think she was an EITHER/OR kind of person. I think a lot of people are EITHER/OR.
I have always enjoyed the lights during the winter holidays. I loved lighting the menorah at home and I loved all of the houses decorated with lights in our neighborhood. It makes me feel joyful and bright. At some point in my childhood I became aware that hanging lights on your house if you were a Jew was not okay with some of the other Jews. This blew my mind. Why were these Jews anti-joy?
I remember the year I decided to hang holiday lights on our house when my kids were still little and I’ve never looked back. We had a huge 🌲 tree in front of our home and it was begging me to light it up. That was in 2008. Now my kids are growing older and I don’t possess great light hanging skills, but I still do it every year. TBH there have been Jews in my life who have felt uncomfortable with my lights. That’s not my problem.
From my perspective, the holidays are hard in some way for almost every adult I know. And for a lot of our kids. The holidays are challenging for me for sure. And we really need the joy.
So let there be light.
Happy everything and peace always,