The holiday season is upon us! Goodbyes now include a cheerful, “happy holidays!” and my Starbucks cup wishes me a “Merry Coffee” every morning. I’m constantly talking to friends and coworkers about our upcoming holiday plans, and I come home every day eagerly looking for the trinkets I ordered online for gift exchanges.
This is maybe the first year that I’ve finally been able to enjoy the holiday season without a nagging feeling that I shouldn’t be taking part in it. Because even when we alter our language and call gift exchanges “Secret Snowflake,” or December 25th “a day off,” I know that, in effect, I’m celebrating Christmas.
Growing up in a Jewish community, I never considered Christmas anything other than a nuisance when I wanted to watch TV or listen to the radio in December. I was annoyed by the back-to-back “holiday specials,” which were really only ever about Christmas. True, a supporting character always had a line or two to explain that they celebrated Hanukkah or Kwanza, but they never had an entire episode to explore or celebrate it. I hated the endless loop of Christmas songs taking precedence over the Top 40 Hits. Together, it all just served to remind me that the majority of America was celebrating something that I didn’t fully understand or take part in.
So when in I got to college and had the opportunity to join my dorm’s Secret Santa and travel into Boston to see Faneuil Hall’s Christmas tree, I felt relieved to finally be included, but guilty to be participating at all. By senior year, my roommates and I had a tree of our own, and last year we spent a night in matching red-flannel pajamas watching Elf. Granted, I went a little too far to the Christmas side, and thought I would need to scale it back eventually, but it felt good to simply enjoy the media around Christmastime, and ignore the feeling that I was doing something wrong.
So when getting ready for this year’s holiday season, I reflected on what it means to enjoy the holiday season as a Jew, and I realized I’ve always participated in Christmas festivities in some way. Specifically, I came to the realization that I’ve always celebrated “Jewish Christmas” by going out for Chinese food and then to the movies on December 25th. Granted, this is not a traditional Christmas celebration, but it is a tradition none-the-less, and a tradition that I have always enjoyed with my family.
This is my first year out of college, so it’s the first one where I specifically have Christmas Day off, and not a generic “winter break.” Which is to say I’m happily taking December 25 off, along with the rest of the hospital, and eating Chinese food and going to the movies with my family. My mom told me it all started when back in the day, only Chinese food restaurants and movie theaters were open on Christmas. Somehow that has trickled down through the generations, until it became a steady tradition for many Jewish families to eat Chinese food and go to the movies.
I’m sure this sounds nuts for those that celebrate a traditional Christmas, but this isn’t just my family. I went to a Jewish day school, and back home I can guarantee running into former classmates at the movie theater or out to dinner at a Chinese restaurant. And even though these days there’s a plethora of activities we could do with our day off – bowling, shopping, axe throwing (if you’re a hip millennial) – rest assured that we will be going to the movies and eating Chinese food.
I’m okay with this happy in-between place where I acknowledge and have special traditions with my family for Christmas, but I don’t go the full extreme with getting a tree or hanging up stockings. And when I turn on the radio and hear Mariah Carey’s All I want for Christmas, or when my friends request that we go see Last Christmas at the movies, I don’t mind anymore. In a weird way, I recognize that I too have Christmas traditions, just in a very Jewish way, and all the media highlighting Christmas is fine. After all, engaging with media is how I celebrate Christmas too.
-edited by Kristelle Lavallee