A Jewish Mom’s Guide to Christmas – Part 1


Yes, I feel the need to write this in October. Halloween is still days away; it an entire month until Thanksgiving. And yet my mailbox has been filled with catalogues sparkling with Christmas cheer.

The cover of the latest (now coming weekly?) Pottery Barn catalogue welcomes me to the holidays. Good to know that “the most magical of seasons is here” – and that it includes 46 pages of blankets, dishes, pillows and trinkets all in shades of red and green. (Was blue somehow left off the pantone chart this year?).

And Ballard DesignBirchLaneBoden and GrandinRoad and all of your look-alike-catalogue-cousins that fill my mailbox each day – Hello?? – look at your calendars. It is October.

“Cashmere for Christmas” – that would be no.

“Believe” – I do, just not in what you do.

“Have a Fresh and Festive Holiday Season” – not exactly.

“Hope you have a White Christmas” – bet you didn’t know a Jewish man wrote the song “White Christmas”, did you?

So now I sound grumpy. But I’m not really. (nor am I the least bit grinchy.) Hey, I like Christmas. I like the cheerful spirit of the season, I like the sentiments of peace and joy and I even like Christmas songs.

(and I know the words to all of them. You could not help but learn them if you went to public school during the 1960’s. If you were standing next to me in the choir onstage at Fairfield Woods Junior High, yes, that was me who was silently mouthing some of the more religious-themed words during our rendition of “Come All Ye Faithful”.  I may know all the words but that doesn’t mean I have to sing all of them.)

Today in writing class I mentioned this early Xmas onslaught to my classmates. The ones who celebrate the holiday reassured me that they too are aggravated by the way-too-early barrage of the commercialization of Christmas. I tried to explain to them that it wasn’t just the Christmas music playing well before we get to celebrate Thanksgiving that bothered me, it was that feeling of otherness.

If you do not celebrate Christmas, whether you are Jewish or Muslim or Atheist or whatever your belief of choice, you feel at this time of year that everyone belongs to one big fat happy club to which you are not a member. And you will never be.

I accept that 100%. And it is fine to have that “I’m not part of the group” feeling for a few weeks before December 25th.

But when Christmas creeps into October (October!), I have to take a stand. I don’t look forward to a full eight weeks of that outsider thing.

When my kids were little we were an interfaith family. My husband was not raised Jewish and although we decided together before we were married that our family would be a Jewish one, Dad included; he did not formally convert to Judaism until our kids were eight and five. Our kids went to Sunday and Hebrew school at our synagogue, we celebrated all of the Jewish holidays, but they still got mixed messages.

Driving by a house one night in December lit up with beautiful holiday nights, my then four-year old commented on how pretty they were and his oh-so-wise seven-year old sister scolded him  – “You can’t like those. They are Christmas lights. We are Jewish.”

No”, I told my kids. “That’s not right. We can enjoy the holiday lights. It is fine to appreciate how other people celebrate Christmas even if it isn’t our holiday. I happen to like the lights, look how nice that house looks on the corner.”

But my kids were not easily convinced. Especially when my then sister-in-law on my husband’s side of the family “thoughtfully” gave my kids Christmas-themed gifts each year – even though she (sophisticated and well-educated) knew that our kids were Jewish. One year they received books titled  ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas with a handwritten note from their aunt hoping they’d have a happy Christmas morning (they didn’t). Another year she gave both of them matching red and green striped pajamas with little elves and santas on them, again with a note wishing them many gifts on Christmas morning (didn’t happen).

In fact, when my kids were little and caught up in the weeks before Christmas that permeated each school day, I realized that Christmas could be interpreted – one way to look at it, wait a minute hear me out – as a burden.

When I was volunteering at a holiday fair at one of my kid’s schools in early December one year, I shared a table sorting books with a few other moms who were complaining loudly to each other about how behind they were on their Christmas cards, how many decorations they had to arrange, how overwhelmed they were by all the holiday baking they had to do. I felt a bit smug, I must say. I had no card-sending, decorating or baking obligations.

Being Jewish frees up lots of time for you in December.  Many extra hours not spent decking the halls with boughs of holly can be spent doing anything you want!

But then the catalogues come, barraging my mail box, and I start to feel excluded and oh – did I mention that it is only October?

So I am already bracing myself for a l-o-n-g season of wishing others well, hoping they have a wonderful holiday that we will not be part of.  And so long as you know it is not my holiday, that is o.k. I am happy to wish you a Merry Christmas and never cringe if you wish me one right back.

But can we please wait until at least after Thanksgiving to start with the festive season thing?

And by the way, if you are reading this in October, Happy Halloween!



Filed under Family, Holidays, Moms, Parenting, Raising Kids, Women, Writing

18 responses to “A Jewish Mom’s Guide to Christmas – Part 1

  1. jmurphy530

    As someone who does not celebrate Xmas either, my family has developed our own traditions around that time of year, a slow time for business and school. For us, late December is still family time….because time is more available, esp. the dead week between 12/25 and 1/1. Oh, and by the way, I can’t get enough of the music, decorating, parties, and pageantry. Just because the origins are not “mine” does not mean that it can’t be a thrilling time of year. I even have a red blazer just for that time of year and wear it without hesitation or religious intent!


  2. When with my ex-husband, we celebrated Hanukkah. I will never forget my daughter coming home from first grade sobbing that the teacher told them they must all learn a Christmas poem. I didn’t have access at the time and couldn’t find one locally back then. What’s a mom to do? I wrote her one. It was simple, but she loved it so much that she had it memorised that night and proudly marched back to school with Tovah’s Hanukkah Poem. Mom went with just in case there were any problems.


  3. I toss those catalogues right into the recycle bin without opening them. Enough already.


  4. Susan

    this is awesome! as a jewish girl growing up in a predominantly Christian neighborhood in the early 60’s my mom did something that i look back on as brilliant. when we were little ( of the still beleiveing in Santa ages) my mom used to give us candy canes on Christmas morning, because we were still good kids, and Santa didnt want to leave us out even tho we didnt clelebrate Christmas. Great idea for little likds who dont understand what Santa has to do with jesus’ birthday, and had heard all about Santa brining gifts to the kids on the NICE list. 🙂


  5. I agree with you that October is a bit early to be having to hear about Christmas….a bit too much if you ask me. But no one asked me…LOL. I’m Jewish and Orthodox and I am used to feeling different than others, which I suppose we are….but proud of who I am….. I do enjoy the music in the stores and the decorations and lights all around during the Holiday season, but I focus on the Hannukah festivities and our songs….I enjoyed your post for its honesty and humor…


  6. I love Christmas and I celebrate Christmas. I just would like Christmas to leave me alone until the day after Thanksgiving, please. This year, our local warehouse club type stores put out the Christmas decorations, lights, and artificial trees for our holiday-purchasing pleasure on the very day the children here started the new school year–August 25th. Christmas in summer should only be in the southern hemisphere, not Southern California. I’m tired of the Christmas season by fall!


  7. Jules

    I do celebrate Christmas and I was appalled to see the first Christmas stock in our local stores in late September! No one enjoys all the festive trimmings more than I – I bake, I hand make card and decorations, I buy and creatively wrap gifts. In December. The first of the month I strip out decor from our house including pictures and replace them with Christmas themed items and, of course, trees. The music in the house becomes Christmas tunes and no one leaves without eating and carrying cookies, cake and candy. But I am affronted by the ghastly exploitation of this holiday. I suspect many people who are, if only by default, Christmas celebrators, feel as left out as you. Those who do not have family, money or a Pottery Barn catalogue-worthy home. We have taken the most humble of births and turned it into a tawdry, tacky display of fake emotions and commercialism. You are right about it being a burden for many. Perhaps there is something to be savoured in the Jewish holidays not being so commercialised? I suspect it’s only a matter of time ….


  8. My husband is not Jewish either (well, he is by blood, but that’s a long story). We raised our kids Jewish, and we celebrated Christmas with my husband’s family – but there was never any religion involved in those celebrations. Fortunately they were never confused – they knew in their bones that they are Jewish.

    I enjoy everything festive about the holiday season, but I agree it’s too soon to start in October.

    I do wish Hanukkah had more pretty songs 🙂


    • Thanks, Sharon, I can only imagine that your husband’s family has an interesting story. And yes, I agree with you regarding Chanukah songs, I just don’t think it was ever considered a big enough holiday to merit its own wide range of music!


  9. I think you were very kind to not kill your sister-in-law. And also very wise to enjoy the Christmas lights…they are beautiful. We would do well to enjoy and respect each others holidays and traditions. What if everyone knew the reason Hannukah is celebrated? What if everyone understood the feeling people have about Jesus? What if we enjoyed each other so much that we celebrated with them….hypothetically speaking?


  10. We celebrate Christmas, but more in a non-religious way nowadays– and I do love that everyone is so happy during this time of year. But, like you, I think it is totally ridiculous that they are pushing this season to go even longer, because it’s all about money and how much the stores can guilt people into buying. If I see Christmas stuff out before Thanksgiving, or commercials, I mentally tick that place off my list of places where I will consider buying not only Christmas gifts, but ANYTHING!


  11. Since I am in the retail business and we just had a meeting this morning where it was agreed that we will start after Veteran’s day (God help us) promoting gifts and there are only 3 full shopping weeks after Thanksgiving I understand the push at Halloween. In retail it is all about Christmas sales.


  12. Ah, yes, I know this feeling well. I always wished we could have a Xmas tree and always relished any time we had plans for Xmas or Xmas Eve – anything to be included in this wonderful time of year. For the past several years, I’ve been on a personal mission to make Hanukkah as festive as Xmas – decorating my house with blue and silver. It still isn’t quite the same…if only my husband would let me have a Hanukkah bush!


  13. I honestly never thought about it like this and I can only imagine how tired you get hearing about Christmas. The fact that it starts in October really is getting on my last nerve as well. I love Thanksgiving, it’s my favorite holiday. Nothing but family and great food and now the malls are all going to be open and every store with their “early” black Friday sales. I feel as if it’s slowly going away just because it isn’t a shopping holiday. That’s wrong and something every American ought to be taking just one WHOLE day for. It makes me sad when saying Thankyou for our many blessings gets interrupted by a sale at Macy’s.


  14. What Adam Sandler’s song(s) aren’t enough?

    I love Christmas music–the non religious songs. I love everything about Christmas but somehow don’t have the nerve to put up a Hanukkah bush though I think about it every year—but the ghosts of parents : ) And they were so not religious–Woody Allen Jews.

    I think Christmas starting so early gets on everyone’s nerves.

    We have Christmas stores that are open all year and are big tourist attractions. So I guess I’m wrong about Christmas timing getting on all nerves.

    I love Thanksgiving and hope that more stores begin closing. And have always thought being Jewish worth it because Passover is such a great holiday and every year we get to talk about how “they tried to kill us. We won. Let’s eat.”



  15. Love your conclusion! I wrote a post complaining about the onslaught of hanukkah decor last year (a whole aisle in target). I mean, why can’t they just let Hanukkah be the dinky holiday it is. Who needs the extra work coming off of all the high holidays (decorating the sukkah, etc). Give me my menorah and handful of gelt and let my hanukkah be. Actually, my piece was called “Let My Hanukkah Go.” Cute, right? Was for Kveller. I also let my kids enjoy the Christmas, etc. I enjoy them, too! I agree that it would be more complicated with non-Jewish relatives sending gifts, etc.

    And yeah, no matter your religion October is ridiculous.


  16. I am also always happy in January when we have no tree or decorations to worry about taking down and storing, etc. See– that’s a WIN. 😉


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