Dear Christian Parents,
I am reaching out to you as a Jewish mother begging, pleading you to make Christmas more Christ like. I know I am asking for a lot. I realize you toil all year to be able to treat your family to a huge Christmas. I know your kids love to ride the “Polar Express” and get candy canes and drink hot chocolate. I just think a little more Christ in the mix couldn’t hurt.
Christmas has become less about the teachings of Jesus and more about embracing a consumer culture, which has gotten wildly out of hand. People literally trample others to be the first to get some toy their kid will forget about two weeks later. Unfortunately, in an effort to keep up with the Christmas craze, my fellow Jews are no longer about remembering the triumphs and miracles that are the true reasons for celebrating Chanukah, and instead are focused on outdoing our Christian brethren. Chanukah was never meant to be “Christmas lite,” yet here we are still trying to catch up.
There is this notion that secularizing Christmas makes children of other faiths, or those who don’t practice any religion, feel more included. And, while it is true lots of people embrace the non-religious elements of Christmas, who put up trees, exchange gifts and enjoy a visit from the jolly fat man, this is not my family. I see the disappointment on my son’s face when I deny him the opportunity to meet Santa, and despite us having eight full days of Chanukah, our gifts will never be quite as awesome. It is exhausting trying to keep up only to always end up second fiddle.
Take the “Elf on the Shelf.” As if we Jews didn't have enough to compete with, along comes this stroke of marketing genius. Sure it is a bit creepy to say this doll is watching your kids, but the clever scenarios you come up with are hilarious. Still, it is another reminder of how much more fun Christmas is than Chanukah. The Chanukah equivalent, “Mensch on the Bench,” just comes off as trying too hard. More Jesus less Elf, please. Maybe they can market the “Savior in the Manger?” I don't know.
Then there's the music. I won't speak for my people, but I have no problem listening to religious Christmas music. The melodies are beautiful and the lyrics are meaningful. Yet, because these songs are too much about Jesus and less about making you buy stuff, the malls aren’t exactly blasting them through the speakers, which is too bad. I'll take “Silent Night,” “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” and “Come All Ye Faithful” over “Jingle Bell Rock” on repeat any day.
If you want those who do not celebrate Christmas to feel more included, don’t tone down the religious element of your holiday, instead make an effort to learn more about other cultures. Celebrations like Diwali and Eid-Al-Adha, are rarely studied in the classroom or acknowledged in our communities. There is beauty in all of these holidays that are unique and worth honoring.
Please don’t worry about me being offended by your insistence on saying “Merry Christmas.” I may not believe in your Savior, but I can appreciate your love for Jesus and his teachings so long as you are promoting kindness and acceptance. I see how focusing on Christ leads to folks lining up to help at soup kitchens and purchasing gifts for those kids who truly need them.
When Jesus is the reason for the season, I know the focus becomes more about caring for others and less about consumerism. I'd much rather my kids be jealous of the time your kids spent at the Church kitchen than of the fact they got 30 presents from grandma alone. Not to mention, helping others, being kind and making the world a better place are as much Jewish values as they are Christian. We even have a phrase for it, tikun olam, meaning to “heal the world.”
A Christmas about healing the world, about treating others with respect and about heeding the words of Jesus, is a Christmas I can truly appreciate.
This Jewish Mom