Jewish Journal


December 27, 2010

Christmas in a Jewish home


Before Christmas gets too stale, it’s worth mentioning an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times that reminds me of the few Jews I knew growing up who celebrated Christmas. They were typically gets who had one Jewish parent and one Christian parent, which is the same situation Dinah Lenney’s kids find themselves in.

Lenney, who is Jewish, had married a WASP and gave Christmas a try before they had kids. But then things changed:

when Eliza, our first child, was born, I put the kibosh on Christmas festivities. Commendable, I argued, for a Gentile to sit through a seder, but when a Jew takes on Christmas, she’s an imposter, a hypocrite. Never mind that Fred had valiantly donned a yarmulke more than once, that he’d been willing to learn the Sabbath blessings (though, if left to his own devices, he still veers off into “Red River Valley”). We are not celebrating Christmas, I said. I didn’t care that it wasn’t about religion for him, only peace on Earth, Santa Claus and the smell of pine — a whiff of his childhood — in his very own living room. In the end, Fred gave in.

And so that year, just weeks before my daughter’s first birthday, we sat around awkward and sad. Fred’s parents were dead. My own were on the other coast. Our little girl, impervious to her father’s melancholy and my misgivings, played by herself on the kitchen floor. Watching her there, I realized: She was entitled to Christmas. How dare I steal my husband’s past from him, her legacy from her? And just like that, I gave up the cause.

Christmas, though, is a slippery slope. Once you’ve surrendered, you can’t just hang a scrawny fir with costume jewelry. You need one of those trees that takes over the living room; you need ornaments to weigh it down. You need lights, stockings, jingle bells and candy canes. Before I knew it, I was making wreaths, decorating cookies, helping the kids write letters to Santa, leaving out milk and cookies, and a carrot for Rudolph.

The question I have: Is it better for kids to celebrate the different religions of their parents or for them to be raised in just one tradition?

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