Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The "Holiday Season" Is Upon Us

This time of the year is like walking on eggshells for many conversion candidates and converts in the Christian world. And even the supportive families can become a little crazy now, even if in their overenthusiasm.

Christmas is coming, whether you like it or not. [Full disclosure: I don't like Xmas at all.] And this year, Christmas coincides with Chanukah. So in good news, I don't have to be annoyed at the "Oh yeah, happy Chanukah!" wishes two weeks after Chanukah ends. That's something, right?

There are many ways to handle this time of the year, but this is what I do. (Assuming I am visiting my family. If I'm not, Xmas is just another day. But I might get some awesome presents in the mail!)

Children seem to respond well to the analogy of family Christmas celebrations being like someone else's birthday party. You can to go to the party, help them celebrate, bring gifts for them, and you get really awesome party favors (gifts).

In a way, that's how I approach it. I don't join my family at church, but I can eat my kosher dinner while they eat their Xmas dinner. I get Chanukah presents from my family, but I also get Xmas presents. (I suspect they split their intended gifts in half, but I've never asked.) Very thoughtfully, they avoid using obviously-Xmas wrapping paper for my gifts. I also avoid Xmas-y wrapping paper on the gifts I wrap for my family. 

Really, I feel like a spectator who occasionally interacts with the celebrations. However, my family of birth never took Xmas very seriously, but my Xmas-loving stepfamily entered my life when I was already the old age of 19. They take Christmas very seriously, and the Norman Rockwell experience is alien to me. In many ways, I think this makes it easier for me to take a back seat role in the house this time of year. I can lurk in the background without upsetting old family traditions because there aren't any traditions that involve me.

The key, in my opinion, is to set clear ground rules. Know what you are comfortable with, and don't compromise. If something makes you uncomfortable, be clear about it...without being a jerk. Be patient, explain clearly, and listen to whatever the reaction is. Acknowledge it respectfully, then move on. 

So what's your plan? 

Whatever you decide to do (if anything), now is the time to decide. Don't wait until December 20th to decide whether you will spend time with your Christmas-celebrating family members and what the "ground rules" for that time will be.

For more "holiday" reading, I suggest what I wrote last year: Chanukah: That Time of Year When Everyone Knows Something About Judaism.


  1. We spend the two days with my husband's family since they are less religious and we can spend the night with his parents. It will not creep them out when I light my menorah, they are fully aware of all my food issues and try to cater to them and they don't believe I'm going to burn in hell forever. At least his parents and sister don't...his grandparents might.

    We don't do presents, Christmas carols or anything of the sort. If there weren't a tree in the living room you wouldn't even know it's Christmas. My mother's family is more religious so we give them Thanksgiving and New Year's Eve. My dad's, we play it by ear. They aren't religious either except my dad who just discovered Christianity after he left my mother for his mistress.

    This has been working for us so far and is our plan for the next 20 years.

  2. Fantastic post Skylar. We do pretty much what you do... though I confess I have always adored Christmas. I'm a fairytale type and though we never ever had a single fairy tale Christmas in my entire childhood, it was one time when nobody fought and everyone got along. So it seals a magical memory in from my not so magical upbringing. And to be quite honest if I could find some sort of loophole in which I could sneak in Christmas into Judaism without compromising the basic tenets of either, I totally would. I LOVED Christmas and I always get teared eyed around this time. It was the single hardest thing for me to leave behind.

    I send out holiday cards. I buy presents for my extended family... I just keep the "christmas" look at bay as much as possible. Cards and paper which had winter themes is usually what I go for.

  3. I'm attempting to make my own Chanukah cards this year. I am annoyed by the complete lack of anything Jewish related at art and craft stores even near the Jewish community. Anyway, that's off topic. I considered sending Christmas cards to Christian family but I'm afraid they will get the wrong idea. Maybe in a few years.

  4. One of the weirdest/saddest conversations I had was when I told a coworker I would be working on Christmas (it just seems right and I know of lot of Jews who deliberately cover those shifts). Her response was that it was a shame I would miss Christmas with the family. I told her I was Jewish and didn't celebrate Christmas. "But that's when Jesus was born." "Well, I'm Jewish and don't believe in the divinity of Jesus."
    Her reply: "Oh, so you're an atheist!"

  5. Sometimes I am happy to have no family... ;-) otherwise I am just plain happy to spend (part of) coming chanukka in Eretz Yisroel :-)).

  6. I thought Jewish don't celebrate Christmas, I am Catholic.

    1. Originally posted: December 11, 2011 at 5:10 AM

      Belgie: Jews don't celebrate Christmas. However, in America, it's everywhere. If you're actually Belgian, you should have a good idea what that looks like. I lived in northern France, and during Christmas, the stores and streets are decorated for Christmas. The advertisements have Christmas themes. There is Christmas music playing in stores and other public places. The Christians and secular Americans who celebrate Christmas are very happy for the holiday season, so they want to share that excitement with other religious groups, but it's not a very good comparison to the other religious holidays this time of year.

      Further, many converts celebrated Christmas before becoming Jewish, and they often have difficulty "leaving" Christmas because of the warm memories. And families have an equally difficult time with converts excusing themselves from Christmas celebrations. It can be a very tense subject in some families, as it may be seen as a rejection of the family and its traditions. They also don't always see the religious aspects of Christmas. For instance, my very secular family was so familiar with Christmas carols that they never really thought about the fact that they often include lyrics that say "Jesus is lord." The carols are so familiar that they don't really think about the words until it's pointed out to them. Since Jews don't believe that Jesus is lord, we can't sing them. But that's just one example of the difficulty converts or people with non-Jewish/non-religious families encounter around Christmastime. It's a tense time.