Three Jews Walk Into A Christmas Party
12/21/2010 - 19:40

 While visions of “The Polar Express” danced in their heads, my children had their first Christmas tree-decorating experience this Sunday – just a few hours after Hebrew school.

We were at another family’s Christmas party; so ensconced in Jewish life am I these days that I hadn’t realized until we got to their apartment — Christmas songs playing on the stereo and a fragrant evergreen awaiting the children’s trimming — that this was, in fact, a Christmas party.

Not that it would have affected our decision to attend. My girls never turn down an opportunity to decorate, and they had a blast helping to drape the branches with tinsel, shiny balls and even a miniature Clifford The Big Red Dog. (I’ll leave you to ponder the paradox/oxymoron of a miniature giant dog.)

A few years ago, the sight of my offspring engaging in tree trimming might have made me squeamish, but this year, while we don’t (and won’t) have our own tree, I’m on a bit of a crusade, so to speak, against Christmasphobia. By which I mean the attitude many Jews (even some intermarried ones) have that Christmas and all its trappings must be avoided at all costs lest we assimilate into nothingness — and that we must be offended when clueless but well intentioned Christians wish us a merry Christmas or offer us gifts wrapped in red and green.

Like intermarriage itself, the presence or absence of a Christmas tree in one’s home is often used as a shorthand pulse check of Jewish identity — and both are rather flawed, simplistic measurement devices.

The fact is that many interfaith families, and in-married families with Christian relatives, do live full Jewish lives yet also partake in Christmas celebrations.
But don’t take my word for it. Instead, check out Andi Rosenthal’s beautiful “Tree of Life” essay on about yearning for Christmas trees, even after she converted to Judaism.

And the Velveteen Rabbi (aka rabbinical student Rachel Barenblat)’s thoughtful “Forest Beyond the Trees” post, in which she explores American Jews’ collective Christmas anxiety and points out that “Jewish identity shouldn’t be so fragile that a decorated evergreen can shake its foundations.”

For a more light-hearted take on Jews and Christmas trees, get thee to Slate, where Mark Oppenheimer and Jessica Grose debate “Should Jews Own Christmas Trees”? Both writers use the word “shiksa” a bit too freely for my liking, but one entertaining interfaith moment in the debate: Grose notes that she is “so keen on sharing my Jewishness with the goyim that I married one.”

Oh, and on the off chance that you’re still looking for something to do, feel free to read my 2007 column titled Oy Christmas Tree.

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Awesome! My ex-husband (my kids' father) is not Jewish, but my kids and I are. So despite all the tut-tutting from our rabbi, etc. I have always allowed them to do Christmas things with him and his family. And guess what? As much as my kids enjoy tree trimming and Jingle Bells, they are firm in the knowledge that it isn't their holiday. Shame on me if the Jewishness I impart to my children is so skimpy that a chorus of sleighbells can blow it away.
It is interesting how Christmas is a problem for Jews in America, yet many Hindus, Muslims, atheists, and other non-Christians eagerly partake in the secular traditions of the holiday (tree, gift-giving, decorating) without a second thought as to its meaning or worrying that their kids will chuck their own traditions or become Christian. I've always been curious as to why this is. Yesterday, my older daughter's math tutor, who is Jewish, commented on how his Hindu daughter-in-law's family celebrates Christmas. All my friends and my kids' friends who are Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist, all celebrate Christmas. They all see it as an American holiday, like Thanksgiving or Fourth of July. It really shouldn't be that big of a deal when you consider the news item that I heard on my way to work this morning: 60% of ALL Americans celebrate Christmas without considering its religious meaning. It seems Jews are the only ones thinking about the "reason for the season."

Do you light a menorah? If not, then you are a hypocrite. Just because you don't see Christmas as Christian doesn't give you the right to judge others. Your opinion is just that - an opinion. You are not the wise one for all of us non-believers to turn to.

My girls decorated their grandparents' tree last week and did such a good job my in-laws asked them to take over the job every year. My mom is much closer to our kids than they are, and I'm so happy for them to share this tradition together. The kids have no trouble distinguishing between their holidays and ours.