My partner was raised Jewish and I was raised Catholic. However, our household is now Jewish and prior to adopting Reagan, we committed to raising our daughter Jewish. This will be Reagans first holiday season and my partner’s friend (who is Jewish) came over the other day to find our house decked out with Christmas décor everywhere. Truly it looked like Santa Claus decided to vomit all over the walls of the house. Amongst the red and green flashing lights, in a dark corner of the dining room, one tiny menorah sits…admittedly next to a large Santa Clause…that lights up…and blinks obnoxiously as a matter-of-fact. She laughed when she saw this and I was a bit embarrassed. However, it’s impossible to deck the halls for Chanukah the way you do for Christmas. I’m not speaking of the walls of the house…but the walls of your spirit. Christmas touches you in a different way than Chanukah does.
Being part of the great Jewish people, and practicing Judaism, has truly made life more meaningful – on a very personal level. Through its beliefs, practices and traditions, Judaism addresses what it means to be a human being – the anguish of suffering, the mystery of love, the power of human connection, the importance of family, the meaning and purpose of our lives are all addressed through Jewish thought, prayer and rituals and the vast literature that has been passed down through the ages.
Furthermore, Jewish answers about tough questions (life and death, good and evil and other major issues) are never simplistic and ready-made, but rather more shaded and complex, attempting to give us the tools to grapple with these profound questions within our own hearts and minds. It is profoundly wonderful to be able to ask questions. I want our daughter to be able to ask questions and not be told something is a certain way. I do not wish for her to think that everything is simply black and white. This was the main reason why we are raising her Jewish.
Indeed, Judaism is truly a beautiful religion and I am proud to be raising our daughter Jewish. I look forward to spinning a Dreidel with her, to assist her in preparing her for her Bat Mitzvah, to enrich her with the traditions and customs of the Jewish way. I am sure that some of the people at our synagogue, maybe even amongst our own family and friends, would not exactly appreciate the fact that our Jewish home is decorated for Christmas. However, there is something that Chanukah is missing that Christmas has…
Taking the religious aspect aside, my childhood was enriched with the holiday season. It was filled with snow, boxes, bows, wrapping paper, music, lights, the smell of firewood, Christmas cookies, family, food, and PURE tradition. You can taste it, smell it, hear it, and feel it. Every sense was enriched with the Christmas spirit. You waited for that feeling all year long. It is a very specific feeling that only touches you once a year. Not only that, but Santa Clause was a tremendous part of that spirit-especially when you’re a little kid. The anticipation of Santa’s arrival; making out your list for him and mailing it to the North Pole. Putting his cookies and milk out Christmas Eve. The sleepless night of being petrified to open your eyes in fear that he would know that you weren’t sleeping. That utter joy and excitement a child feels on Christmas morning when you would go downstairs to find a pile of gifts just for you. There is nothing in the world like it.
Why would I deny my child that? Why would we, as parents, deprive ourselves out of the magic that we can give our child? Moreover, why would I toss aside my own tradition and not be given the opportunity to instill that wonderment in my child? Thankfully, mixing the two traditions has never been an issue. The agreement had always been in place-Religion was always Jewish. As long as the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus remains for our children. (OK…I am lying a little…they remain for me as well). With that, come the necessary decorations to welcome them.
In our house, Christmas is a season. A time of giving to those who are less fortunate, a time to show our appreciation, family gatherings, a time to bake the cookies that are baked only once a year, a time to prepare for Santa’s arrival…and yes…the time to light the candles on our menorah. Since this is technically my first true Chanukah, I will of course embrace it as I do every other holiday. I simply need more time to build up the items in my plastic containers of Chanukah décor to decorate the house with.
In the meantime, we are a family who spins the Chanukah dreidel while we wait for Santa’s arrival. How lucky is my daughter that she gets to marvel in all that richness for the rest of her life?