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Should Jews Celebrate You-Know-What?

Putting the ‘X’ in Xmas

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Basically, no.

Look, you want to sing some of the carols on your own time? OK; one time our class (private non-sectarian school) learned “Dona Nobis Pacem,” which is a beautiful song, and went around singing it door-to-door around the holiday season, and that was nice. If you’re at a Christian person’s party and there are Christmas accoutrements, be nice and ecumenical about it—you’re a guest! Drink the eggnog, suck the candy cane, have a slice of the ham (well, maybe not the ham, but you get the idea). If there’s mistletoe and there’s a special someone you want to kiss under it, go indulge yourselves, you crazy kids, you.

And Christmas movies? They’re great! (One of them is even Jewish in its own way.) Watch ‘em. And nobody is a bigger fan of celebrating Christmas as a Jew—that is, celebrating this day when you and the other Jews have things to do that are fundamentally different from the things your Christian friends have to do—than I. There is nothing more Jewish than grabbing Chinese food and a movie on Christmas. Pig out (well maybe not pig, but you know).

But as far as celebrating Christmas religiously, or singing carols on that day with your family, or even, yes, having a tree in the home, well—and I hate to condescend or feel like I can tell you what to do despite the fact that I don’t even know you—if you’re Jewish you really shouldn’t be doing it. It’s not because it conflicts with Hanukkah, which is indeed a minor holiday. (Want to be Jewish and not celebrate Hanukkah? Go nuts.) And it’s not OK just to do the minimal, seemingly nonreligious things (like the tree). Those things are just as important to avoid: They are symbols, and thus even purer expressions of how you convey yourself to yourself, your family, and the rest of the world. Christmas is a wonderful time of year because it reminds you of the blandishments of your identity, and indeed that identity is wildly flexible. But that flexibility and those blandishments depend on some limit, without which nobody has anything. That limit matters. And celebrating Christmas is beyond that limit.

Besides, really, you won’t hurt Christmas’ feelings. It has plenty of celebrants without you.

Actually, You Can’t Celebrate Hanukkah AND Christmas [Kveller]
Related: Jewish Christmas [Tablet Magazine]
No. 11: Miracle on 34th Street [Tablet Magazine]

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Well said!

Your first instincts were right. It’s none of your business how (us) other Jews choose to relate to December holidays.

I assume you’re writing to Jews who have no non-Jews in their families. For those of us who are intermarried, celebrating Christmas and, yes, even having a tree, can be the only solution that makes sense.

I’ve thought a lot about this topic. As a columnist for the local Jewish community newspaper, I tried to write about it. The column got axed as potentially “offensive.”

I’ve written about that decision, and linked to the original column, at

Barbara says:

My family celebrated Santa Claus and had a Christmas stocking; for years I thought Santa was a Hasidic guy with a better color sense…we always had Chanukah, & I knew what I was/am. I have no issue with the ‘American’ celebration which I translate into not being religious, at least not for me. My Hindu students, Shinto students, Bhuddist students all seem to celebrate without the dilemma; of course they don’t have our history…if you have a strong foundation & understanding of who you are celebrating will not diminish your own sense of self and community.

Tobias Engel says:

Might we remind ourselves that this is the invented birthday of the most famous Jew in history. Might we ask ourselves what wisdom we lost by excluding him from our history, and what rootedness his eventual followers lost by excluding his deep Jewishness from their faith? And perhaps we could go to Juicy and read about this book:

And celebrate the return of the light in our many different and related ways.

Christmas is just an example of the magical thinking of a large percentage of the population. It is also a consumer driven holiday and it is a great boon to the economy…so it serves a purpose.
I prefer to celebrate the winter solstice and the real magic that is our universe.

JCarpenter says:

Barbara and Tobias, thanks for the perspective; likewise, what’s not to “celebrate” if not (at it’s best) the origin of pagans embracing God, a morality based on the Ten Commandments, and a gospel of peace and love? Respect the best aspects of the faith and its holidays; respect the best aspects of its people. Mutual benefits, I’d hope.

MethanP says:

I fully agree. And I must confess to being a great tree decorator. Someone elses tree, of course.

Ron Goldberg says:

What about celebrating Saint Valentine’s Day or Halloween? Can’t one “celebrate” a day of peace and good will without believing that Jesus is our savior?

Jonathan says:

This piece is indicative of the worst historical impulse amongst Jews: Telling others Jews they are not good Jews, or not Jews at all, if they do X (no pun intended). This would include not strictly obeying Kashrut and the laws of the Sabbath. The logical end of that is we should all be ultra-Orthodox and live in a sheltered community. All the more ironic given that after the Maccabees triumphed, they became the Jewish Taliban — torturing and killing any fellow Jew they did not consider sufficiently devout.

for Zlota says:

My parents probably didn’t convey why we didn’t celebrate Christmas clearly. They told us, “We don’t celebrate Christmas because we’re Jewish.” I got all my info from TV and thought Christmas was a worldwide holiday where Santa brings presents to all the children in the world, except Jewish children.

We cried.

One night I remember we sat huddled in the living room in the dark and they slipped us some gifts in brown paper bags…

It was only when I saw the Charlie Brown Christmas special that I understood.

henry gottlieb says:

In the US, even in ny, Christmas is a national holiday, like valentines, and halloween. We are not very different, recognize that chanukah is a made up holiday to allow us to celebrate ‘NAYROT’, the solstice. So what’s bad about having a get together and getting a new pair of slippers or a tie. We need to learn to live with each other

George Samuels says:

No. Better that Christians celebrate Chanukah. They were Jews at the time we lit the light.

I feel strongly that for interfaith Jewish/Christian families, there are distinct psychological, emotional and educational benefits of celebrating both sets of holidays (for more on that, go to my blog at Nevertheless, I would never have the chutzpah to go around telling other people what they “should” do, religiously-speaking. Each pathway for interfaith families has specific benefits and specific challenges. Those of us born into a state of bothness do not fear that the world will fall apart when we cross traditional boundaries.

masortiman says:

1. just to point that celebrating hanukkah is NOT optional – minor it may be (no limits on work, no mandated foods, etc, etc) but lighting the candles IS a halachic requirement (and interestingly, one of the few positive time bound commandments equally binding on females, even to the Orthodox). Now of course there are lots of other things that are halachically required that most of us skip – that this halacha is so nearly univerally followed by even the least observant, so embraced the totality of klal israel, that should make it even more important to one embracing jewish identity.

2. WRT the intermarried – obviously their situation is different. OTOH, how does one assert the importance of choices affirming Jewish identity to someone who has already made a choice that is at least as inconsistent with that as having a tree? I think solving THAT problem is perhaps an unfair request. I think its pretty strongly true that the less emphasis the family puts on christmas, and the more it puts on the joy of ALL the jewish holidays (not just hanukkah, but esp succos with its foods and lights and decorations and tree branches) the more likely they are to embrace a Jewish identity. If that matters to you, and can be agreed to by the non Jewish spouse.

3. And once again, just because atheists of christian background celebrate it as a secular day, does not make it “good for us” We are a different civilization, not only a different faith.

As a gay Jew partnered with a gorgeous goyishe guy (see “The Way We Were”) who is Irish Catholic, I early on offered my apartment for his Xmas tree when he had to move back to his parents home while returning to college full-time. I, too, had always sneered at Jews who had Xmas trees, believing it was in (at least) bad taste to treat Xmas as some sort of secular love fest when what Christians were celebrating, as I understood it, was the birth of Christ. Jesus was decidedly NOT our Lord! But I felt it was a compromise and a small sacrifice to give up a corner of my studio apartment to my dear one’s earnest desire to have his own tree. We were together; we were each other’s family; we were interfaith and he had more than showed his respect for my religion by attending High Holy Day services at CBST (the NYC gay synagogue) without complaint and, ritualist that he is, with real interest and absolute respect. Indeed, in some sense, the Jewish High Holy Days brought us closer together. So, every year he gets his tree in my apartment, and an Xmas party for a wide mix of friends from all backgrounds (gay, straight, Jew, non-Jew). Moral to the story: be inclusive without giving up your own sense of religious identity. Where do I draw the line? Well, I do not allow a creche with the baby Jesus under the tree. That would be turning the tree, essentially a pagan symbol, into a decidedly Christian one. But I would never have the chutzpah to force my rules on somebody else. Marc Tracy’s tone, while ironic, is accompanied by turns of phrase that are decidedly prescriptive. Tsk, Tsk.

Vladimir says:

Christians should not eat bagles or watch Jerry Seinfeld on Christmas day…


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Should Jews Celebrate You-Know-What?

Putting the ‘X’ in Xmas

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