My Jewish Kids Aren’t ‘Missing Out’ Because We Don’t Celebrate Christmas

My family had a fabulous Hanukkah this year. We had lots of friends over to celebrate, and my kids enjoyed gifts. But, there was one thing about the Festival of Lights that wasn’t so festive this holiday season: constantly hearing that my kids must feel deprived because our family doesn’t celebrate Christmas.

Most recently, it happened while I was purchasing gifts at a local toy store. I requested Hanukkah wrapping paper and as the salesgirl wrapped my purchases, she told me that she always felt so sorry for the Jewish kids at her high school. “It just always seemed like they got robbed,” she explained. “I mean Christmas is amazing. Your kids must feel so jealous of the kid with Christmas.”


“Actually, they feel lucky,” I told her.

The girl looked at me, totally stunned, as if it had never occurred to her that we wouldn’t have Christmas envy.

I walked away annoyed by the girl’s comments — it’s both patronizing and annoying to assume that someone who doesn’t have Christmas is someone to be pitied — but the truth is that she’s not the first to say my kids are deprived without Christmas.

Just the other day, a checker at the grocery store wished us a Merry Christmas. My daughter politely responded, “We don’t celebrate Christmas. We celebrate Hanukkah.”  The checker’s response: “How sad not to have Christmas,” as if my child had just announced the most tragic news possible.

Equally annoying, a friend called the other day to invite my family over for Christmas Eve. Sure, it was nice of her to invite us to her home, but her reasoning didn’t sit well with me. “It just seems so unfair that your kids don’t have Christmas,” she said. She went on to ask why I don’t give my kids Christmas for the fun of it, despite our religious views. When I reminded her that Christmas is actually the celebration of Jesus’ birth she said, “Sure, but it’s so much fun. Your kids are missing out.”

What I would love to tell these people, as well as anyone who thinks like them, is this: This may surprise you, but us Jews are not gazing into your mistletoe-lined windows longing to be invited in.

I grew up in an observant Jewish house. We celebrated Hanukkah and every other Jewish holiday. There was no Christmas tree, or Hanukkah bush (ie. a Christmas tree rip off with no religious significance to Hanukkah). And there were no red and green trinkets to make up for the blue and white ones that were coming our way. To our family, you were born into a religion, its culture and traditions. To us, you didn’t pick and choose the parts of a religion you like. There was no “upgrading” to Christmas because you thought it was cooler than Hanukkah. That’s not how I was raised and it’s not how I’m raising my kids.

But, we don’t celebrate Hanukkah because we’re rigid Jews who live by the letter of the law. We celebrate Hanukkah because it’s part of our culture and history. The holiday celebrates a miracle and an important moment of triumph for Jews. The presents are secondary to the celebration of our history.

For me, being Jewish is about family, friends, and a connection to something greater than myself. My religion is a part of me and it’s a part of who my children are and how they’ll see themselves in the world. So when you pity a Jewish child for not having Christmas cookies and a tree in the living room, you are missing the point of what this holiday season is all about. And you are missing the fact that most Jews feel lucky to be Jewish, even though Santa doesn’t come to our house.

So the next time you want to ask a Jewish mom and dad if their children feel like they’ve picked the short stick because they don’t get Christmas, think again. It’ll save me the trouble of asking your children why they only get to celebrate for one night.

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