Movies and Chinese food. That’s what Christmas means to me.
Just kidding. (Sorta.)
Jewish kids—even the adults, because deep down, especially around Christmas time, we’re still that little Jewish kid inside—can have a hard time with Christmas.
On the morning of December 2, a child excitedly approached my kids at the bus stop and asked, “Do you have a chocolate calendar, too?! We do! It’s so awesome!” What’s a Jewish parent to do in this situation?
To give context to the answer for how I handle that situation, I’ll share some background. Years before I met my non-Jewish bashert (soul mate), Luis, I discovered that Christmas wasn’t just a day for Christians—it’s a day for everyone who wants to enjoy togetherness and being with the people who matter most to them.
Perhaps I have the B’nai B’rith Youth Organization (BBYO) to thank for some of that. In high school, Christmas meant that I would enjoy the BBYO Northern Region East annual convention in Ocean City, Maryland. All of my closest friends and I, along with new friends from Baltimore and Northern Virginia, would get to spend an entire weekend at the beach—but not on the beach, mind you. (Oy, the potential liability!)
Each year around Christmastime, I regale whomever will listen with tales of coloring my hair blue with Manic Panic with my friend Jessie in our hotel-room bathroom, dealing with the teen drama around the convention dance and the last-night-of-convention movies (no blankets were allowed in that darkened room of teenagers, go figure).
While Christmas stirs up different emotions for everyone—even saying the word itself bothers many a Jew—we can each choose to celebrate it for what it is: a season of giving and a day of togetherness.
Back to that Advent calendar. Instead of focusing on a piece of chocolate a day—which isn’t an option in our house anyway because chocolate is a “sometimes treat,” not an “everyday food”—I see this as an opportunity to talk about doing a mitzvah each day. This is something that Jewish and Jewish interfaith families can formalize into an Advent-style calendar that promotes Jewish ideals of chesed (compassion), tzedakah (charity) and mitzvot (good deeds).
I am notorious among family and friends for vehemently insisting on the giving of kind words and deeds or passing down to my kids a beloved book or old toy, instead of buying them the “hot new toy” or unessential material items.
But there is a reason for what many see as madness. Aside from carrying on with the fine tradition of the giving of socks and underpants at Chanukah, the lesson I want to teach my children around Christmastime and year round is that givers receive.
Regardless of how you’ve commemorated Christmas—or not—in the past, make this December 25 a day of togetherness and a time for (PG) “Netflix and chill”—with a side of chicken (or tofu) with cashews.