I’m not what you would call a really religious Jew.
I don’t keep strictly kosher, yet my child goes to Hebrew School.
I won’t bring bacon into the house, yet I don’t have a problem eating pork ribs.
Yes, religion is full of contradictions, and one size definitely does not fit all. In fact, I would describe myself as a Jew defined more by ritual than by prayer.
So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that while I love to celebrate Chanukah, I also get a kick out of Christmas.
Ever since I was a kid, we participated in the most acceptable way a Jewish family could when it came to Christmas. Each year, we would shlep to the mall and have our pictures taken with Santa, walking happily away with our prized candy canes. We would “ooh and ahh” at Eaton’s holiday windows and drive around the neighbourhood marveling at the twinkling house lights. Naturally, I have continued many of these traditions with my husband and daughter. Although at 10, she now deems the Santa photo “uncool.”
In my house, we love Chanukah. There are games, chocolate gelt (coins) and a present for each day of the holiday. We light the menorah (candelabra) and play with our dreidels (spinning tops). Chanukah marks the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem after its destruction and commemorates the "miracle of the container of oil." According to the Talmud, there was only enough holy oil to fuel the eternal flame in the Temple for one day. Miraculously, the oil burned for eight days, which is why we light the same number of candles on the menorah.
As oil is a central theme to the story, Chanukah becomes a deep-fry fest – I am often stuffed with latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiot (super-powdery doughnuts with jam in the middle).
Yet, once I’ve carefully stored away the menorah for another year, I eagerly dig out my special Christmas stocking, the one with my name written in green sparkly script. Even my husband and daughter have their own stockings. And on December 24, we make the trek to the local variety store and buy all sorts of fun, little gifts for one another. On Christmas morning, we wake up, open our presents and watch the fireplace channel. Then do what most Jewish families do who aren’t in Florida – we go to a movie and eat Chinese food.
So what does this make me? The woman who wants it all? A religious turncoat? A Chrismakah convert?
None of the above. I’m just a realist. For me, the themes around Christmas can resonate with anyone: joy, happiness and sharing. People are generally in a better mood. They throw parties and wear ridiculous sweaters. Plus, it’s the best time of year to buy a cocktail dress.
In my own small way, I also hope my daughter takes away the serious lessons from our rituals: tolerance, awareness and acceptance. And if she wants a Christmas cookie after eating a latke, that’s fine by me.