March 28, 2020

Do you miss Christmas?

“Do you miss Christmas?”  There is a widely held belief among born Jews that converts mourn over the loss of Christmas.  We miss the love; the Hallmark finery and the family get togethers. 

I will be honest.  I don’t miss it.  I like the glitter and lights, but I don’t dwell on the loss of the traditions.  I have adopted my own.  I am sure that somewhere are the families, with perfect Van Trapp voices and beautifully decorated homes to match.  My family was much more simple.  Every time my mom tried to bring in more decorations, my dad would always stop her.  Christmas was not about decorations.

The last interaction I had with my own family was over Christmas.  When mom found out that I converted, she still insisted that I buy a Christmas tree.  I refused.  She knew I would not buy one, and I knew she was too cheap to buy a tree.  I won.  

She finally understood. That stand changed our relationship.  I had joined the Jewish people.  In her deep wisdom, she told me that the founder of Christianity probably celebrated Chanukah not Christmas.  This was difficult for her, but to her eternal credit, she sent a Chanukah card next year.  When I had kids, she sent gifts wrapped in Stars of David and menorahs.  Some things you can’t change though.  Her box always arrived just before Christmas.  She never checked the calendar.  One of my kids wanted to enlighten her.  I told him the proper response was, “Thank you, Grandma.” He had no idea how lucky he was.

Many of my friends are not so lucky.  Their families have never forgiven them for abandoning the “faith.”  They may not have been church going, or remotely religious, but they became traitors to their family for not keeping Christmas.  One of my friends received a dollhouse for her daughter.  It had little Christmas trees with working lights.  Subtlety is not her mother’s strong point.  Others are expected to attend family dinners and celebrations.  Many do so just to keep the peace. 

It was not my mom that brought Christmas into our home.  That honor went to my three-year-old daughter, Emma.  Although our children attend Jewish schools, Emma was speech delayed, and we put her in a public program.  From Thanksgiving to Christmas, she worked on art projects.  She brought home reindeer, elves, pinecones decorated with glitter and tree ornaments. One day, she brought home a picture of Santa. It was a work of art that would have made DiVinci’s mom kvell.  She was most proud of his beard.  It was lovingly covered in cotton balls.  We proudly taped it to the fridge along with the menorah’s and rebbe pictures her brother’s brought home from Yeshiva. 

When her brother came home from school, he stopped dead in front of the fridge.  He stared and stared.  Finally he asked me, “Imma, what Rav is that?” I replied, “That is the Meshiguna Rebbe, dear.” He was satisfied with that, and went on his way.

This does not mean that Jews, even born Jews are entirely removed from Christmas. A friend of mine gave me a crystal dish for a housewarming gift one year.  It was adorned with a lovely combination of poinsettia’s and bells.  She had no idea what the meaning was, and I didn’t tell her.  My Rabbi’s wife received a china platter with holly berries on it from his mother, the rebbitzen.  She laughed as she loaded the platter with kishke and pastrami.  No one said a word as it was passed around the Shabbos table.

This time of year is often called the “December dilemma.”  My kids are Jews.  They have no other identity. They pay no attention to the lights or decorations.   In our home, we light a lot of menorahs.  Mine is covered in ballet slippers. We make enough latkes to feed an army.  The gifts we give are simple and inexpensive. 

However, “The Dilemma” hit me this year.  On Sunday our son left for his first trip to Israel.  It is a trip specifically for people with Asperger’s syndrome.  Rabbi Elyse lit a menorah at Newark airport.  The group sang songs I never grew up with and am not familiar.  I can’t sing along with the others.  As a convert, this is my December Dilemma.  I realize Chanukah is not fully mine.  Like Disraeli, I feel like I am on that blank page between two worlds.  One day, I want to move beyond Judaism being my “adopted” religion.  I want it to be me mine.

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