It’s that time of year again, that holly jolly season of giving and flying reindeer and elves on shelves and overwhelming confusion. You may recall last year’s holiday debacle, when I told Amelia the truth about Santa and instantly turned her into the class liar and then Santa’s most ardent defender. This year might be no better.
It’s no secret that I love to decorate. We decorate for Halloween, Thanksgiving, the Fourth of July, birthdays, alternate Tuesdays, whatever. But December? Never. There’s an unspoken taboo about Jews decorating in December. My sister once asked my parents for a tree when we were kids, and we were promptly signed up for extra Jewish activities. But every year we helped our neighbors decorate their tree. We strung cranberries and popcorn and made ornaments and exchanged gifts and even ate Christmas dinner with them. We also drove all over the state (to be fair, we lived in Rhode Island so this wasn’t as ambitious as it sounds) to look at lights, we went to New York City to see the holiday windows, skate at Rockefeller Center and go to the Christmas show at Radio City Music Hall. Yup, the one with the Rockettes in Santa hats. There may have even been some photos with a shopping mall Santa.
So why no tree? Where is that invisible, slippery line thou shalt not cross?
I still don’t know, but now I have to find and define it for Amelia. She’s surrounded by Christmas. I’m writing this post while waiting in the community theatre lobby, where her theatre class is rehearsing a Christmas performance. She’ll be wearing red and green and from what I can gather she’s an elf. Do I make a big stink and ask them to change an annual tradition for the one Jewish kid in the class? Pull her out of an activity she loves? No, of course not. I’ll be in the audience smiling and clapping for my kid and hoping the script is more Santa than baby Jesus. Just like my parents did.
My parents also did a great job of helping us participate in the season in meaningful ways. We wrapped presents at the mall as a Hadassah fundraiser. We answered phones at the police department on Christmas Eve. We served Christmas dinner at a homeless shelter. Delivered food for Meals on Wheels. And one memorable year I played Mrs. Claus on my father’s radio show, fielding questions about Santa’s big night. It was fun, and kept us involved in the traditions that surround the season. Why not participate in something festive, joyful, helpful and non-religious?
We live in a neighborhood full of beautiful holiday lights, and we detour to see a few favorites almost every day in December. Slowing down and appreciating the twinkling decorations together makes us all happy. And this year it hit me:
Hannukah is the Festival of Lights, so why must our house be dark?
I thought about it for a few days. We love lights, and there is nothing intrinsically religious about them. I’ve always assumed that if we decorated the outside of our house it would confuse our neighbors. That lights would feed the misconception that Hannukah is the “Jewish Christmas” and that the two are equivalent. I’m not sure how I took on the burden of religious education for others, but there it is. And it doesn’t make any real sense.
I asked my husband what he thought about a few lights outside, blue and white of course. His eyes lit up. Like every Jewish kid everywhere, he’s wanted to do this his whole life.
So the next day I approached the holiday lights at the craft store like a teenage boy buying a dirty magazine. I looked around furtively, hoping nobody would see me, and grabbed the first boxes of blue and white lights I saw.
And that’s all. I did not buy into the disturbing commercialization of Hannukah with inflatable dreidels or mensches on benches or anything else. We hung our lights on the porch, where they illuminate paper snowflakes Amelia and I made. It was her idea to make eight snowflakes, to represent the eight nights of Hannukah. We’re going for wintery and festive. Jeff looked out the window and grinned.
And then I added a Happy Hannukah sign, just to make sure nobody gets confused.
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