"We're Jewish, and we don't have Christmas trees."
Which was a pretty funny stance to take, given that we celebrated Christmas - in a manner of speaking - until I was about eight years old. By Christmas, though, I don't mean the religious holiday.
Christmas is actually several holidays jammed together on the same date - but for convenience's sake, labeled as Christmas. For Christian believers, Christmas is a solemn religious celebration of the birth of their Lord. But there are many who celebrate the day who are not believers - they are celebrating the holiday that I would label - the Celebration of Give-a-Lot-of-Gifts-and-Light-Up- the-Tree. Of course, for many, the two holidays are combined. Santa can move between the camps - designated as St. Nickolas for the religious - or just Santa Claus for those more secularly inclined.
For my people, the Jewish people who refuse to celebrate either the solemn religious holiday or the secular Celebration, there is the annual Feast of Chinese Food and a Movie - when - as tradition holds - we romp through empty city streets, enjoying the lack of traffic and the silence.
As a side note: I've never been religious, at least not in any traditional sense.
When I was a child, we half celebrated Give-a-Lot-of-Gifts-and-Light-Up-the-Tree -- without the light-up-a-tree part -- because we were Jewish. However, my parents had felt that they had missed out as kids, and they didn't want us to feel left out. Frankly, the holiday consumes almost two months of the year - and it's pretty damn alluring. The lights. The story of magic. So we hung up stockings. We woke up to gifts on Christmas morning brought by Santa Claus. We watched television specials about Christmas, when said television shows featured Santa Claus but not when they featured a lady on a donkey, which I thought had nothing to do with the holiday. But no tree.
At age eight, my sister spilled the beans about Santa, and we stopped the Celebration of Give-a-Lot-of-Gifts - probably because my parents knew about the lady on the donkey and didn't want us to celebrate That holiday. I didn't start celebrating the Jewish annual Feast of Chinese Food and a Movie until I moved to New York. (The Chinese food in New York was much better than the Chinese food in my hometown of Cincinnati.)
Fast forward a few years: I met the man who is now my husband. He was handsome, funny, smart, kind - and I could enjoy his Christmas tree because he wasn't Jewish. I like to think the last part isn't the reason I fell in love with him - although that first Celebration of Give-a-Lot-of-Gifts-and-Light-up-the Tree when we decorated his Christmas tree together was pretty enchanting.
As a second side note -- my husband has the same level of religiosity as I do -- which is to say, not much.
So through our marriage, now towards the end of its third decade, we celebrated everything especially, when our children were younger. Jewish holidays and the not so Jewish holidays - especially the Celebration of Give-a-Lot-of-Gifts-and-Light-up-the Tree. We really did it up. We went to the same Christmas tree market every year where we drank hot cider, fed pet goats, and fought over what would be the perfect tree. We'd decorate the tree to the music of the same album. We baked sugar cookies and watched The Santa Claus. And on Christmas morning, Santa brought copious gifts. (Christmas afternoon, we'd head to the movies - thus honoring both heritages.)
So now that my children are grown and thanks to Covid, not spending the holiday with us, I'm doing some re-evaluation. I'm feeling a little more ambivalent about the whole Christmas tree thing. I have gotten more in touch with my Jewish heritage over the last few years, even though I remain agnostic - and that combined with the rise in anti-Semitism has me a little less enthusiastic about the Celebration of Give-a-Lot-of-Gifts-and-Light-up-the Tree. This ambivalence was especially fueled with the rise in people feeling the need to insist that everyone, regardless of belief, say Merry Christmas. Two years ago, I was shopping at Costco in December and the guy checking my cart to see whether I was shoplifting wished me a Merry Christmas. I wished him a Happy Hanukkah back. His response: "Oh. You're one of those."
Yes, I am proudly one of those. Just not a religious one.
We already celebrated Hanukkah by lighting the menorah. As a Jew, I should be celebrating the Feast of Chinese Food and a Movie on December 25. But, there is still a pandemic, and I'm not comfortable in restaurants or movie theaters. And despite everything, the decorated trees are pretty, the lights alluring, and I am still married to the same wonderful guy who is still not Jewish.
So despite my ambivalence, this year we will celebrate a modified Give-a-Lot-of-Gifts-and-Light-up-the-Tree. We won't be able to be with our kids, but we might give each other a gift or two. The tree is maybe a foot high and made of pink pipe cleaners. But we will be celebrating whatever it is - together.
Happy whatever you celebrate.