Posted on December 1, 2014
I know that sounds really inappropriate. Last year was truly special when Hanukkah came so early that it fell on Thanksgiving. It really was special to light the second Hanukkah light after feasting on turkey and pumpkin pie. There were many novelty gifts such as menorahs in the shapes of turkeys and fun t-shirts that made the most of this rare convergence of holidays. Thanksgiving and Hanukkah, jokingly called “Thanksgivingkah” was fun for us Jews because Thanksgiving isn’t connected with a religious holiday. It is our national day of giving thanks for the Pilgrims and Indians sharing in their bounty.
Christmas, on the other hand, offers great challenges to us as Jews and this year Hanukkah is ending just as Christmas is beginning. Even before we celebrate Thanksgiving, the Christmas sales are starting, decorations are coming up, and the ubiquitous, “Merry Christmas,” is seen and heard. Years ago, my daughter complained to me that Hanukkah wasn’t visible in any of the stores or community centers. I had to explain to her that this is because we are a minority in that there aren’t that many Jews in the United States. After that I did procure an electric menorah for the Cypress Community Center and fortunately, they did agree to use it.
Growing up, Christmas didn’t bother me. In fact, my best friend was Catholic and every year I came over to help her decorate her Christmas tree. She in turn was over at my house during at least one of the nights of Hanukkah. I have come to feel that it is a blessing that we live with people from different backgrounds in our country and are able to learn and share our customs with each other.
My exposure to Christmas though became much more personal when I married my husband. Even though Paul converted to Judaism, his parents remained Missouri Synod Lutherans. Paul’s father was so involved in his church that he has been an elder for years. I nervously confess to you that there have been a few Christmas eves when my family has gone to their home town of Rochelle, IL. There, my father in law, like all other grandparents wanted to show off his grandchildren. And so, I found myself at St. Paul Lutheran church the night of Christmas with a surprising task: We were asked to be greeters!
Let’s take a step back to look at this. A rabbi and her Jewish family, the only ones who don’t accept Christ as their lord, are standing with the pastor and my in laws, wishing everyone coming through the doors, “Merry Christmas. Welcome to St. Paul.” I just had to shake my head at the irony of it all. I have consoled myself with thinking, “Well if the pastor thinks this okay, then, okay.” And then my thoughts have turned to: “My father in law owes me. The day will come when he will be greeting our members in the fall wishing them “Shanah Tovah”. He may not know it yet, but I will ask him some day.”
This year my mother in law is coming out at the end of December. I have suggested that we do Christmas, well, Jewish style. You all know what I mean: Chinese food and a movie. So we’ll have a fitting end to our holiday of Hanukkah with one more night. Don’t worry I won’t call it “Hanumas or Christanukah”. For me, I just call it having time with family.