Everyone has their own Christmas story. When I say Christmas story, I am referring to what you do on December 25th. Regardless of your religion, if you live in the United States, the day has its own story for you.
Growing up in Houston, TX Christmas was the day that I spent with my friends who were not celebrating Christmas with their families. We attended a gathering of the same people for the better part of my childhood. As we all got older, the gathering became an opportunity for me to connect with friends and acquaintances that I did not see any other time.
As an adult, the first time I participated in anything for Christmas was with my husband’s family. It was my first opportunity to meet my mother-in-law of blessed memory and her family. Though my mother-in-law had converted to Judaism before my husband was born, Christmas was still a time for her family to get together. Each family member came on Christmas Day to say hello, and to share in the holiday. I remember thinking how much this reminded me of the Rosh Hashanah open house my mother had every year. For many years, even after my mother-in-law passed away, we attended Christmas Day with my husband’s family. My children looked forward to seeing their cousins, to eating macaroni and cheese, and to being part of the bigger family.
Everyone always asked if I worried about taking my kids to Christmas: didn’t I worry that they would feel like they were missing out? My husband and I had discussed how we were going to approach it, and we made sure that our children had positive memories of Jewish holidays, and deep connection to our tradition. In addition, we took a tip from Dr. Ron Wolfson: we taught our children to appreciate the holiday the same way they appreciate a friend’s birthday party—you can have some cake, but at the end of the day, it’s not your birthday. We have not been in a number of years, mostly because the next generation is more scattered and the family doesn’t really gather anymore. Without the family element, there is no reason for us to attend Christmas.
But the day is not lost. It is still a legal holiday. It is still a day when people can get together. This year’s Christmas was filled with learning, service, and family. I began the day before with a showing of the movie Jerusalem at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. Christmas morning was filled with the study of Jewish texts at my synagogue, followed by a visit to a nursing home. Finally, my mother hosted a gathering at her house of some of my closest friends and their families. As she said, it’s one of the few times I can have those who do not drive on Shabbat to her home.
There are many ways for families with Christian relatives to participate in the holiday—this is just an example of what my family has done. If someone were to ask me, “Do you celebrate Christmas?” my answer would be “no, but I do have special plans on December 25th.” Here’s hoping your December 25th was what you wanted it to be.