The Jewish festival of lights (Chanukah) usually starts and finishes just before Christmas and I always light the menorah, say the brachot and perhaps attend a Chanukah party in Central London. We even used to give each other presents in my younger days. But at the back of my mind I would be looking forward to Christmas day which involves giving and receiving presents, eating consistently to the point I am no longer able to move and spending quality time with the family. The festive period also means time off work to re-charge the batteries which is something I look forward to every year.
Christmas Eve is also one of my favourite night’s out of the year and often results in a steaming hangover on Christmas morning, this year being no exception following the carnage of Faces Nightclub last night. The fact there are some Jewish organisations which arrange parties on Christmas Eve suggests there are plenty of Jewish people who like to get in the Christmas spirit just like me!
Don’t get me wrong. Chanukah is one of the more enjoyable Jewish festivals. It is always a spiritual experience lightingthe Menorah and saying the brachot, but for me it does not generate the same level of excitement as Christmas. Lets get one thing straight. I am not the only one who thinks this. Almost of all my friends―religious or non-religious―spend time with their families on Christmas day eating, drinking, watching films and relaxing. Is there anything wrong with this? Not in my eyes. Just because I enjoy Christmas doesn’t mean I am not proud to be Jewish and don’t enjoy celebrating as many Jewish holidays as possible including Purim and Simchat Torah. Christmas is Christmas and Chanukah is Chanukah. Christmas enjoys more of a build up whereas for me Chanukah appears to be over in a flash. Perhaps if I distanced myself from the hype in the build-up to Christmas day I would be able to focus more on Chanukah.
One thing is certain. There is no way I would ever discourage someone who is Jewish to completely boycott Christmas. I am not saying I would encourage them to dress up in Santa outfits, have Christmas decorations in their houses and eat a Turkey lunch on Christmas day, but I certainly wouldn’t discourage them either.
If the boot was on the other foot I would have no problem giving someone of another faith interested in a particular Jewish festival the opportunity to celebrate and learn more about it. In fact I would encourage anyone who is interested to look at ways of experiencing it and learning more. The long and short of it is that I am Jewish and proud and do not think I am doing anything wrong by celebrating Christmas. Perhaps, however, I do need to be more proactive around Chanukah time, remind myself of the various ways of celebrating and try to get more involved. The only trouble would be fitting this around the numerous shopping trips which usually begin around the start of Chanukah and sometimes end on Christmas Eve.
Who knows? Maybe this time next year I will be sitting here on Christmas day with my family recalling what it was like to celebrate Chanukah like never before a few weeks earlier. If, however, this doesn’t turn out to be the case and my knowledge and experience of celebrating Chanukah has not developed, it certainly would not be the end of the world either.