Objectively speaking, the photo of my granddaughter on Santa's knee, gazing into his gentle eyes, could easily be a cover shot for the Saturday Evening Post. It would do Norman Rockwell proud. This is a photo of innocence incarnate, and it cries out for a prominent spot on a family room wall, where everyone is welcome to lounge with a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, smile at the baby in red stripes, and remember a time when we believed the world was a very nice place in which to live.
As fond as I am of creating scenarios like the one above, this prize-worthy moment captured in time will not grace my family room wall or any other wall in my home. We are a Jewish family and I would just feel funny.
Kyla is the product of an interfaith marriage. I am spending my first holiday season as her grandmother, and I confess to being a wee bit envious of her other grandparents who will help her hang her stocking and watch her eyes widen at the sight of the tree, and who will do all those romantic Christmas-y things with her while my contribution to the holiday festivities will be spinning a little wooden top.
At this time of year, magazines and Internet help sites abound with suggestions for making Hanukkah as wonderful as Christmas. Questions from well-intentioned Jewish parents like this one flood the inboxes of interfaith experts. I have a suggestion of my own. Don't even try.
I don't know how many pages there are of Google listings under the heading Christmas versus Hanukkah because I stopped looking after page 20, where I found David Duke's rant that Christmas symbolizes peace and love while Hanukkah symbolizes war and hate. That wacko's thoughts aside, why does there even exist a competition? Christmas trumps Hanukkah on every front. Period. If Hanukkah happened to fall sometime in August it would be a mere blip on the world's radar screen.
Our family performs all the requisite and lovely holiday traditions. We light the menorah. We eat potato latkes. We spin the dreidel. But when we walk into a department store, or anywhere else in town for that matter, the endless musical loop does not include "I Had a Little Dreidel." And thank goodness for that. It's a horrible song. No matter what you do, Christmas trumps Hanukkah, and those who say it doesn't are lying or delusional or living under a rock.
For centuries, little Jewish children have felt cheated at Christmas time. Most of us have managed, through therapy or just growing up, to overcome Christmas envy, and we have gone on to live productive lives. I got the whole business out of my system in college when my best friend (who is also Jewish) and I volunteered to throw the sorority Christmas party. We spent weeks planning and executing the Christmas of our childhood yearnings. We looked through a forest of firs to find the most perfectly proportioned tree, which also happened to be the heaviest.
We insisted upon homemade trim, so we strung popcorn and cranberries for draping. We made eggnog and Christmas cookies from scratch, and demanded that everyone come to the party in their pajamas, and we recruited the smallest girls in the house (also Jewish) to dress as elves and distribute gifts. We sang carols around the piano, and hung a homemade wreath on the door, and everyone had a grand time and we learned that making the Christmas of your dreams is a lot of hard work and not everyone appreciates it.
More important than either Christmas or Hanukkah however, is the question of who my granddaughter will be. When our children wed, they informed both families that Kyla would be raised neither Jewish nor Christian. She will be exposed to the best of both religions and will be an amalgam of both, or will choose one or the other when she gets older, or will choose neither. I don't know about my daughter-in-law's family or friends, but I was subjected to wails of, "She won't know who she is, she'll be very confused, she won't have an identity."
If one's identity is based solely on religion, then I suppose that's true. But God, I hope her identity isn't based solely on that. Kyla was born six months ago, so I can hardly speak for what's to come. But so far, she has one heck of an identity. She is a sprite... a happy, smiling bundle of contentment and bliss. She has a stubborn streak a mile wide. She is a little girl who has a Jewish father and a Christian mother and is loved by both of them beyond measure, and she is learning from day one that differences can be embraced, even cherished. How can that be bad for the world? She has four grandparents for whom she lights up the world. She will have the priceless benefit of an excellent education. She will be encouraged to follow her dreams.
And she will have both Christmas and Hanukkah and Christmas will always win and so what?