Unlike much of the population, I love Christmas music. At the grocery store, I hear fellow shoppers groan "already?" to the first sounds of holiday tunes. But for me, radio stations can't start playing them early enough. I like the good ones, like Ertha Kitt's "Santa Baby," and Bruce Springsteen's "Santa Claus is Coming to Town." But I also like the bad ones, like Mariah Carey's, "All I Want For Christmas is You," and even worse, Wham!'s "Last Christmas." I can't stand Justin Beiber, but I bet I'm going to like his Christmas album.
This holiday season I want to listen to all these tracks and more as I decorate a beautiful Christmas tree in our living room. Except my husband won't let me get a Christmas tree for our living room . He also won't let me put a gorgeous golden cedar wreath on our door, twinkly lights across our porch, or antlers on our dog.
I say he's a grinch. He says we're Jewish.
I'm a big enough person to say he's right when he's right. And, in this regard, my husband is right: We are, in fact, Jewish. Except, he sees this irrefutable fact as pivotal when it comes to Christmas decorations, whereas I see it as incidental. Yes, as Jews, December brings the wonderful holiday of Chanukah when we light candles for eight days, eat chocolate coins, and spin tops called dreidels. I have such fond memories of family Chanukah parties, hosted by my mother and aunt, where my family would eat and laugh, and eat some more. We would indulge in baked brie, my mom's incredible three-layer dip, my aunt's award-winning lasagna, and good wine as we got older. It was all so comfortable, so much fun.
The thing about Chanukah though, as lovely as it is, it could really be celebrated in any season, whereas Christmas feels so inextricably tied to the time of year. Time off school is typically referred to as Christmas break, not Chanukah break. People talk about getting into the Christmas spirit, not the Chanukah spirit. And I think Santa would get hot wearing such a heavy suit in summer.
Growing up Jewish, Christmas takes on this mythical quality. It radiates peace and joy, like a spiritual Disneyland. And what kid doesn't love Disneyland? Even now, walking along the streets of my neighbourhood at night, I am enchanted by the glowing Christmas trees filling the windows. I figure that a family with a Christmas tree must be a happy family. I take a moment to peak inside from the sidewalk and I picture that happy family. I picture my family as it used to be, before my parents divorced and my mother died, and I wonder, if we had spent one day -- the same day every year -- dancing around the living room in our pajamas and sitting by a fir tree strung with lights, maybe my parents wouldn't have separated. I wonder if Christmas would have kept my family together longer.
I think it's worth a try. Life's hard and I am beginning to learn that it's important to cultivate joy as much as you can. When it's sitting in front of you, right there for the taking, it's important to grab onto it with both hands. To me, Judaism is a state of mind, unaffected by ornaments and reindeer. I want these things in my home as symbols of the winter season, as a way to ignite excitement and cheer. I think I can divorce any religious significance from a tree and a wreath and stuffed antlers, the same way I don't really think about the violent Maccabean Revolt that led to the recpature of the Second Temple and the holiday of Chanukah. When I light the Chanukah candles, I don't think about the fact that oil meant to last only one day held on for eight. I think about family and all the other people I care for. Singing the blessings, I wish so much love and happiness for them.
And how could a stocking with my name on it, hanging from under the mantle holding our menorah, not make me happy? I don't care if it's filled with nothing but chocolate coins and Justin Bieber's "Under the Mistletoe." I just want to celebrate togetherness.