THE BLOG
12/03/2014 04:02 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Being Jewish During the Christmas Season

The cold, crisp air; the return of red holiday Starbucks cups; the themed music playing in the stores; Christmas lights dotting the night sky; the vacation time from school...

There's no way around it: Ready or not, the holidays are here.

Cue the nostalgic feeling this time of year inevitably brings.

Being one of the only Jewish families in my elementary school for quite some time wasn't easy. I often had to dodge questions that I had memorized and repeated answers to year after year.

Why doesn't your family have a Christmas tree? We have a menorah with candles!

What do you mean you don't have a part in a Christmas Pageant at your church? I go to a synagogue; want to see the dreidel I made in Sunday School?

You don't celebrate Christmas? I celebrate Hanukkah and get presents for eight nights, not just one morning.

When my family moved to a new neighborhood and I started at a new school, I quickly learned that I wasn't alone. Suddenly, I had allies who were excited about having someone new on their "team," or rather, their "tribe." I didn't feel like I stuck out as much, and the playground became a much friendlier place when faced with questions about religion and holidays. I grew to really appreciate my religion and became very active in my Jewish youth group.

As an adult, Judaism plays an important role in my household. A mezuzzah hangs on our front door; our Ketubah, or Jewish wedding contract, is framed in the front entryway; and several pieces of art in our house have a religious theme to them. Below the surface, I recite my daily Shema in my head while I lay in bed with my daughter every night, proclaiming that there is one G-d. My family attends services and always gets together for the religious holidays, and my daughter adorably refers to any type of bread as challah. She is learning the blessings to say before she eats, has a toy shofar from Yom Kippur that she plays with and she has her own menorah that she will learn to light on her own when she is older. While keeping her at a Jewish school will help her to avoid the playground barrage of questions, it won't shelter her from the rest of the world. And I don't intend to shelter her from the rest of the world. I want her to grow up loving and embracing her religion as her father and I do, but also knowing the realities of being a minority. I know the music that fills stores beginning in November, I know the decorations all over the city that she'll see, and I know how she will feel on the inside.

Because the truth is, the holiday season still makes me feel a little left out. It will always bring me back to the days when I was jealous of my friends who got to decorate trees, hang Christmas lights and joyously sing Christmas carols. These days, I drive around and see wreaths hung on doors, life-sized reindeer decorations in front yards and houses lit up with red and green lights. I enjoy looking at the decorations, and secretly wish that I could do the same to my house. While some may feel this is just a testament to how commercialized Christmas is, to me, it is a reminder of everything that I am not a part of. I know I am not alone. Just the fact that Hanukkah has become so commercialized is a testament to that feeling. In fact, most don't know that Hanukkah is not even considered a "major" holiday in the Jewish religion. There are three holidays the Torah commands Jews to celebrate (known as the Shalosh Regalim), and Hanukkah is not one of them.

Truth be told, it's pretty hard for me to admit my feelings on this topic without feeling terribly guilty. I am, without a doubt, a proud and devoted Jew. My steadfast beliefs are why it was so important to marry within my religion, why I taught at a Jewish school and why the choice to put my daughter at a Jewish school was a no-brainer. In the winter season, I love lighting the menorah. I love surprising my husband and daughter with eight different presents, one for each night. I love recalling the strength and bravery of Judah the Maccabee and the miracle of the oil lasting for eight nights.

But I also love seeing the magic that Christmas brings to others during this time.

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