Each Christmas when I was a child we used to have a special lunch at our grandparents’ home, served, in true British fashion, before the Queen’s speech on 25th December. All right, they did away with the tree and the presents but we had a special Christmas lunch nonetheless. The truth is that Christmas has become so secularized its Christian connotations are completely lost on most people. For most it is the one time of the year when all members of the family are off work, people are relaxed and a celebration seems to be a good idea. So is there anything wrong with us Jews celebrating Christmas?
In my view there is and here is why.
As Jews living in the Diaspora we are subjected to an insidious pressure to conform to the majority. Giving into this pressure dilutes our unique identity. The fact is that one cannot simultaneously be a traditional Brit or American and a traditional Jew. A traditional Brit will have bacon and eggs for breakfast, something that is an anathema to the traditional Jew. An example of this is when Christmas falls on Saturday posing the Jew who has a strong national and Jewish allegiance person with a dilemma, whether to give prominence to Shabbat or to Christmas. Maybe turkey should be substituted for chulent? Indeed, it all gets rather complicated.
This confusion is a real problem. The British novelist Sue Margolis claims that many of her Jewish friends admit to doing Christmas ‘for the children’. I have never heard anything more absurd! It is precisely the children who suffer most from this duality and confusion of mixed messages. They are left unsure which is more important, their Jewish identity or their British identity. I myself found the Christmas lunch at my grandparents house terribly confusing. Thankfully, this was just a once-yearly exception to my parents’ rule not to send mixed messages to their children, so the damage was limited.
One can of course be patriotically British or American and not conform to British or American customs and norms. Not so when it comes to our Jewishness. As minorities Jews have to make an extra effort to ensure a strong Jewish identity. If we do not reinforce our Jewishness it will inevitably start to fade.
By celebrating Christmas we are offering up our own and our children’s Jewish identity on the altar of conformity. If that is the message we send, why are we surprised when our children do not see the importance of marrying Jewish? Making a point not to celebrate Christmas is a powerful way of emphasizing our Jewish identity. So in a word: for the sake of our own and the next generation’s Jewish identity we must not mark Christmas in any way. This year let us celebrate Hanukkah instead.