As a Jew, I have always loved Christmas because I was included in friends’ and boyfriends’ (and eventually my husband’s) holiday, without the expectation of being at the top of my "Christmas game." I’d show up with gifts and/or booze and soak in all the cheer, without any of the drama. In fact, the things that happen when you're a Jewish mom spending Christmas with her partner's family, are nothing but a highlight of how wonderful it really and truly is to live in the best of both holiday worlds. Sure, I did long to decorate my own home and tried, as a kid, to convince my parents to put up “holiday lights,” since Hanukkah (Chanukah) is the festival of lights, I never felt like I missed out on anything by not being a "Christmas person." Even those times we hit the cineplex and gorged on Chinese food, the day always felt special.
I have never had a serious Jewish boyfriend over the end-of-the-year holidays (the one I had didn’t come into the picture until after New Year’s and he dumped me in April for not being "Jewish enough," since I didn’t keep kosher for Passover). Before I was married, I spent several Christmas Eves and Christmas Days with my Italian boyfriend’s family, eating some of my favorite all-time meals. With my husband’s Western New York family, his childhood home was made over in the spirit of the season, with a huge real tree and snow that stayed white for days (a novelty for this city kid). Before we had children, and started our own blend of holiday traditions, I loved traveling to Buffalo for Christmas to partake in his family’s annual celebration.
But as my partner’s singular Jewish guest at Christmas gatherings, I always felt like a bit of an outsider, even though I was included warmly into the fold. There are just some things you can count on happening, as a Jewish person, spending Christmas your significant other’s family, like the following:
You'll Be Told Not To Bring Anything
Meaning, of course, anything to eat. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are all about tradition and even if you make the most killer seven layer dip or a crowd-pleasing bacon-y item, you shouldn’t infiltrate time-honored rituals. If you keep coming back, though, there will be opportunities to forge new traditions. In the meantime, just bring wine.
You Will Be Asked When Hanukkah Is
Since the Jewish calendar differs from the one everyone uses, our holidays are never on the same day, year to year. Sometimes we’re lighting the menorah around Christmas time, which is nice because the phrase “happy holidays” really does apply to us. Other times, we clear away the Thanksgiving turkey and start playing dreidel.
You'll Think You Should Wear Something Red
It’s a nice gesture, especially if the rest of the gang is decked out and you want to be all cute and match. However, don’t feel obligated to be sparkly and bright if your go-to holiday garb is more subtle. Totally get in on the ugly Christmas sweater fun, though.
You Will Most Likely Be The Only Jewish Person In The Room
I used to feel super-weird about being a Jew in a non-Jewish house of worship. I honestly felt like everyone could sense my Jewishness. But even if I didn’t share religious beliefs with the rest of my partner’s congregation, Christmas services are so beautiful — with the lights and the singing and a whole bunch of people unified by the idea of peace on Earth — I could enjoy it like a scene from a movie.
You'll Be Grilled About Your Gift Situation
I’m typically asked if I got a present every night for the eight nights of Chanukah when I was a kid. These questions are born from a kernel of jealousy, as if Jews get the better gifting deal than anyone else. The truth is, every Jewish family has their own way of handling the gifts.
When I was a kid, we did get open a present every night: something small, like a pair of socks or a Barbie outfit. One night we got a “bigger” gift, like a toy we had been wanting.
You Might Be Asked If You Have A Christmas Tree
I used to find this question offensive. Why would I have a Christmas tree if I didn’t celebrate Christmas? But then I learned that some Jewish families have them. Ever hear the term “Chanukah bush?” Last year, we got a Christmas tree for the first time, since my husband is a Christmas guy, but we kept our menorah up until the New Year, too.
You Will Receive Christmas-Specific Greetings
We are a Christmas-centric country. Most people assume us non-Christmas celebrators get their meaning when they wish us “Merry Christmas,” even if that’s not our holiday. I’m annoyed by this, if only because it's pretty obvious that it doesn’t take much to tweak the greeting to “happy holidays” and to buy holiday-agnostic seasonal cards. But when I get over it, I realize I’m being petty.
They’re not discounting my difference intentionally; they just haven’t been exposed to much “otherness.” It’s never fun being the Jew spokesperson, and I’m barely qualified to be one (having dropped out of Hebrew school), but I’d rather be asked questions and share some knowledge than for people to wrap my gifts in blue and silver and pretend that’s all they need to know about the non-Christmas set.
You Will Want To Tell Every Family Member You Meet That You’re Jewish, To Explain Your Presence
Rookie move. It’s Christmas and you’re not with your own family? Let them figure it out themselves.