The first time I remember feeling different around the holiday season was when I was four years old. My family and I were going on a trip somewhere and as I walked through TSA security, an agent cheerfully wished me a merry Christmas.
Having attended a Jewish day school for my whole life, I had never been wished a merry Christmas before. So I, to the chagrin and embarrassment of my poor parents, looked the nice man into the eyes and scoffed, “Thanks, but I’m Jewish,” and stormed off.
While that anecdote currently makes me laugh, my resentment towards the Christmas season lingered for the next few years of my life. I always felt awkward visiting my Christian relatives around the holidays because they didn’t know much about Judaism and I also felt underrepresented as I was flooded with a sea of beautiful red and green each December.
While I understood that Jews comprise only sixth-tenths of a percent of the Texan population, I still felt isolated when all of my friends had their favorite holiday in common, one in which I couldn’t share.
The only Jewish holiday I’ve ever heard others talk about is Hanukkah. To many, the eight day festival acts as a replacement Christmas— a time where kids can get presents like all of their other friends–and, for some reason, it’s viewed to be very significant. In reality, however, Hanukkah is one of the least important holidays in the Jewish religion.
Even though I would still love to see a more mainstream diversification of holidays shown in the media and in person, I have gained an immense love for the Christmas season and all it entails. To compensate for December’s chilly weather, people warm their hearts and truly focus on giving to others.
Every year, I look forward to exchanging gifts with my friends, gawking over the cheerful, electrifying Christmas lights, sipping on decadent hot chocolate and wearing my santa-penguin fuzzy socks. Christmas has become an opportunity for me to give back to my community and joyfully admire how others do the same.
I sometimes even answer “Christmas” in response to being asked about my favorite holiday. While I do not celebrate the religious aspects of it, I genuinely enjoy learning more about Christian culture and different holiday traditions.
Personally, learning and appreciating other people’s cultures is what truly defines the holiday season. This December, I encourage you all to ask your Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist and Sikh friends about their favorite holidays and customs. Maybe, you could even plan a potluck where each of you bring a dish representative of your culture. You will definitely gain something from it and build intimate connections with your friends. Spreading love and cheer with your friends and family is what the holidays are all about.
Only one week into November, radio stations have already begun blasting all the Christmas classics. As everyone’s cheer heightens and the temperature drops, please keep my four-year-old self in mind and remember that not everyone knows about or celebrates Christmas. Give back during the holiday season in the best way possible: by spreading love and hospitality, regardless of what you celebrate.
Story by Eliana Goodman
Photo provided by Flickr