They call me the Christmas Jew.
Jesus was a Jew. I am a Jew. Jesus’ birthday is on Christmas, and though mine actually falls in March, 12/25 might as well be my birthday, too, because I think it’s the greatest day of the whole year. That’s how I gained the moniker of “Christmas Jew” — “Crew,” for short — a person who is Jewish but has a deep love for the Christmas season. Expect that entry in Merriam-Webster any day now.
It started when I was very young. I was enthralled by everything about the season — the lights, the songs, the snow, and of course Santa himself. I was one of a few Jewish kids in my elementary school, so all my Christian friends had brought me up to speed on Santa, and I soon became a wholehearted believer. I joined them in writing him letters, and convinced my babysitter to let me go see him at the mall. Then, one day, a Jewish classmate approached me on the playground: “My mom told me Santa is not real. She told me not to tell the other kids, but I can tell you because we’re Jewish, so it doesn’t matter if we know.” I was crushed, but it turned out my coping mechanism was to become even more obsessed with all things Christmas.
For years, I begged my parents to get me a Christmas tree. Finally, one year, they compromised and got a wooden “Hanukkah Moose” statue for our living room. It wasn’t a tree, but that didn’t stop me from wrapping it in lights and hanging ornaments off his antlers. (It also didn’t stop me from being horribly upset when I came home a few years ago and had learned my dad had disassembled the statue for firewood and “Hanumoose” had been cremated in our fireplace.) That somewhat questionable compromise was an emblem of the hidden but still present tension between the religion I was born into and the one I celebrated every December. Without fail, every year, my synagogue Sunday-school class would feature a discussion on how hard it can be to be Jewish during the Christmas season. My classmates would share how much they hated having to sing Christmas carols in school performances, or how mad they were that every TV commercial was Christmas-themed. I never had much to contribute and would usually stay quiet, perhaps singing “Good King Wenceslas” in my head.
Clearly, the serious synagogue discussions did nothing to quell my passion. When I turned 13 and it came time to plan my bat mitzvah party, I was ready with a theme: “dogs and Christmas.” I was then informed a Christmas-themed bat mitzvah probably wasn’t going to fly, and I’d have to stick with just dogs. A few years later, in high school, I founded a Christmas club called “Operation Christmas,” which planned activities like caroling and cookie-decorating throughout the season. One day, my mom received a concerned call from a parent of a classmate who had intercepted the Operation Christmas handbook I had created. Inside, the parent had found what she thought was a very troubling mission statement: “Operation Christmas intends to put the HO back in Holidays and to bring Christmas joy and cheer to those who need it the most (Jews).” My mom had to calmly explain to the parent that not only was I not trying to promote sexual promiscuity, I was also, in fact, Jewish, and was in no way trying to target or convert Jews with the club. I was made to remove the parenthetical. The club’s doors eventually were shuttered, but I kept its spirit alive, even as an adult.
Nowadays, while my family is out for Chinese food and a movie on Christmas, I’m barging into my friends’ homes in a festive sweater and Santa hat, helping tear through their gifts and partaking of their Christmas feasts (to be fair, I usually abstain from the Christmas ham). A few years ago, when Hanukkah fell over Christmas, I felt a bit guilty sitting at my friend’s house decorating Christmas cookies — so I mixed up some blue frosting, turned the Santa cookie upside down, broke his hat off for a shofar, and made some delicious rabbi cookies.