Christmas · family · Jews/Jewish/Judaism/Orthodox Judaism · s

What’s a Jew do on Christmas Eve?

What DOES a Jew do on Christmas Eve? There have been years after my conversion when I have been so ensconced in the Jewish world that I didn’t even remember that December 24 and December 25 had any significance to anyone, much less to myself at one time and my family.

But this year, my sister B. has moved back from Ohio with her husband and my other sister, A. and I were really concerned that they would be lonely for Christmas. Every year, after all the Hanukkah fanfare is over, I can tell that my other sister A. is also kind of lonely on Christmas. Growing up, Christmas was a time for family, large turkey dinners ala Thanksgiving, and presents. Now it’s just a regular day for me but not really because on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, it’s pretty hard to find something to do, much less someone to hang out with. Even my friends who aren’t Christian are doing something with family on Christmas.

So, we decided that Christmas Eve we are all going to go see Avatar 3D: The IMAX EXPERIENCE!!! (since we have a family tradition of seeing movies on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Thanksgiving). Afterwards, we’ll go for Chinese food (since that’s an American Jewish tradition, Chinese food on Christmas!).

The next day is Christmas, which falls on Shabbos this year, and we considered getting together for a meal but my sister A. warned my sister B. that we wouldn’t be doing anything Christmas-like at my house–no carols, no turkey, no dairy mashed potatoes.

Apparently, the fact that we wouldn’t have Christmas carols wasn’t a problem, but the dairy mashed potatoes were. This year we all got together for Thanksgiving and my sister B. and her husband were upset that they couldn’t have their traditional macaroni and cheese and dairy mashed potatoes with the turkey. Apparently this is a pretty big deal to them. So, now instead of spending Shabbos with us as she usually does, my sister A. will be going over to my sister’s house to celebrate Christmas though she normally spends Shabbos with us.

Lucky for us, our family is pretty small. It’s been a long, long time since we got together with extended family on Christmas. I don’t even call my extended family on Christmas because when I did one year, my grandmother just sounded more depressed. She asked, “What are you doing today?” I said, “Remember, we don’t celebrate Christmas. We’ll probably go for a movie.” Poor Grandma nearly dropped the phone.

But this year, with my sister and her husband back in town, I really felt like an interfaith family. Because the moment I converted, my family became an interfaith family. That I’m no longer celebrating Christmas changes the family dynamic. Everyone sends me Hanukkah cards now, presents in Hanukkah wrapping paper (in fact, my sisters and I all refer to presents given at this time of year as “Hanukkah presents,” so there are no longer Christmas presents in our family).

The first year I was in the conversion process I was really uncomfortable with Christmas. I went cold turkey and my family understood. My sisters just came along for Hanukkah events. Every year after that I spent December in Los Angeles with my husband’s family. This tradition began after our wedding over Hanukkah 2006 mostly overshadowed Christmas and we left New York for sheva brachot in Los Angeles. Well, not completely overshadowed, my Jewish friends and my sisters could be seen singing Christmas carols in the hotel lobby before the wedding.

But now in solidarity, my sisters complain whenever anyone wishes them a “Merry Christmas!” My sister A. now responds to every “Merry Christmas” with a “Happy Hanukkah!” because as she says, “My family’s Jewish!” Yes, indeed, her family, part of it, is Jewish now but not just Jewish…which is why she keeps a menorah at my house and a Christmas tree at my other sister’s house.

5 thoughts on “What’s a Jew do on Christmas Eve?

  1. Dan & I will drive through Chicago's Sauganash neighborhood, checking out elaborate holiday lights, and then we will go home & down some hot chocolate, as we do every year.

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  2. This is an interesting question that I am also facing. I am not Jewish; I am actually a convert to Islam. However, my family is Christian and they celebrate Christmas. I'm a college student home for a couple weeks, so obviously I will be around while they celebrate. My problem is that my family doesn't know I'm Muslim (I can't tell them because they will most likely freak out and perhaps stop paying my college tuition), so I have no choice but to “celebrate” Christmas with them. It feels pretty strange. When I was Christian I absolutely loved Christmas, but now I feel nothing towards it; it's Christmas Eve right now and I have no excitement or anything. I think it is tough for any convert from Christianity, regardless of what religion they are now.

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  3. As crappy as your parents are (and I use the term parents loosely), you seem to have very supportive and loving sisters. Perhaps they can give my sister and brother a lesson or two?

    And my family knows of my in-progress-converting situation, so even though I got home after Channukah ended, my parents still bought me a very pretty menorah for next year, and put all my presents not under the tree. That being said, I'm still required to sit through the big family Christmas dinner.

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  4. Hey Aliza, thanks for the cool blog. I looked you up this morning when I read the article on conversion in the NY Times that mentioned you.

    Contrary to how those in the article seemed more “saddened” by the ending of the tradition of Christmas, I converted five years ago and to me it is like growing closer to dropping a huge boulder off my back! I think from the age of 5-15 I liked Christmas because of the gift exchange, but ever since then it has been nothing short of an enormous stress-out. And I'm someone who even eats right, exercises, and tries to meditate every day to stay relaxed!

    As my entire extended family still celebrates the holiday, I dutifully attend the meals (though I would skip out if I could), and help my 80 year old parents put up a string of lights outside their house, simply because they can't and they enjoy it so much.

    Sadly, it seems like I still get stress colds because of all the unnecessary stress the Christmas season puts on me and people in my life. The people I see going hungry, sleeping under bridges in our city, the children I know will not have toys that commercials tell them they should have… it all just depresses me. But my partner and I try to do something Jewish for Christmas, and do something meaningful in the community all the rest of the year.

    Anyway, I wanted to thank you for your blog, I'm so glad that I found it and the many resources here. I can't wait to read more.

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  5. Now that we have a child, we have chosen to abstain from most of the Christmas stuff that the rest of the nominally Jewish, but mostly intermarried family does. We don't want him to get the idea that Christmas is something Jews do, since we've given him so many other holidays.

    Unfortunately, since they don't really do any Jewish holidays except Passover, christmas is a big deal to the extended family, and our absence makes us seem like zealots. So we still get a delivery of bags and bags of Christmas presents the day after, as if they have forgotten we wouldn't be there, or that we prefer to receive presents at Hanukkah.

    I'm trying to just be laid back about the whole thing, but it can be irritating to have relatives (from my husband's side, the Jewish side) sending my son presents on christmas in christmas wrapping paper. Arg.

    At least all the Lutherans back east seem to remember that we're Jewish.

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