Some things are easy to take for granted, like Christmas.
People get caught up in the hoopla and forget that not everyone in the world celebrates Christmas, like bartenders, emergency room physicians, and Jews.
As a Jew, I’ve always felt a little left out. It was especially hard as a kid when all the other children were trimming trees, caroling, and eating Christmas cookies, while the closest I got was watching a Charlie Brown Christmas on TV.
Sure, I had Hanukkah, but let’s face it; Judah Maccabee may have won the battle for freedom but he’d have been more of a hero to me if he’d dropped down my chimney carrying a sack full of presents. And a menorah may be an important symbol of independence, but it couldn’t hold a candle to the dazzling tinseled fir tree in my friend Jenny’s living room.
While I appreciated the eight nights of Hanukkah with its candle lighting, chocolate coins and traditional foods, it lacked the luster of Christmas. I yearned for the universally shared Christmas spirit.
The hardest years were those in which Hanukkah didn’t overlap Christmas, when I couldn’t use delicious potato pancakes with sour cream and applesauce to buffer my Christmas sorrows.
But the worst was the year Judy De Marco handed Christmas cards to the whole 4th grade class, except for me. Although I had grown up in a town with minimal ethnic diversity and was the only Jew in my class, this was the first time in my life I had ever felt excluded. I remember calling my mom from the school office, crying about how hard it was to be a minority.
Maybe I wouldn’t have taken it so hard if I’d had a stronger connection with my Jewish community. But only a few Jews lived in my hometown and I was related to most of them. I promised myself that one day, when I got married and had kids, I would settle down in a more Jewish neighborhood.
My husband Chris and I bought a house in Chatham, New Jersey, where we discovered that Jews are outnumbered by Tibetan Terriers. To help friends navigate their way to my annual Hanukkah party I learned to say, “Look for the house without the Christmas lights.”
Thankfully, despite the fact that I’ve raised my kids in the same kind of homogenous community I grew up in, their active involvement in synagogue life and Jewish summer camp has helped them develop a close connection to our Jewish community. They also enjoy an active Jewish home life.
My husband, of Jewish decent, was raised Christian and celebrated the kind of Norman Rockwell Christmases I yearned for as a child. When we married, he returned to his Jewish roots and embraced the Jewish holidays.
Chris transfers his enthusiasm for Christmas to Hanukkah and brings a lively and unique spirit to our celebrations. He tunes in Hanukkah music on satellite radio, decorates the house to the hilt with stars and dreidels, and piles presents under the menorah like a Jewish Santa.
Gratefully, my kids don’t feel left out of Christmas. I’ve never received a teary phone call from the school office, a request to place a Christmas tree in our living room, or an appeal to go caroling.
Chris and I would love to take the credit for our children’s sense of fulfillment. But in fact, it’s probably more the doings of my in-laws than anything. Since our kids were born, they’ve invited us to their home each December to share a special holiday tradition with them—Christmas.
When Jersey Girl Lisa Tognola traded her job as freelance writer for that of full-time mother of three children, it didn’t take long before her writing was reduced to grocery lists, notes to school nurses excusing her kids from gym class, and e-mails to her husband reminding him to call his mother. Daily life as a suburban mom was fraught with challenges and unexpected dangers like adult dinner groups, town hall meetings and home shopping parties. Rather than fight her fate, this mom embraced it by unleashing her inner columnist. Her weekly column, Main Street Musings, reflects on life in the suburbs---the good, the bad, and the ugly. Visit her blog http://mainstreetmusingsblog.com/. Follow her on twitter @lisatognola