As a child growing up in the Bay Area, I was one of only a handful of Jewish kids in my schools. Around this time of the year, my mom would often come into my class and share the story, the history, and the customs of Hanukkah. She would bring along a dreidel and star shaped cookies to decorate. I always enjoyed having my mom in class and got excited about sharing my culture with my friends at school while they were all getting excited about Christmas.
My mom brought this experience to my school to let my fellow classmates know about another winter holiday that was being celebrated around the same time and to celebrate the experience that I was going to get to have by celebrating Hanukkah.
I am sure so many of us had the same experience. For me, it was profound and impactful. What it illustrated was my family’s deep passion, pride, and connection with Judaism.
In many ways, our San Gabriel and Pomona Valley community is similar to the one I grew up in. Over the course of the next couple of weeks, parents from our community will be doing the same thing my mom did for me.
This month can be difficult for Jewish families. Whether you ignore Christmas altogether (not so easy amid the commercials, office parties, holiday decorations etc.), use it as an excuse to go to a movie and eat Chinese food, or celebrate it with non-Jewish friends or family, the holiday — and its proximity to Hanukkah — can provoke a lot of emotions. Parents often feel pressure to make Hanukkah extra elaborate to quell their children’s (or their own) Christmas envy.
For interfaith families in particular, December can be a stressful time, demanding decisions about whether to celebrate one or both holidays and how to deal with hurt feelings or disapproval from extended family.
It is important to remember that Christmas is one of Christianity’s biggest holidays and just as we are proud to be Jewish and enjoy celebrating our Jewish holidays, others should be proud of the holidays they get to celebrate as well.
During this month, I feel like our community has an obligation to do whatever we can to help alleviate the frustration and emotions that come this time of year and welcome the opportunity to enjoy celebrating together in whatever ways we find meaningful.
I hope you and your family enjoy this month’s celebrations and may our community’s menorahs bring more light into the world.