It's interesting to watch social media when this happens; a few years ago all my Jewish friends were talking about the "December dilemma", ie anxiety about how much you should let your children join in with Christmas stuff in case they forget they're supposed to be Jewish, whereas most of my Christian / secular friends were largely unaware that chanukah is a thing. This year it seemed like most people were talking about how cute it is when the two festivals coincide, linking to articles about interfaith celebrations or cartoons of Santa Claus embracing a Jewish-looking person / personification of chanukah. And a really high proportion of my Jewish friends posted pictures of lighting their chanukah candles alongside their Christmas-celebrating friends and relatives, showcasing creative ways of celebrating the two festivals simultaneously while keeping the distinct nature of each.
This is anecdotal, of course, but if I'm right, it's a trend I'm in favour of. The December Dilemma is the most pointless thing; I have always been irritated by the idea that the ultimate expression of Jewish identity is Not Having a Christmas Tree. I am quite aware that nearly every Jewish person (outside the ultra-Orthodox world) has at least some non-Jews who are an important part of their lives, and increasingly many have non-Jewish immediate family, partners, origin family of converts, offspring who have moved away from Judaism, etc. It's much more productive, I think, to think seriously about how to celebrate with your loved ones for whom Christmas is important, without compromising your values and identity, than to make a big point of Not Doing Christmas (especially, as so often seems to be the case when there's handwringing about the December Dilemma, in the absence of any real positive expression of being Jewish.) I'm also aware that it's somewhat ironic to be taking this position around the festival of chanukah, which is to a great extent about keeping separate and resisting assimilation.
For myself, well, two of my partners and their younger children are religious Christians, and Christmas is a pretty big deal for my atheist husband (and for OSOs' oldest). The first Christmas we had was just after we got together and we were still working things out, and last year Chanukah was at a completely different time from Christmas. I don't think we got things exactly perfect this year, but we did lots and lots of talking and came up with ways of celebrating that were mostly good for most people involved. There's still tension between secular and religious Christmas, and I still ended up drawing boundaries (like not going to Midnight Mass) in ways that my people aren't completely happy with, and some other things were slightly awkward. But basically we had a really wonderful time with so much love and being happy for eachothers' happiness. Which was helped by the coincidence of timing; I was able to come home for the whole week leading up to the Christmas weekend, then actually take time off work all the way from Christmas Eve to the New Year bank holiday.
So I got to participate in some of Advent, joining my loves at church for at least some of the Sundays and a carol service. cjwatson's Dad joined us for that last, and he very charmingly congratulated me on being theologically open-minded enough to come to church. I missed putting up the tree and making Christmas pudding, mostly for logistical rather than ideological reasons. And I managed to find presents for everybody, which I had been somewhat stressed about as I have limited experience of having to buy a big pile of presents all at the same time, but I think I did ok.
Christmas Eve we did first candle of chanukah, and ghoti assured me that we didn't need to follow the advice I'd read in one of the interfaith articles about not making too big a deal out of first night to avoid detracting from Christmas. ghoti made latkes, and we carefully avoided arguing about whether they should be sweet or savoury, because we have a workround for the clash between her German tradition and my latkes-are-savoury one. Christmas day jack and I got our newly-traditional day of just focusing on eachother and ignoring the outside world and the internet for a while; I made roast potatoes and Yorkshire puddings and something I'd invented involving mushrooms, which we ate with a ready-prepared veggie main dish and a couple of sides. And as last year, we went over to join OSOs and their guests in the evening, and there were soooooooooo many presents. I lit second candle, and asked the assembled company for help with the story; Benedict told the light miracle centric version, while ghoti told the story of Judith.
And I did manage to get some time with my family of origin too, doing the thing we've always historically done of taking advantage of a time when the rest of the world is mostly closed down to do things that are not particularly celebratory but let us enjoy time together. jack and I went to my parents' for Friday night the day before the two festivals started, and met the Syrian refugee who is currently lodging with them. And on Wednesday parents drove me to Brighton and lit fifth with my philosopher brother and my sister, and had a big old political discussion – the Syrian chap had lots of interesting things to say about propaganda and US intervention in the Middle East. Didn't manage to see poet brother, but I expect we'll get together at some point. This was the first time we've not celebrated Granny's birthday on Boxing Day, so that was a little bit hard but mostly we were loving and mutually supportive in missing her.
Also in the middle of Christmas I turned 38, which is not a particularly exciting number except that the metonic calendar cycle is 19 years, so my Hebrew and secular birthdays coincided for only the second time since the day I was actually born. When I was 19 I was at Limmud and had a Jewish partner and was in a position to mostly ignore Christmas; this year it felt a very right part of a week of celebrations, and I lit fourth candle with my loves and made more latkes and was given birthday presents in addition to all the chanukah presents...
Oh yes, I've been absolutely overwhelmed with wonderful gifts this year. ghoti decided to follow the custom of giving eight presents for the eight days of chanukah. I managed to find something small for the younger children most days, as well as a couple of additional presents for the adults though nothing like the full eight. As well as lots of books which I've already mentioned, I got Kaladesh Magic: The Gathering cards from cjwatson and jack, and the Millionnaires' Row expansion for Machi Koro. And quite a few things that aren't the obvious gifts of games and books, a cute mousey cheeseboard, and a toy car from Andreas who often picks those when he isn't sure what to give someone, and jewellery, which I almost never get because I rarely wear jewellery. (For my bat mitzvah I specially asked my great-aunt for a star of David necklace, correctly predicting that just about all my other presents would be books.) Judith gave me a cute matching butterfly necklace and bracelet, which I've been wearing a lot, and to my astonishment, my mother gave me a rainbow necklace! It's made out of geology, with each colour a small semi-precious bead, and I love it to bits (and really must show kaberett at some point.) And ghoti gave me a bunch of gifts that were physical objects but also time and learning: a kit for making cheese, and spending the afternoon with me making gluten free chocolate cupcakes for the party, and some wool and knitting needles and a pattern for a kippah (skullcap) and lessons on how to use them. So I'm getting very much hooked on knitting, and feel extremely loved. Also she gave me and jack a canvas print of a photo she took of a polar bear, for we are OSOs which translates as bears, and I don't have words for how completely wonderful it is to have that in our home.
So I managed to spend every day of the eight of chanukah with people I love, and never once had to light candles lonely by myself in my little flat. Well, sixth we didn't quite manage to light, because we all went to London to see the Disney on Ice show, but that was certainly suitably celebratory. And OSOs found music for Maoz Tzur (I only wish I could teach it by singing, but I really can't) and played it for me on their cello and trombone, which was also really awesome. The last night was also New Year's Eve, which we didn't quite balance right; it's proving in some ways harder to combine secular with Christian celebrations than the more obvious clash of Jewish with Christian. But there will be other years and we will get better at this.
As well as my partners I wanted to mention that their children have been absolutely wonderful. They've been including me in their Christmas stuff, and caring about making chanukah special for me, not just the present giving and receiving, but all of it. Judith has been lovingly enthusiastic about the lighting and the story and all of it. When I told a version of the story based on imagining what it was like for the characters involved, to avoid too much repetition over the eight days, Judith pointed out that it would all have been better if Hannah had got involved and started a rebellion earlier, and not waited until all her children were killed. I said, well, before Antiochus started having people executed for refusing to bow down to statues of himself, there wasn't really any reason to rebel, things were generally ok. But I'm not sure I'm actually right. Perhaps the time to rebel against a corrupt political regime is indeed before the obvious tyranny and mass killings start. Andreas mostly didn't want to join in with the actual ceremony, but he's been paying attention; he asked me at one point how I know that God wants us to light chanukah candles, which he can only have got from listening to the detailed wording of the blessing.
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