The Greatest Gift

Christmakkah, a term invented (by many) and used by my friends and I growing up. I was the only Jew in my tight circle of Christian friends but we made sure that every holiday involved and respected all traditions that was near and dear to us. We learned a lot from each other. I would have them all over for Passover Seders and to light Hanukkah candles and in return they would invite me to help build their Christmas trees and go on Easter egg hunts. I’ve attended Christmas mass in more church’s than most of my friends. Armenian church, Italian church, Irish church – you name it, I’ve probably been there.

Now, don’t get me wrong! I’m not a wannabe Christian or Hindu or Buddhist or Muslim! I love being Jewish! But I also love the concept of sharing. The gift of sharing that the holiday season gave my friends and I has been incredibly rewarding. We turned out to be open minded and respectful to each culture or religion that crosses our paths. We’ve learned to be patient in understanding one another and the rest of the world around us. The holiday season has taught us that sharing with each other has brought us the most valuable education there is.

I can still remember the day I came home from school one snowy Christmas Eve and asked my parents why we didn’t have Christmas lights hanging from our windows. I remember panicking and saying to my dad, “Quick! We need to go get a tree or else Santa won’t leave us presents!”. I remember him telling me that Santa won’t come to our house because we are Jewish but that being Jewish was a gift in itself. At the time I didn’t understand rather, I felt like I was being punished. I made decorations out of coloured paper and taped them all over my room to try and “trick” Santa into knocking on my bedroom window. I stayed up all night staring up at the sky through my window, watching the snow fall lightly into my backyard. Finally I convinced myself that he will only come when I’m asleep. This night occurred about four more times before I was old enough to understand that Santa would never come.

It took me a while to appreciate my Jewish roots. There weren’t any Jewish schools in my neighbourhood when I was a child so being the minority was hard for me especially when I literally knew no one else my age who’s house stayed dark during Christmas Eve! My parents did a great job with balancing my understanding of religion as a child. They never told me that Santa didn’t exist. They tried to explain that I was different from a very young age but who the heck wants to be different when they’re a kid!? I thank them today for all that they’ve done. It can’t be easy to raise a child in such a separate world than the one inside your home. I thank them for never being the ones to tell me the truth about Santa. In fact, I think I was the last one of my friends to believe in him because I never had the opportunity to catch my parents eating the cookies and milk! When my parents had to decide how to tell me that Santa wasn’t coming for me, they chose to keep my imagination and childhood dreams alive. The Jewish excuse hurt at the time, yes it very much did. But all that Judaism has given me after those quiet Christmas Eve’s has made up for it all – I’m sure my parents knew it would too.

Now, the holiday season (December) is the only cold month that keeps me cheerful! I appreciate the religious significance of it because I’ve taken the time to join others in their holy places. I appreciate the gift of it also – the simple gift of sharing that comes with the festive and cheerful holiday spirit. Share your traditions, share your smiles, and share your love. Like this, you will see the dreams of children flourish into much, much, greater realities. As we step into the multi-cultural societies around us, remember to preserve the dreams of your children even if it will cause them to hate their own upbringing. They will grow out of it – but let them do it on their own. Let them hold on to magic and Santa and elves and the freakin’ tooth fairy (!!!) for just a while longer. It won’t make them less than what they truly are; Jewish or Muslim, Hindu or Christian, etc. Instead it will teach them respect for their peers, teach them how to be open minded, and will educate them beyond the ability of any academic institution. Trust me, I know.