This year I will be celebrating Christmas with my Jewish-Muslim friend. Things are relatively simple for me; I’m just Jewish. But Emma’s Christmas is a complicated triptych. While many Jews around the world celebrate some version of Christmas, it is rare for a Muslim to do so, even though Islam recognises Jesus as a prophet, while Judaism does not. Of course, we don’t exercise ourselves about this overmuch. Like many Christmases, ours is mainly focused on cake. But celebrating Christmas as a non-Christian is undeniably a contrivance.
When I was growing up, my family were so anti-assimilation that when it came to 25th December we didn’t even have lunch. But I like snow, chestnuts, tinsel, and when Emma and I graduated, we decided to start having our own Christmases. This will be our eighth year. Of course, ours are not particularly traditional. Santa I can do without. And other elements are conspicuously missing – no tree, no turkey, no Queen’s Christmas message. But we have a pudding, presents, fairy lights, sherry and lots of lunch, and being untrammelled by tradition makes the planning all the more pleasurable – we can have a Mexican theme one year (warning: guacamole and sherry are a terrible combination) and a full roast the next.
It’s quite definitely ersatz rather than echt – but then so is my Hanukah. Certainly, on Hanukah, I light candles and say a prayer and eat traditional foods, but I am as likely to do this with my non-Jewish friends as with my Jewish ones. And it’s probably more of a spiritual travesty to celebrate Hanukah with people of different faiths. Hanukah is, after all, a holiday which commemorates a successful Jewish revolt in the 2nd century BC against Syrian oppression, and a refusal to assimilate into the prevailing Hellenistic culture. Then again, I don’t know why more people don’t celebrate Hanukah. It’s based on candles, games, presents, songs, latkes and doughnuts (the oil in the fried food symbolising the oil which miraculously kept the Temple’s eternal flame going for eight extra days). What’s not to like? As Adam Sandler says in his Hanukah song: “Instead of one day of presents, we have eight crazy nights.”
Hanukah never used to be a particularly important holiday, but thanks to American commercialisation, it has been rebranded the “Jewish Christmas,” mainly because it usually happens in December (although the vagaries of the…