The high school I occupied during my pre-adult period was nearly ninety percent Jewish. When many of the more important Hebrew holidays were celebrated, like in September and October, they actually consolidated as many as three or four classes for any given subject into a single room. Even with that arrangement, I was one of only a tiny hand-full of students in there. We had a lot of fall study halls back then.

Chanukah was different because it usually seemed to coincide pretty closely with Christmas and everybody was off from school … even the kids that celebrated holidays with names most of us never heard of, until ‘political correctness’ came to town a few years later. In those days you were either a Christian or a Jew and nobody was offended by wishes of “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Chanukah,” even if you got it wrong. In my neighborhood, the Christmas tree and the Menorah lived side by side. In fact, a few Jewish people celebrated both occasions.

When I was around nine or ten, I remember my friend Carl proudly inviting me over to see his Chanukah bush! At the time, I didn’t see why it was such a big deal. I mean, by any other name a Christmas tree is still a Christmas tree, right? As I came to understand later, Carl’s family was more the exception than the rule. I used to feel sorry for the Jewish kids at Christmastime. There we were, laughin’ and scratchin’ with our new bikes, scooters, skates, Flexible Flyers and trains from Santa Claus … and those kids had nothing. It was like they were poor or something. They just stared at all our stuff and marveled at our big, broad grins.

As the years passed, three revelations replaced my pity. First of all, I discovered that these kids got presents for Chanukah just like the rest of us did for Christmas … only at a slightly different time and without benefit of a jolly old elf to deliver them. Second, they not only celebrated Jewish holidays but Christian ones too, which meant they had twice as much time off from school as the rest of us! Finally and most important of all, I came to know it isn’t the glitter that matters, it’s the substance.

Particularly where Christmas is concerned, I hear a lot of grousing about “the commercialism, the stress and the spending that is such an integral part of the holiday.” I’ve even read articles about people ‘opting out’ of the celebration altogether. It’s sad that some confuse the tangible with the spiritual, the shopping mall with the manger … and for them the glitz and glitter has become the traditional way to celebrate. Many view Christmas, itself, as a tradition rather than the historically significant occasion it represents. Christmas contains traditions the same way the Fourth of July has fireworks but its true meaning goes far beyond mere repetition, even over a couple of centuries.

By the way, for those who advocate beginning “a new tradition”, whether to do with Christmas or something else, by definition it’s a conflict in terms. Declaring a practice to be a tradition without first having it re-occur over a reasonable period of time is like looking through the wrong end of a telescope!

Oddly enough, in their determination to avoid potential hassle and expense, people are rediscovering the magic instead of the frustrations of The Holiday. Instead of gifts, which she can’t afford, one single mom has her kids writing letters to each other that they’ll open on Christmas morning, She says, “We’re going to tell each other what we love about our family. And that’s it.” There is nothing wrong with giving a homemade present, a letter, a song or some other form of personal expression. In fact, there’s everything right with it and, often, recipients prefer such gifts! Do you suppose the pioneers hitched up the ol’ Conestoga and ran out to Sears or the Apple Store to pick up a last minute something for the kids … or might they have had to use a little more imagination?

Some of my most cherished memories are connected with Christmas. To me, it would be unthinkable to deprive anyone of the joy that is to be found at this wonderful time of year, if you are willing to look for it. I can’t imagine not celebrating Christmas anymore than I can imagine a clean-shaven Santa or a child without a toy. Christmas or Chanukah, Christian or Jew … at the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter how you celebrate or what you believe, it only matters that you do!

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