This time of year has been different for me this year compared to the past. There are still wreaths and twinkling lights and evergreen trees for sale in high school lawns. I’m still flying to South Dakota to celebrate Christmas with my family. But when I walk into work this year, there is beautiful, glittery banner hanging on the front desk, reading “Happy Hanukkah!” There are menorahs everywhere, and I’m learning new words, like “latke”, and how to play dreidel games (Gimel!) All this being said, I love being invited to this new world of sights and smells and holiday things. But I have to catch myself a lot.
“Are you going home for Christmas?…I mean, Hanukkah?” It’s a little embarrassing, honestly. Because my mind has it so deeply engrained that my way I do this time of year is the way everyone does this time of year.
I’m very lucky to be working at a Jewish Community Center with children of all races and backgrounds and to also be employed at a place where religion is never hushed; the kids are free to discuss it as they please, and I’m free to answer. “Miss Rochelle, are you Jewish?” “No, I am not.” “Well, I am!” “That’s awesome!” I say, and we go back to coloring. Another chimes in, “I’m a Christian! I’m not sure what that is, but I am one!” (<< an actual quote from a child) “Cool!” I respond. And we all go about our afternoons.
Conversations sprout up with my coworkers as well, Jewish and non. We talk about our family holiday traditions and what’s special to us. And as I learn more about a culture different than the one I grew up in, it makes me think of a concept brought up a lot around this time of year: The War on Christmas. And I am even more convinced it does not exist.
Those of you playing victim: Look around you this December. What do you see? Santa. “Christmas” lights. “Christmas” trees. Reindeer. Ads for “Christmas” shopping. “Christmas” music on every radio station. Thousands of possible Christmas Eve services to attend. No one is trying to take this away from you. By saying “Winter Break” or “Happy Holidays,” neither people nor the government are trying to take away your right to celebrate your own religious holidays. Rather, it is merely an acknowledgment that other traditions exist. It is asking that (gasp!) all December celebrations are put on an equal pedestal.
Not everyone celebrates Christmas.
We are out here, some of us celebrating the triumph of our people through oppression. We are out here, some of us celebrating the birth of a man whom we consider our Savior. We are out here, some of us reclaiming our heritage from the continent which we were taken. We are out here, some of us celebrating the beginning of the return of longer days. We are out here, some of us celebrating (a) day(s) when our family is finally all together again. We are out here, some of us living through December 25 like it is no special day. We are out here.
We are out here.
And though not all of us are celebrating, many of us are, and we can do it in solidarity with one another, even though we may do it differently. And through all traditions this time of year, there is light. There is hope for what is to come. And that, my friends, is something we can all get behind.