December 25 in Israel

Once again I am struck by the fact that except for the Christian citizens of Israel, this day is like any other day. When I lived in the US, I understood that the majority culture found meaning in this holiday. Those who were religious/spiritual looked to it as a time to celebrate something very special to them. Those who liked the feel of the season, the tinsel and the snowflakes and the warm fire and the decorations, looked forward to that holiday feeling. And when I was a child and didn’t understand the deeper meaning of the holiday, I too enjoyed the lights and the songs and the smells of pine and the sounds of bells.

As I became more aware of who I was and what my traditions were, I realized that these symbols beautiful as they were, these songs, melodic as they sounded, were not mine They were part of something bigger and something that had a great deal of meaning to others, but they were part of a tradition that was not mine and that did not have meaning beyond the aesthetic to me and my family and friends.

When our children were small, my husband was a US Army chaplain. We moved from post to post from the time our oldest was 5 until most of the children were out of high school. Often we were the only Jewish family in the neighborhood. Never were there more than a few families on base where both parents were Jewish. Most of the time, the families were not observant Jews. I can think of only two or three exceptions. So as Jews, we were isolated from a community.

Meanwhile, our children were attending the local schools and so every year around Xmas time, it was “and now Mrs. Michelson will tell us about Hanuka, the Jewish Xmas.” As the years went on I enjoyed this less and less. It served only to point out to all of the other children in the classs how out of step our children were with them. Granted, the classmates thought that Hanuka was “neat” as I brought along a menorah and lit candles for them and sang songs for them, sometimes teaching them a song and sometimes I even brought along latkes, and I did the best I could, but for me it was a tedious task each year educating several rooms full of children about what we celebrated and how Hanuka was NOT the Jewish Xmas.

My children and I would go shopping, and see and hear Xmas everywhere we were, and, indeed, there was beauty in it, but each year I became increasingly aware of how much I didn’t fit in that place. It simply wasn’t mine.

When I moved to Israel, it was suddenly an amazing thing to be part of the majority culture. I didn’t have to drive 100 or 200 miles to get kosher meat or to visit the mikvah (ritual bath). I did not have to explain why I had holidays that no one else had. Here, with each holiday, the country prepares with special displays, activities, and sale items, but these are for OUR holidays. And this year, once again, I am shocked that December 25 has come and I didn’t even notice it.

To all of my Christian friends, please accept my wishes for a very blessed Xmas and a wonderful new year.

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  1. Dear Rona & Aaron:

    at this time I thought of you both. I hope all is well. Donna and I now have an empty nest, with all our kids away…one in internship (after both medical & law school), two in law school & 1 in college. We still have no grand children, but I’m sure they’ll follow. Like you, I feel strange this holiday but in a different way…you recall my wife is Christian, so we went to a midnight candlelight service which she enjoyed and I felt strange with. Interestingly, we took our daughter & 2 sons who were home. Both sons are starting to reject what they term, the guilt that christianity places on them (“we’re all sinners and need God’s grace and then we still cant measure up) versus Judaism’s just urging you to be the best you can be…we’ll see where they wind up religiously.

    Best regards,

    Frank G.

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