As a Jew, I think Christmas is a time to rejoice. Each Christmas season, I’m reminded that I am not responsible to buy gifts for anyone. Thank the Lord of Jacob, for He hath spared me and not bound me to buy things for family members I don’t like just because someone said I hath to.
Many people believe hard work and education are the keys to Jewish wealth, but really it’s Christmas. Each year we get to save and reinvest what others spend on gifts, parties, and decorations. Jewish holidays are thrifty. We have so many that we’ve learned how to holiday on a fixed income. Heck, some of our holidays we made fast days. We can get together but no one’s allowed to eat a drop. Think of the savings. Sukkot? Easy, slap some wood together, cut off some tree branches, and just sling them on the roof. For Christmas, you need to chop down the whole tree. The whole tree? Oy vey! Then you have to buy a new one next year. For Sukkot, we only take the branches. Renewable decorating. Saves trees, saves money.
Some ask, What do I do when I’m forced to go to Christmas parties? Forced to go to parties? What are you, a zombie? But what about the calories? It’s never stopped you before. Eat, drink, and enjoy. Do you think your Uncle Chaim in Poland would turn down vodka?
We’re blessed to dwell in a world with all different types of people doing all different types of things. Remember, it’s all just one: One energy — some call it Hashem, some call it Jesus, and some call it mimosas at brunch. Yet when I focus on rededicating to that oneness, nothing can deter me. Even annoyingly catchy Christmas music stuck in my head for weeks.
Simon Kaufman, son of Gedalia, first of his name, the Holy Bro, the Judah Monk, the wise one, the circumcised one, the Masta of the comedy diaspora, the Salmon Sage of the Northwest, Yochanan ben Sockeye.
Each year at this time, we confront the intersection of Hanukkah and Christmas and need to navigate between the two. I personally don’t think this is much of a dilemma anymore. With the increasing number of interfaith households, our Jewish families are going to be sharing multiple celebrations either in their homes or in the homes of close family members. If we think that Judaism is going to end for our kids because they decorate a tree, then we have bigger problems.
What I don’t want is for the “December Dilemma” to overshadow another challenge that we are facing within the Jewish community, which I will call the “October Obstacle” — the close proximity of Sukkot and Halloween.
With the holiday creep we see increasing each year in the retail sector, Halloween is overlapping more and more with Sukkot. How can we celebrate this holiday about our connection to the natural world and our ancestors’ journey toward freedom, when our larger society is promoting horror masks and Star Wars costumes? In our family, we have had to lay down the law of No Halloween Until After Sukkot. While we get the pumpkins during the holiday, we don’t carve them until after. The fake cobwebs and tombstones do not come out until all the sukkah decorations are packed up.
But is this a battle we can continue to win? If trends continue, Halloween is going to continue to assert itself earlier and earlier. Fairly soon, we might end up with haunted sukkot akin to haunted houses with vampires and ghosts as the ushpizin — the spiritual guests we invite into our sukkah.
Indeed, the “October Obstacle” is not disconnected from the “December Dilemma.” After all, December 26 is a great time to go out and purchase lights for next year’s sukkah.
Seth Goldstein is rabbi of Temple Beth Hatfiloh in Olympia and president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association. He hosts the podcast Torah tl;dr and the YouTube series Carpooling with Rabbi.