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Being Jewish … at Christmas

December 4, 2010

A raucous round of applause for the first ever guest post on this blog. Thanks to Karen Redman, ever reliable Twitter pal.

“Could you write a blog about what it feels like to be Jewish at Christmas?” he asked and, because he’s such a thoroughly good friend, I said I could. And that’s really where my problems began because, to be honest, I’ve never given Christmas too much thought … I’ve never really had to before, but now I’ve been giving it quite a lot of thought which is quite a strange concept for one with empty headedness, anyway.

Yes, I’m Jewish … and when I was little and at school I used to nag my Ma & Pa like rotten to have a Christmas tree because all my friends had Christmas trees and I wanted one, too. I didn’t buy into the concept that it had anything to do with a religious festival; I just wanted tinsel & sparkly, twinkly things in our sitting room. (I still do). My Ma used to say “No” to me every year and in the end I just gave up asking.

Now that I have a son of my own, I can absolutely understand that he says that Christmas makes him feel all warm and snugly inside. He now hears me say in my mother’s voice, “No”, when he asks if we can have a Christmas tree. He knows that Christmas IS a religious festival and we’re not the right religion to have a tree and that’s that. I fear that I used to nag my Mum more than he nags me but he goes to a Jewish school and I didn’t. And, yes … when I see the pretty, twinkly stuff in shop windows, I also feel all warm and snugly inside.

When I worked at the BBC, I had one boss who used to ‘phone me every Christmas morning to wish me a happy one. I used to spend Christmas hols with my parents in Birmingham in those days. They were quite bemused that a man called David Hatch used to ‘phone me every year to wish me a happy Christmas! I used to think it was perfectly wonderful of him because he knew I was Jewish and still wanted to wish me peace and goodwill and that’s what it’s all about, really, isn’t it? I mean the religious stuff is important to those of us who are religious in any religion but peace and goodwill matter to everyone regardless of their religion or the strength of their beliefs.

I quite liked spending Christmas in the USA where Santa’s ding donged their bells and wished shoppers Happy Holidays and shops displayed greetings for Christmas and Chanukah in their windows. Happy holidays are a great idea. The religious bit is the bit that causes more problems than it should – all year round, not just at Christmas.

When I lived in Israel, many Israelis had Chanukah bushes. (If you must, do snigger now and get it over and done with). Of course, these were just Christmas trees given a different name. Some people did have them, some people didn’t have them. I didn’t because inspite of not being religious I was bought up in an orthodox Jewish family and I cling hopelessly to the vestiges of the traditions that are familiar… and Christmas was not a part of my familiar tradition.

Our Christmas Day, I suspect, is rather similar to most people’s … I cook a turkey or even two ducks, we eat and then we slump in front the TV watching films that we’ve all seen before. Oh, and the Queen’s Speech because it gives me a whole year of material of speaking in my Queen voice which no-one but my dog, cat and gerbils appreciate. Still … it’s important to keep one’s hand (or larynx) “in”, isn’t it?

I do love to listen to the Vienna Boys’ Choir singing carols. The carols are really, for me, the best part of the day. I don’t pay too much attention to the words but Stille Nacht is one of the most beautiful tunes ever and Chanukah, to be honest doesn’t actually come near to Christmas musically. We can sing “Ma Oz Tsur” each evening or a couple of what are meant to be either cute or funny children’s songs … the main one being “Dreidl, dreidl, dreidl”. Have a listen … see what I mean?

And this year, Chanukah starts the very night that I am penning this blog, and whilst I’m sure there are a lot of Jewish kids out there who feel deprived, I remind my son that Chanukah lasts for eight days and he gets a present from us each day which is a fortunate position to be in because the gift focus of Christmas is one day only. (Although, with the propensity for over-generosity never quite meeting expected demands at this time of year … perhaps 8 quite medium-sized presents for a kid isn’t actually over the top?)

And so, we have a few days off work … we eat turkey ad nauseum … we watch TV and I would like to wish you and yours Peace & Goodwill and a fervent hope that everyone from all religions, all over the world will forget the religion bit for a while and concentrate on just getting along with each other. That can’t be a bad wish for any of us, can it?

Have a good one!

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