A Kosher Christmas: 'Tis the Season to Be Jewish

By Joshua Eli Plaut | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION
COPING WITH CHRISTMAS:
A MULTITUDE OF JEWISH RESPONSES

I have always been fascinated with Christmas. As a young boy growing up in Long Island, New York, in the early 1960s, my mother took me to sit on Santa’s lap at Gertz Department Store. Inevitably, Santa asked me what I wanted for Christmas. I then felt compelled to explain that I celebrated Hanukkah. Santa still gave me a candy cane. Visiting Santa at the shopping center might not be unusual for most Americans, but it was out of place and strange for a Jewish child whose father was a well-respected rabbi and civil rights activist in Great Neck, New York. Years later, I asked my mother why she took me to sit on Santa’s lap when we did not celebrate Christmas. She responded that she was simply doing what many American parents did for their children. She was never worried about any influence on me as a child because my family was secure in its Jewish identity.

I also remember that every year on Christmas Eve, we drove around our neighborhood to see the brightly lit Christmas trees adorning front yards and to admire our neighbors’ Christmas decorations. We also went to Rockefeller Center in New York City to ice skate in the gently falling snow and to sip frothy hot cocoa with marshmallows, a magical moment that I have counted among my favorite childhood memories. While we always enjoyed the trappings of Christmas around us, at home we celebrated Hanukkah faithfully each night: reciting blessings over the candles, singing Hanukkah songs, playing dreidel, and giving and receiving presents for eight days. Indeed, Hanukkah gifts were stacked up high on the baby grand piano in our living room. These memories stand out in my recollection of my childhood as does one more December ritual: during our holiday break from public school in Great Neck, as was the wont of many American Jews, my brothers and I flew south to visit our grandparents in Florida.

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