I’ve found navigating pleasantries can be tricky when you’re a Jew living outside of New York City in December. Nearly everyone I encounter assumes I celebrate Christmas. I’ve learned to respond to “Merry Christmas” with “Have a happy new year.” It’s non-denominational and I figure it won’t offend anyone who is an atheist or agnostic. However, if someone asks me, “What are you doing for Christmas,” I respond with “I don’t celebrate Christmas because I’m Jewish.” Occasionally someone will follow-up with, “So you don’t have a Christmas tree?” BUT, most of the time, the conversation switches to something else.
As soon as Isabelle was able to sit upright, people began asking her, “Have you been a good girl for Santa?” I found, “We don’t celebrate Christmas. We celebrate Chanukah” to be a good enough response. Even though she can speak for herself now, I still pre-empt the conversation and tell the other person why Santa won’t be visiting our house.
Before I tell you about the BIG THING that happened on the Christmas front today, allow me to go back to Tuesday afternoon. Isabelle and I were at Chocolate World where she was admiring a beautiful red ball with chocolate candies inside. She wanted the ornament and I had to explain it was for a holiday, Christmas, that we don’t celebrate. “We celebrate Chanukah,” I told her. I located the tiny Chanukah display inside of Chocolate World and brought her over to it. “See the blue and white Hershey kisses and the chocolate bar wrapper with the dreidel? Those things are for our holiday, Chanukah.”
She was not impressed. “I want the red ball!”
“It’s a Christmas ornament for a Christmas tree, Isabelle. We don’t celebrate Christmas. I am not going to buy you the ornament.”
“I wanna celebrate Christmas!” she declared.
“Well, that’s not going to happen because you’re Jewish!”
“I wanna celebrate Christmas,” she repeated.
“Let’s go find the Chocolate House,” I offered, changing the subject.
Fast-forward to this morning. I was talking with her occupational therapist at the end of her session in the office lobby. Isabelle was twirling around and chatting about her Elmo stuffie with four older women who were ogling over her. Once I was finished speaking with her OT, I told her it was time to get our coats (to go back to Chocolate World — of course). As we walked away one of the women wished Isabelle a “Merry Christmas.” Isabelle paused. In a calm voice she looked at the women and said, “It’s Chanukah.”
None of them responded. I said nothing. I just watched as Isabelle articulated herself more carefully. “It is Chanukah,” she said.
“Oh, well, Happy Chanukah, then!” the lady who said “Merry Christmas” said to her. All of the other ladies joined in and said, “Happy Chanukah.”
I couldn’t believe it. My little girl took it upon herself to use her voice to, in essence, say, I don’t celebrate Christmas because I am Jewish. I was FLOORED.
I took Isabelle aside after I zipped up her coat and told her how proud I was for calmly telling the ladies, in her own way, that Christmas wasn’t her holiday. In the car, I explained to her how I respond when people say “Merry Christmas” to me, but told her what she did was perfectly okay.
My daughter used three small words to send a big message today. She essentially told a group of women not assume everyone celebrates Christmas. Her Jewish identify is emerging and I couldn’t be prouder.
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Let the record show that when she was at Chocolate World today she saw the Christmas ornaments from Tuesday, pointed at them, and said, “Those are for Christmas.” She paused. Then she said, “I celebrate Chanukah.”