hanuchristmastree.jpg I suspect this photo will not appear odd to any of us celebrating mixed families, traditions, religions, cults, vanilla extracts, syncretic faiths, unionism, or pure unadultered atheism with presents this year. My wife erected the Christmas tree last night with my full approval (I'm recovering from hernia surgery, and thus was unavailable to help, ahem ahem), and I lit the Hanukah candles this evening. A happy juxtaposition in our home. A friend in college, on discovering I was Jewish, asked, "So you don't celebrate Christmas?" No, I said. "Not even commercially?" Photo by yours truly.


  1. “Not even commercially?”

    Ahh, this is the time of year I have to explain a variant on this myself. The best was one from a co-worker who said “Well, I know some Jews who celebrate it just for fun!”

    You know for a country that likes to paint itself as a melting pot, it seems being non-Christian or non-holiday celebrating is beyond most people’s grasp.

    I’ve heard more recent variations on that theme from folks who celebrate Diwali. Ov vey!

    1. There’s also the issue that Hanukah is a minor military holiday that celebrates careful resource stewardship elevated into something it never was!

      1. I like to see it as some Rabbi’s saying “Christmas! Christmas! What can we do about? WAIT! This story about the vial of oil stretched out for 8 days? That’s it! Watch out Christmas! We got 8 days and resourcefulness!”

        In other news, I am looking forward to “True Grit” for my movie/Chinese food combo.

        1. Fortunately, Hanukah is also never on the same Western calendar schedule two years running, so it has the feel of a mysterious stranger, too. “This year, Hanukah is before Easter! Next year, it’s _two_ years later!”

    2. You know for a country that likes to paint itself as a melting pot, it seems being non-Christian or non-holiday celebrating is beyond most people’s grasp.

      Isn’t that what the melting pot concept is about? Everyone get in the pot, we’ll melt you down, and you’ll all become Americans.

      That was what I was taught in school was the philosophical difference between the US and Canada. The US is a melting pot, Canada is multicultural.

  2. The way I see it, Christmas is just a natural extension of Saturnalia, which was itself based on similar winter solstice holidays that took place all over ancient Europe.

    Winters away from the equator are hard on people. Celebrations ease tensions and lift spirits. As an atheist (who occasionally attends church with family) I appreciate Christmas and other winter holidays for what they are and what they do for us, and I frankly can’t get enough of the holiday season.

    The only thing that bothers me are the culture warriors who need to find conflict where there doesn’t need to be any.

  3. An atheist raised by an agnostic mother (raised by Christian Scientists!) and a Jewish father, I’m in a somewhat interesting position from a religious point of view. I personally believe in celebrating the holidays – not for religious reasons, but as a celebration of the family. I’m pretty sure my Dad feels the same way.

    I’m in the position of not technically being Jewish (via Jewish law), but still having a connection, via my Dad. When I was younger, we did indeed celebrate Passover. These days, when my brother and I are both off doing our own thing most of the time, not so much. These days, I’m rather indifferent about Christmas trees – but my Dad insists on one. Not because of the celebration of Christ, but because of the family ritual of the thing. If anything, we’re not a Christian, Jewish or Atheist family, we’re a family – family .. that is, we celebrate events that bring us together. And I don’t see anything wrong with that. :)

    1. And because I’m extremely pedantic, and can’t just let it go, I would like to acknowledge that I know Passover is in the spring, not December, I was just providing an example in addition to Hanukkah. (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur I have no recollection of celebrating. Take that as you will).

    2. Talia, regarding family, since I now find myself in this position, I think I need to say this: I don’t think what you’re saying is intentionally wrong, but some of us don’t have families in the traditional way any more. In my case, my parents passed away over 18 years ago, my siblings—for various reasons—have alienated folks including their own children. So for me—and my nephews and nieces— the holidays are a time to spend with friends and loved ones: Live-in partners, folks they are married to, roommates, etc…

      Technically speaking, all of those groups can be considered “family”, but I think societal pressure to be with a traditional “Norman Rockwell” structure of “family” is stifling, destructive and the cause for a lot of pain during the holidays.

      So if someone tells you they are not spending the holidays with “family”, don’t give them grief. Respect there are valid reasons one would want to celebrate the holidays in “non-traditional” ways.

      Jardine, that is the cynical perspective but in cities like NYC there is respect for others exists. And that’s why I love living in NYC.

      1. Quite right, quite right. The term “family” is highly subjective. It’s certainly more the spirit of the term – those dear to you, draw them near.

  4. Atheist that celebrates Presentmas here. Personally, I’m enjoying our war on Christmas. For some reason I only hear about it from Christians and certain news networks, but sounds like we’re making good headway.

    I also declared war on Thanksgiving this year. War on Saint Valentine’s Day and Saint Patrick’s day is in the preliminary stages.

    1. Dude, I had no idea that Bela Fleck has a holiday album! That’s f****’n awesome! +1 for “Best Christmas Mix of 2010”.

  5. Happy Chrismakah celebrants here! We don’t hand out presents during Hannukah, but we do candy, blessings, spending time with family, spinning the dreidel, etc during Hannukah, and then giving presents on Christmas. We also celebrate St. Nikolaus Day (tomorrow!) by having the kids put out their cleaned shoes the night before and getting candy and trinkets in the morning.

    So we get a little mix of Jewish, German, and American traditions. It’s nice. And it’s about family. And about remembering. And reverence. All of those things. And it works for us, and that’s the wonderful thing about holidays. This season is so many things to so many people and we all get to enjoy it our own special ways, and that’s wonderful.

    Heck, maybe next year we’ll even put up a Festivus Pole and have a little wrestling. Could happen.

    Merry Chrismakah everyone!

  6. just want to represent the atheists who hate the consumer-orgy that is the months of November and December. Also, christmas music makes me sick to my stomach.

    1. Well said, and: I just want to represent the Christians who hate the consumer-orgy that is the months of November and December. Also, Christmas music makes me sick to my stomach.

  7. Christmas isn’t remotely “Christian”, or even religious, unless you want it to be. My Christmas never had a theological component (except a creche) and I plan on continuing the tradition even though I’m an atheist.

    Jews and everyone else should be free to celebrate xmas if they want. It and Hanukkah aren’t mutually exclusive; observant Jews can keep Hanukkah as the minor holiday it was and observant Christians can celebrate Christ’s birth and everyone else can get a tree and drink egg nog. Or do whatever they want.

    Not that I endorse the current consumerist frenzy that is Christmas, but nobody should have a monopoly on the general concept or be barred from it. Open Source Xmas!

  8. We do the same thing xmas and hanukkah to celebrate our family’s cultural heritage, even though we’re all atheists – an excuse for presents and wonder for small children should not be passed up – strictly speaking though we don’t celebrate Christmas, we celebrate ‘xmas’ – the capitalist celebration of buy lots of stuff – in a family tradition we tie a $20 bill to the top of the tree and leave it there for the passing homeless (or whoever) when we put the tree out

  9. does christmas trees actually have anything to do with christianity?
    the trees always felt like a heathen leftover to me.

  10. we call it Kwanzmasukkah, and I will figure out a way throw Chinese New Year and Diwali in there somehow if it means I can ignite fireworks in the snow!

    atheist child of non practicing jewish (mom) & christian (dad) assimilators…

  11. Years ago when Eid al- fitr fell close to Christmas we waited and celebrated with the Christian part of the family in a glorious celebration my children called Christmas Eid. After that day I’ve come to the conclusion we should celebrate all holidays – religious or otherwise – as long as you focus on the day as a celebration of being with others and sharing rich cultural and family traditions. Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah (and Diwali and Festivus and whatever you may celebrate).

  12. It’s Hannakrist at our house, where we celebrate most holidays that involve eating and exchanging trivial and silly gifts.

  13. Christmas trees are about as pagan as it gets, btw. Of course, they’re also my favorite part of the season. We put a small nativity scene under the star on top, and hang a blue Father Christmas ornament to represent Odin seeking wisdom in a spirit of ghastly fun. Belonging as we do to Reformed pagan traditions which date back to 1976, we draw the line at ravens and eyeballs. Of course, some might say Santa Claus is just training wheels on the Christian 10-speed, but don’t we all brainwash our young one way or another. Irony aside, I did attempt to observe Ramadan this year, but it’s a lonely time when you haven’t been brought up with the example. I like dates after the sun goes down, though.

    1. “some might say Santa Claus is just training wheels on the Christian 10-speed”

      Interesting way of putting it. I’ve heard people say that they won’t teach their kids about Santa for just this reason.

      For us, it was just the opposite. Santa was a way for the kids to learn that folk tales and myths are fun but they’re not reality. They might have a worthwhile message/moral, and that’s great, but the stories aren’t factual. For us, Santa was training wheels to atheism, not Christianity.

      In our nuclear family, we celebrate the original reason for the season: sharing good food and good times with good people, secure in the proof that the sun *is* coming back a little more each day so that our cold dark winter will not be endless. Lights, love and laughter. And presents!

  14. Me, I just can’t wait for Victoria day (bizarre Canadian holiday in May celebrating the birthday of a long-dead queen of another country). But it’s a long weekend in May – that I can get behind.

  15. Growing up as a little Jew in a Lutheran private school I learned that little kids are the limit of tolerance in nearly all areas. Christianity like Islam is a faith that by nature seeks to spread and assimilate all cultures around it by nearly any means possible even if not all branches especially in the US are part of that monolith. It specifically aims in its scriptures to completely eliminate the legitimacy Judaism as it sees itself as the new true path versus the lies of the rabbis who long ago went wrong and as a result killed their god, just read the book.
    Now most adult Christians in the US are really great and as a group are tolerant as anyone but in the end Christianity has been historically far worse for Jews than say Islam.
    OTOH I suppose anyone who likes to celebrate can enjoy Chanukkah although those with ancient Greek Syria occupation force heritage might think twice. :)

    BTW I am sick of hearing ignorant people saying we invented Chanukkah to compete with Christmas or that it is somehow tied in. The Hashmonian revolt against the Syrian Greeks took place 200 years before the alleged birth of Jesus. It is one of the lesser holidays but Christians and Mad Men have elevated it to its prominence because they want the Jews to have a spendthrift holiday like the rest of America.

  16. It’s particularly ironic that Chanukkah has become some kind of “interchangeable-or-meldable-with-Christmas” miscellaneous winter holiday, because the whole point of Chanukkah is that the Jews rejected that exact kind of thing (the Greeks offered the Jewish God a place in their pantheon, after all, wasn’t that nice of them? – the whole Jewish revolt against them was sparked by putting some statues of, like, Zeus inside the Temple in Jerusalem) and kicked out the ones who were attempting to homogenize Judaism into something “modern” and inoffensive.

  17. My jewish grandmother pointed out to me that Jews have so few happy holidays, that Chanukah has become important so that we have something to celebrate, rather than just observe.

  18. Not to say that I don’t agree with the overall tone here, but isn’t choosing to “celebrate” a holiday by doing whatever traditions you want necessarily watering down whatever “true meaning” or purpose the holiday was originally created to celebrate? I mean, I’m all for spending quality time with family and eating feasts during a holiday… but if a holiday was originally about one thing and you party for a whole different reason, are you really celebrating the holiday, or celebrating having time off from work?

    What if there was a holiday about, say, the resurrection of a deity, with holiday traditions somehow related to that concept, and I decided that my family would celebrate by dressing up in random costumes and request candy from all our neighbors under threat of TPing their yards? Or what if there was a holiday about remembering how we survived a great catastrophe with the help of god’s might, and rather than do the whole somber feasting, I decided this holiday was better spent launching fireworks and drinking abundantly? If I spent every July 4th marching down the street throwing beads at anyone who’d flash me their chest, would I be missing the point of the holiday? How far from the expected holiday traditions can you go before you’re no longer taking part in the holiday’s “spirit”?

    Please don’t get me wrong, I love celebrating Chrismakah with family, food, and gifts. I like religion in general, appreciate aspects of every religion, and enjoy that people of all cultures and beliefs can be festive together, so I’m asking this as a devil advocate: isn’t it a little insulting to the faiths/nations the holidays come from if I don’t care about Jesus’s birth or the reclamation of the Temple (or the damn oil) yet still insist my partying is relevant?

  19. No offense, but y’all Jews need some marketing sizzle to get this christmazizzle chanukkuzazzle thing a crackle-lackin.

    Here you go, y’all ready?



    Christmas + Chanukkah + Chronic weed

    You know Kenny fucking Powers would get behind that.

  20. Not to say that I don’t agree with the overall tone here, but isn’t choosing to “celebrate” a holiday by doing whatever traditions you want necessarily watering down whatever “true meaning” or purpose the holiday was originally created to celebrate?

    The traditional purpose of religious holidays was (and is) to reinforce religious beliefs. The traditional purpose of religion is to create a common myth to bring people together.

    So if folks are saying they are celebrating getting together with their “family” (whatever that group might be), it is still in the spirit of the original intent of the holiday.

    I mean how many times do you have to be reminded of an event if you are truly religious? Then that becomes willfulness…. Oy vey, religious dogma debates!

  21. Ned: Homer, God didn’t set your house on fire.

    Rev Lovejoy: No, but He was working in the hearts of your friends and neighbors when they came to your aid, be they [points to Ned] Christian, [Krusty] Jew, or [Apu] … miscellaneous.

    Apu: Hindu! There are 700 million of us.

    Rev Lovejoy: Aw, that’s super.

  22. We were going to celebrate a ThankHanuMas party this year, but in the end decided it was too exclusionist. Instead this year we’re celebrating a Non-denominational Saturnalia Party.

  23. Nice tree, Cory. I like those little laser-cut ornaments.

    In response to the mixed-holiday household, I’m not an adherent to any of the fashionable faiths out there, but I still like Christmas. The holiday itself has been around since the Neolithic Era, at least, having more to do with celebrating the Solstice and thus the promise of warmer weather ahead. I don’t believe you need to worship anything to be in favor of warmer weather, so it’s a holiday I think most of us can get behind (except you, Australia and New Zealand. I don’t even want to hear about your lovely weather in mid-January).

    Christmas trees are lovely, Menorahs are lovely, the presents, food, drinks and general air of the holiday season are all wonderful. So I see nothing wrong with having any of that stuff in your house at this time of year.

  24. My wife and I are both atheists. We celebrate Xmas in the fashion of hedonistic 19th Century Dickensians. We eat ourselves into regret, hang out with friends and loved ones, and have a good time celebrating the season. The Jesus person never enters the equation. Our Xmas tree is an artificial one, four feet tall, with fiber-optic lights built into the branches. This year the theme is many little rabbit ornaments. Of course our Xmas cards have a secular theme.

  25. I have little to add to the theological discussion above, but can I just say that I’m a little disappointed that Chrismakah is not a celebration of the life and work of Chris Marker?

  26. As a little Jewish boy I planned to have a tree and lights like my gentile neighbors. Why should I be cut out of all this great stuff? Anyway it looks awesome and my little tree lined neighborhood looks great with all of the homes lit with colorful lights.
    My father always stressed to be a good neighbor.

  27. Chag Urim Sameach Cory – Christianity is an example of just how much trouble a single Jew can stir up:)

  28. Neil Gaiman’s family did this, too. He and his sister begged their parents for a Christmas tree and finally won the battle when Neil argued that it wasn’t Christian, just a pagan relic (“I’m not sure why it was better to be a pagan relic, but I hoped it was, and it seemed to shake my mother’s certainty. Like my teacher, she knew better than to argue theology with an eight-year-old”).

    Here’s the article: “I do not recall lobbying for anything, as a boy, as hard as I lobbied, with my sisters, for a Christmas tree. …”

  29. Growing up with an ex-Catholic hippie mom and atheist Jew dad, we made our own traditions. My mother loves Christmas and we always had a tree, presents, Christmas books and movies, but very little Jesus. Certainly never the intention that we’d actually take Christianity seriously. It was presented as a myth along side the other fairy tales we read throughout the year. And we had a Solstice Menorah with a nature diorama that we’d fill in over the eight days leading up to the winter solstice. I’m pretty sure my mom came up with the idea on her own, and it was awesome.

    For my family, the most enduring holiday traditions are around food. We still have the same Italian meal on Christmas Eve every year and some special snacks in the morning. And with no kids around right now, we have awesome new traditions like Christmas morning mimosas.

  30. In our relatively secular Jewish household, my wife insists on having a tree, but she grew up in the Soviet Union, where the tree is associated with New Years and is therefore even more secular than it is when it’s associated with Christmas.

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