For the moment, I’m a lucky bastard. Sasha is only 2 years old, and can’t fully distinguish red from green, let alone understand what a holiday is, and why we would or wouldn’t be celebrating it. But the Christmas/Hanukkah dilemma has been an issue in our household for many years already, and will likely never be fully resolved.
Let’s start with my wife. Jean is a Buddhist, which means she likes to decorate with electric lights and shiny objects. Christmas provides an excellent opportunity for decorating with electric lights and shiny objects. Why, she asks, can’t we have a Christmas tree?
Because, I like to say, it’s just not my holiday. As a Jew, I just can’t countenance the encroachment of this Christian holiday on my life. I’ve dealt with that crap enough already (three years as the only Chosen Person in my Southern high school), and I don’t want to give the Christians another goddamn inch. In fact, the first and only time I ever decorated a Christmas tree was in 2003, in Delhi, India, at the home of wealthy Hindus—possibly the only religion more addicted to shiny electrical decorations than Buddhists.
So: Fuck Christmas. Yeah, Bill O’Reilly, you heard me. You want a war? You got one!
Does this mean we do Hanukkah in my house? Well, therein lies the real dilemma. Because in addition to being a Jew, I’m also an atheist, disparaging of anything and everything to do with god and religion, organized or otherwise. Jewish beliefs are just about as ridiculous to me as Christian and Muslim ones, and I’ll be damned if my daughter is going to grow up superstitious. (Actually, I’ll probably be damned anyway.) My parents, and probably a lot of desperate secular Jews, would argue that I can bring her up as a “cultural Jew” who follows the traditions but eschews the mysticism. But I think we human beings would all be better off acknowledging that religion was a big mistake and that the traditions should be allowed to die out—especially Hanukkah, whose story many now view as the triumph of traditionalist, anti-Greek (hence anti-modernity) Jews over progressive secular forces.
So, naturally, as you might expect, we do a Hanukkah dinner in my house every year. With a menorah that’s been in our family for decades, excellent latkes, the whole shebang. Partly, of course, this is just an excuse for me to cook a big, delicious meal. Partly, it’s to counteract the sway of Christmas, to remind Jean, and someday Sasha, that that is not our holiday!
That “someday” is important, because eventually, in a year or two or three, Sasha is going to come to expect PRESENTS. And we’ll have to come up with an excuse to give them to her. She might even demand a tree. And so this is the plan: We will give Sasha her presents on the Thursday before school vacation begins, which gives her just enough time to open them, bring them to school, show them to her friends, and lose them on the way home.
And we will have a tree! A CHINESE TREE! It will be a small, indoor tangerine tree in a pot, and we will festoon it with hong bao (red envelopes) and maybe some light-up chili peppers. And on Christmas Day, we’ll do what Jews have done for generations: Order kungpao shrimp and mooshoo pork, and take in a movie. That’s the kind of secular sacrilege I could really get behind—if only it weren’t so Jewish.