Of Grandchildren, Chanukah, and Christmas

As I’m sure many of you know, I haven’t been contributing to this blog spot lately. It’s not so much because I don’t have the time, but rather because some of the “fire” or inspiration for doing so has cooled off.

I have no local community of faith and no longer have a steady stream of information coming in regarding the Messianic perspective on the Bible, the Messiah, and faith to employ as a muse.

Chanukah 2016

I had been considering writing something about Christmas and Chanukah (besides my little science fiction Chanukah story) and dreading it at the same time since, after all, it is somewhat expected, but then these issues collided with my regularly scheduled life.

A few things.

My son David is divorced with two children, my seven-year-old grandson and my almost eighteen-month-old granddaughter.

David is currently living with us to save up some dough, and his arrangement with his ex is that he gets the kids for one week and she gets them for the next.

That’s under normal circumstances.

Because she celebrates Christmas and we don’t, we’ve had them for the past week-and-a-half, and she’ll get them starting late Friday or early Saturday, and keep them for the next two weeks.

Since Christmas and the start of Chanukah both begin on December 24th this year, the grandkids will get Christmas but miss Chanukah.

My granddaughter wouldn’t care, but my grandson loves Chanukah. With this in mind, my family decided to celebrate Chanukah a week early this year so, for us, the fourth night of Chanukah begins at sundown tonight.

Another little factoid. David is dating (I personally think it’s on the rebound, but he says “no” and what do I know anyway?) and she celebrates Christmas, too.

star christmasSo last Sunday evening after my grandson lit the candles and my wife coached him through reciting the blessings, my son and his girlfriend produced a bunch of Christmas presents and gave them to my grandchildren.

I had no idea this was going to happen, and I found myself surprised, shocked, and more than a little dismayed.

I usually silently endure the Christmas season and am grateful when January rolls around so traffic goes back to normal and I don’t have to listen to Christmas music anymore. It’s not like I’ve got a case of “paganoia” about the holiday, I just find it overly commercialized and tedious.

But it invaded my home and without even the slightest warning.

At least no one dragged a Christmas tree into the house.

Which brings me to what really inspired today’s missive. Jewish actress Natalie Portman has a Christmas Tree.

This story was published as Jewish educational site Aish.com to illustrate the potential danger of Jewish assimilation into wider secular culture (or worse, directly into normative Goyishe Christianity).

They also published a parallel article, When Christmas Meets Hanukkah touting the same message.

Is it okay to mix Christmas and Chanukah together? Can you have a Chanukah menorah in your home alongside a Christmas tree? Is this acceptable intermarriage holiday practice?

Experts and authors such as Susan Katz Miller would probably say “yes,” but I’m not so sure.

It’s a foregone conclusion that my non-Jewish grandchildren will be raised with Christmas and Easter and all of that, but thanks to their Bubbe, they’ll also experience at least Chanukah and Passover and occasionally a smidgen of Sukkot.

natalie portman christmas tree
Natalie Portman, Image: Aish.com

My wife isn’t particularly observant (I wish she were more observant) and my son even less (non-existent). If he wasn’t living with us, he probably wouldn’t light the candles, and in spite of the fact that he complained about his ex-wife celebrating Christmas when he was married, he seems perfectly fine with giving his children Christmas presents for the sake of his new girlfriend.

If my family hadn’t been such a mixed bag of evolving religious practice when my own children were growing up, and if we had specifically raised them Jewish, maybe some of it would have stuck. I’d like to think so, even though there’s a crisis of assimilation into secularism attacking the upcoming Jewish generation.

All three of my kids identify as Jewish ethnically, but that’s about where it ends. I really don’t think mixing and matching is such a great idea in families (and if my son marries yet another non-Jewish wife and has more kids, it’ll just get worse). Granted, Natalie Portman can make whatever decisions she wants for her family, but if I had it to do over again, when my sons were born thirty years ago, I would have pushed my wife to join a local synagogue and start her (and my family’s) Jewish education right then and there.

That would have changed a whole lot though, so I’m conflicted. At that time, neither of us were religious, and as her non-Jewish spouse, if I had started attending shul with her and the kids, and if I had become entrenched in that lifestyle by the time we initially encountered Christianity some seven or so years later, I might not have become a believer, and then transitioned into a Judaically aware perspective thanks to first Hebrew Roots and then later Messianic Judaism.

How could I do that, and yet, for the sake of my Jewish children, how could I not?

Each of my three adult children will have to make their own path if they want to recapture what it is to be a Jew. I’ll help if they ask, but otherwise it’s totally up to them. It’s totally up to my long-suffering wife if she wants to become more observant (and she’s the product of an intermarriage as well). I’ve told her more than once that I’ll accept whatever decision she makes in that direction.

assimilationI have almost no control at all of what happens to my grandchildren. They’re not Jewish but I have this secret hope that they’ll become curious one day and want to investigate that part of their heritage (they could always convert).

The world is bleeding out Jews thanks to the hemorrhage of intermarriage and secular assimilation (except for the Orthodox, or so I’ve been told). I can’t fix it in my family, and can only watch and shake my head when I see my grandchildren rip into Christmas wrapping as the Chanukah lights burn just a few feet away.

May the Messiah come soon and in our day to return the Jewish people not only to Israel but to themselves.

14 thoughts on “Of Grandchildren, Chanukah, and Christmas”

  1. Just out of curiosity, what “steady stream of information” are you no longer receiving as a muse for essays on this blog?

    Given the mixed state of your extended family, it seems to me that you still have impetus and justification to write about the merits and demerits of varied approaches to the Christmas and Hanukah holidays by non-Jews. If the non-Jews in question are not devoted to seeking the most accurate meaning of the text of the apostolic writings, perhaps the issues are moot. If they are, they just might wish to eschew the standard traditional Christmas observances in favor of something more reflective of biblical truth — recognizing, for example, that Rav Yeshua was most likely born during Sukkot rather then in December, and that much of what has been incorporated into Christmas originated in pagan sources, like the tree and other greenery. Consequently, while they are not to be expected to observe the historical traditionally-Jewish festival of Hanukah as Jews do, they may still find within it certain generic meanings worthy of celebration by non-Jewish disciples of a Jewish messiah. This would offer them a better reflection of biblical themes that properly may be associated with December. Thus the Hanukah lights may offer them a “Hanukah lite” form of observance to commemorate what Rav Yeshua himself would have observed in Solomon’s portico of the Temple in Jerusalem during Hanukah as mentioned in Jn.10:22-23. Should gift-giving be discouraged, because it was not part of Hanukah’s origins but was added later? I don’t think so, because it can still symbolize a form of renewal commensurate with the notion of rededication that is fundamental to this holiday. Is the holiday not suited also to commemorate the “light of the world”, including not only the enlightenment represented in Hanukah themes but also that offered by Rav Yeshua (the adult, not the baby in a feed trough)?

    1. I sent you an email answering your first question.

      You are right in that I do have the impetus to continue writing and no one is attempting to stop me. There is a rather sharp divide in my family, including my son’s ex’s regarding Judaism and Christianity. Whatever additional meaning I attach to Chanukah in recognition of Rav Yeshua, I keep to myself for the sake of peace in the family. I don’t think David has any sort of attachment to Christmas, it’s just he has an attachment to the woman he’s dating and she has an attachment to Christmas.

  2. An idea? With Yeshua being born possibly at Sukkot, the poetic prophecy or praise toward God by his mother might be fitting at Hanukkah (so, some focus on his later-coming birth).

    1. I might not be communicating what I intended. I’m not concerned with how I understand Chanukah, Sukkot, or any other celebration, just how Judaism isn’t being successfully passed down to the next generation. In my case, it hit me smack in the face last Sunday evening when I “hosted” both Chanukah and Christmas in my home. I was surprised how uncomfortable the dissonance was.

  3. As a lone Messianic Believer, I find the dissonance very high this year, with Channukah beginning on Christmas. I was given a beautiful Pine Wreath by Christian friends, but it doesn’t quite match with even my cross bred Channukah celebration, with individuals candles instead of a Menorah. But it is pretty, and instead of being on the door that I never would see it on, is sitting as a massive table decoration instead, looking pretty, if not what I wanted.

    I am pleased to not have a tree or presents to deal with. I will still light the candles, if not in quite the Judaic way others might. Your decision to move the festival seems to be a good move under your difficult circumstance.

    I purposefully went out last night and loaded my van with provender for the next two weeks to enable me to stay at home, and not be forced to venture out into the holiday madness until after the New Year, and I was grateful to get home in one piece to find my small house comfortably waiting for it’s occupant, and finding my dog and my cat happy to get me back. And I was desperately glad to get home…everyone seemed to be out last evening, racing to yet another toy store or mall.

    Somehow, lighting the lights each night of Channukah seems to be the best thing to do in these times of darkness, but being caught between the man made Christmas and the G-d ordained Moed continues to be uncomfortable, and what should be clean and bright seems a little dimmed in our cross culturalism.

    I am truly sorry all this was thrown at you without warning in your own home, and will pray that all those children from the mixing of two different cultures and religious streams will at least find Yeshua in the days to come, and that you and your extended family can enjoy all the bits and pieces that you have together.

    1. I managed to get over it, Q. I think it was that I hadn’t been told about it. My wife probably knew, but I was out that afternoon having coffee with a friend so was taken unawares.

      One of the things I dislike about Christmas is the insanity on roads and in the stores. I completely avoid the area around the mall since it is all but undriveable

  4. I would have been unhappy if that happened when I was bringing up my children. Especially when you don’t even get your grandkids when it really is Hanukkah, and you were trying to give that to them.

    Sorry I wasn’t paying close attention when I wrote the first time around. It can be challenging to bring people into the situation and still have it be your situation. Not too difficult. Too bad David didn’t find a way.

    Presents are fun wrapped in Hanukkah paper, boxes plenty nice stuffed with blue or multicolor tissue. We did manage to get anyone visiting for any stretch of time to respect what we did (and did not do).

    I might be getting on a touchy topic, but as for the girlfriend, I would have been unhappy about that too. I don’t think I ever had to deal with something like that in a way that my boys were aware of.

    There were people we encountered who were remarried, but my children wouldn’t have known that. It still made me uncomfortable. I remember our rabbi not knowing about one couple, then realizing.

    Oh. I’ve remembered we did have to think through a divorce — in the family, my husband’s brother. I did adjust. It was the right thing for his wife. I had to face it. Then one is able to talk with the kids.

    He was an alcoholic and kinda self-absorbed. I ended up, some years later, taking all my sons to her wedding to someone else (another step). So, while we’d not given her trouble, we were changed.

    Still, divorce stinks. But you know that. Stinks but is sometimes necessary. Very hard to decide it’s time. But your son is on through that, and that’s not what you were writing about either.

    Is that the son who shared with you that he was thinking about getting more into Judaism? If so, it sure would be good to get clarified and maybe look in different places for a new gal.

    1. It was uncomfortable but you adapt. Mainly, I’m using the experience now to illustrate the issues in families regarding interfaith marriages and the effect on children and grandchildren. It would have been interesting if my wife had been raised in a Jewish home and was more observant when we met. Would we have married, and if so, how would our lives been different? No way to know, of course. We play the cards we’re dealt.

  5. For people being brought in, it’s respectful to tell them ahead of time, in a nice way. It does matter for the children (whether they fully know it now or not). Maybe next year, when the two holidays aren’t intermingled (although I do realize they were are could have been not intermingled the way you were doing it). Or when people can speak up.

    And, to respond to your last line of thought, I sometimes think I should have left him when he did this or that or the next thing, etc. All good reasons to leave. All make me feel stupid (now that I see things differently) for having stayed. But then there wouldn’t be the children, the five boys. And somehow, they’ve all turned out to be good adults.

    To get more on the line of what you said, what if I’d been wiser in the ways of the world before I met the person I married? I wouldn’t have married him. I was too naive and indoctrinated (and, strangely, had been put in such a position by a woman who was more a feminist who says she’s not a feminist — like most Republican women today).

  6. Which reminds me… no one has exactly said it yet in this thread, but part of what we’re talking about is not having to hear Merry Christmas while we’re celebrating Hanukkah. So, we are anathema.

  7. I’m out of town now, visiting my parents, aunt, and some cousins, plus a son who came with me. The evening before we left our city, another son and his wife, and others, were at my house to visit and play cards. We had music on, using Amazon Echo. It kept playing Christmas music no matter what we chose: Frank Sinatra, etc., etc., Cindi Lauper (our last try), until I asked for Hanukkah music. Everyone celebrates or accepts Christmas, but most were already tired of Christmas music before Christmas, everyone happy with the Hanukkah station.

  8. I ran across this today while looking for an article I read a month or so ago.

    Lacking an oppressive state church, the United States lacked defiant atheism. No longer. Because the religious right has become so powerful, it can hardly be surprising that anti-religious sentiments are flourishing. Some established Jewish organizations may see in the religious right important support for Israel. Others, more frightened to see Christian fundamentalists shaping public policy, turn against religion, even their own.

    [My own note: Of course, these aren’t the only options.]

    When there is secularism, Jews will always be found among the secularists.

    Of those Jews with no religion, slightly more than half, according to Pew, keep a Christmas tree in their house. But so did Theodor Herzl.


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