“December dilemma” describes the tension many Jews feel because they are unwilling to fully participate in the Christmas themes and activities occurring all around them while, at the same time, they may feel uncomfortable about the hoopla surrounding Hanukkah, which is actually a relatively minor holiday. In interfaith families the tension increases when decisions have to be made about which holiday to observe—Christmas? Hanukkah? Both? Neither?
In “A Kosher Christmas: ‘Tis the Season to Be Jewish,” author Joshua Plaut writes of the variety of ways the American Jewish community has responded to Christmas, from authoring some of the best-known secular Christmas songs (“White Christmas,” for example) to creating giant menorahs for public places, pressing for “equal time” at school and community holiday celebrations, showering children with eight nights of blue-and-silver wrapped gifts, and making Hanukkah decorations (blue and white, not red and green). However, Hanukkah is NOT “the Jewish Christmas” and the two separate and distinct holidays offer an opportunity to recognize and respect each other’s beliefs and practices, rather than trying to compete.
Jewish people who live active and fulfilling Jewish lives and fill their homes and routines with Judaism probably won’t feel uncomfortable each year when December rolls around. Terry Mattingly, a non-Jewish American journalist who writes about faith in the pop culture, has this to say: “A child in a family that enjoys Jewish life and faith is less likely to crave a Christmas tree. But if a family’s life is dominated by television, pop music, movies, shopping, and other activities that have little or nothing to do with their faith, then it will probably feel tension.” Jewish families that are confident in their Judaism can observe their own traditions while respecting other faith traditions of their friends and their extended families and perhaps even participating in their celebrations. Rather than a “December dilemma,” the holiday season can be a time when people honor the beauties and traditions of their own religion and the religions of others, sharing a time of dedication, dedication to family and friends, to bringing light to the darkest days of the year, to working for peace on earth and to supporting and respecting religious freedom for all.
This year, because of a predictable but unusual quirk in the Jewish calendar, Hanukkah arrives earlier than it has in more than 70 years.
Instead of overlapping with Christmas, which it often does, Hanukkah overlaps with Thanksgiving, a holiday with which it actually has far more in common than it does with Christmas.
This confluence of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving has never happened before and will not happen again for more than 70,000 years, so in this year 2013 (5774 in the Jewish calendar), how serendipitous it is to celebrate together two holidays dedicated to freedom to worship in one’s own way and to expressing gratitude for the blessings we enjoy. There certainly is no dilemma in that! Happy Hanukkah! Happy Thanksgiving! Happy Christmas! Happy New Year! Happy holidays to all!