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Susan Estrich
5 Feb 2016
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3 Feb 2016
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29 Jan 2016
Donald Ducks

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A Lot Like Christmas


"I'd rather get presents for Christmas," my friend's daughter told her, as she was on the verge of actually getting her first Chanukah present of the season.

Can you blame her?

Growing up, I remember Christmas as one of the loneliest times of the year. Everyone I knew, or at least it seemed like everyone, was celebrating, eating wonderful dinners, reveling in the warmth of family and getting great presents. In our family, it was "just another day," which was ridiculous because how can it be just another day when every store is closed, the weather guys on television are talking about the forecast for Santa and all your friends are comparing notes on what they got. Oh, yes, and some people did go to church.

More so than on any Jewish holiday, even the High Holy Days, Christmas was the day when I always felt most intensely different, most distinctly Jewish.

Which is probably why, as a mother, I don't give my children Christmas presents.

I know now, as I didn't then, that not all of those happy Christmas scenes at other people's houses are what they appear to be, that there are as many depressed fathers, angry mothers and unhappy children around those tables as there were in my house, and that Christmas trees don't make those feelings go away. I know now, as I didn't then, that holiday lights and Christmas carols don't automatically bring with them the sense of belonging, safety and security that is the movie version of this season. But sometimes, even now, it's hard to remember that from the outside looking in. Like my friend's daughter, there are days when I still pine for Christmas.

Some years ago, when I had a radio show, I had an orthodox rabbi as my guest.

His advice was simple: If you want your grandchildren to be Jewish, don't give Christmas gifts to your children. If you want your children to grow up with a sense of Jewish identity, don't turn Christmas into a semi-Jewish holiday. Many of my listeners were offended. What could be wrong with a little sectarian holiday spirit?

Chanukah is a nice holiday, but it's not a biggie. This year, my kids and I went out for latkes. My son had already gotten his big present for the year. My daughter didn't much like the sweatshirt I bought her. And both of them got new shoes they would have gotten anyway. That was it. It wasn't Christmas and it wasn't supposed to be.

I know a lot of people who are doing their best, married to men or women of a different faith, to raise their children to belong to both. I'm not sure how you can simultaneously believe that Jesus was the messiah and that he wasn't, or that Allah is and isn't God, but the only thing worse, it seems to me, is believing, as many kids today do, in "nothing." When I ask some of the kids I know what they "are" and they say "nothing," I'm always a little horrified. More than a little. They get Christmas presents, but they don't celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday. They just do the secular part. They get the presents, but not the gift.

The gift is knowing who you are. That is what I have tried, sometimes awkwardly and inartfully, to give to my children. It is what my parents, for all their failings, gave to me. The gift is faith in something larger. And it's not something you can find under a Christmas tree if all you're really looking for is a present.

To find out more about Susan Estrich and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at



4 Comments | Post Comment
Christmas has become a financial burden and the spirit is gone. Retailers were advertising after Halloween instead of Thanksgiving. Taking Merry Christmas out of the holiday has made it just a materialistic holiday instead of the religious it is suppose to be. I grew up in a neighborhood of all religions and we included all in the spirit as they included us. It was a learning experience and I learned to respect others beliefs. Our society has isolated all of that and that is sad. Our politicians are using religion for their benefit to gain power losing the feeling of spirit. Working in hospice I came to the belief that we all have one God but different ways of getting to him. We all feel we are right and I believe no one is wrong.
Comment: #1
Posted by: Kathaleen McCausland
Sat Dec 8, 2007 7:21 AM
I was a bit disturbed by your horror at children who believe in "nothing." I didn't grow up in a church going household, and in that house, Christmas isn't really about Jesus. In my house, Christmas is about family. It's about gathering together as many people you love as possible and spending time together for all the time we miss now that we live all over. It's about the joy I can bring my 4 year-old niece with a new toy, and the joy my mom and dad get when my brother takes the redeye from california just to join us. While we all identify as christians, we aren't really church-goers, and yet we're very moral people. We all probably believe something a little different from one another. I resent the notion that if you don't follow an established religion, something is missing. I think that what a person needs is a good family, which is to say a group of people, blood or not, who care about you.
Comment: #2
Posted by: Matthew
Mon Dec 10, 2007 12:34 PM
I rarely, if ever, find myself agreeing with anything you say - until this article. The message is clear to me - believe in something. Make a stand, draw a line and stand. Search out the truth (a lifelong journey) be open, aware of others and prepared to change your mind if convinced. Just be ready for ridicule, criticism, and personal attacks by those who believe in nothing.
Comment: #3
Posted by: Greg
Tue Dec 11, 2007 9:21 AM
I find you to be very presumptuous in your opinion of a holiday you don't even share. The spirit of Giving is a teaching tool. Christmas in our home is about the birth of our savior. The wise men came bearing GIFTS for our Lord,because the Word was made Flesh! That is the whole point of Christmas and I guess if you don't get that then you should not celebrate Christmas! As for your opinion about families who don't get along what does that have to do with Christmas? Many people are unhappy all the time no matter what the Day Is! Some people just don't want to be happy and are out of touch with life. Maybe in your parents infinate wisdom they should have taught you the difference between your faith and others. I actually have alot of respect for the Jewish faith,but you need to re-evaluate your own if you are having these "jealous" feelings about mine! What jew in their right mind would decide to exercise"a little sectarian holiday spirit"? Does that mean you also go to dinner and ask the waiter for a piece of ham,but hide it! My gift is my Faith, and I am offended by your arrogant opinion of a holiday that is more important than any other to me. Oh, and if you can find a way to get rid of all the "secular" people more power to you because our world would be a much better place. Happy Chanukah ( I know it was last week!) I have respect for your holiday,how about a little for mine!
Comment: #4
Posted by: crystal
Fri Dec 14, 2007 8:05 AM
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