By Ellen Scolnic
and Joyce Eisenberg
We're Jewish. Our husbands are Jewish and our kids are Jewish. We've been Jewish for thousands of years. It's not news to us that we don't celebrate Christmas. We've never had a Christmas tree. Never cooked a holiday ham. Never strung the bushes outside our homes with colored lights.
But that doesn't mean we don't enjoy yours. We love the trappings of Christmas.
We are in the minority - among the 3 percent of Americans who celebrated Hanukkah. As our children were growing up, we worked hard to shape their Jewish identity. We schlepped them to Hebrew school on Sunday mornings, made matzah ball soup for 30 Passover guests, and stayed enthusiastic while packing food baskets with their youth groups. Every December, as their friends were anticipating Christmas, we'd have to remind our children that our family lit Hanukkah candles a week ago - and they had already opened their presents.
Now our kids are grown. Their identities are established. We did our best - and they are making their own choices. We can relax and enjoy the fruitcake and the tinsel.
In the melting pot that is America, we like to see the ingredients. We want to know what you're celebrating. We don't have to share your beliefs to appreciate your holiday and revel in the season. It's out there for everyone to enjoy. In fact, we can't avoid it.
We like getting your Christmas cards. We like seeing the photos of your kids and reading those glowing family updates. "Billy made the travel soccer team again! All the cousins gathered for a fabulous family reunion in Pittsburgh!" We don't own those matching Christmas sweaters with reindeer and sparkly trees, but we do admire the fact that you got your husband and teens to actually put them on and pose for a picture - and no one was frowning or making bunny ears.
At this time of year, when we go into HomeGoods for a set of sheets, we're mesmerized by the aisles crammed with vintage wooden Santas, snow-covered ceramic villages, and glitzy poinsettia trees. Sometimes we wish we had a box filled with Christmas tchotchkes and ribbon garlands to pull out once a year to dress up our living rooms. Our houses look the same year-round. We never change up the tchotchkes. The lone blue and silver Hanukkah banner we hung in the kitchen just doesn't cut it.
We're honored to be included in our friends' Christmas celebrations. It's a special time of year for them and we're happy to be part of it. It also gives us an excuse to buy them Christmas paraphernalia, and we love to see "our" ornament on their tree.
We love to eat their food, too. One of us loves fruitcake - with the candied cherries and the little bits of citron. Christmas cookies? Yes, please. We adore our friend Mary Ellen, and look forward to her tray of homemade butter cookies shaped like snowmen and Santas and reindeer. We like the eggnog - especially with rum.
We love the Christmas lights. We used to pile the kids into the car and drive to Upper Darby or South Philadelphia, where we'd all ooh and aah over the house with the thousands of lights and the one with the flashing Santa that flies across the roof. If truth be told, we are a bit jealous of the lights. Hanukkah is the Festival of Lights, so why didn't we think of stringing outdoor holiday lights? We have to content ourselves with the glow of nine Hanukkah candles.
People have asked us, "Are you offended if I wish you Merry Christmas?" No. The thought behind your sentiment is sincere. We're comfortable with our minority status. If you're interested, we're happy to tell you about Hanukkah. We are happy when friends tell us about Rohatsu, the commemoration of Buddha's enlightenment; Kwanzaa, the African American celebration of cultural heritage; and Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Lights.
Next year, we hope we are invited to someone's house to taste the traditional Diwali dessert of gulab jamun - fried dough balls in sugary syrup. They sound very similar to sufganiyot, the fried jelly doughnuts we eat during Hanukkah, and we know we'd like them. We'll even bring you a fringed, orange Diwali lantern to hang in your home.