Progressively Speaking: Christmas is coming, so what do Jews do?

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Progressively Speaking: Christmas is coming, so what do Jews do?

Rabbi Charley Baginsky reflects on the Jewish perspective of the festive season

I’m asked to comment on a lot of things that have the potential to be controversial, but there is nothing that gets more comments in my inbox than when I talk about Jews and Christmas.

My personal relationship with it also seems to antagonise or delight an already heated debate. After all, I am the rabbi who was born on Christmas Day. My mother is even called Mary.

But it is not only the auspicious date of my birth that has shaped my thoughts on this topic. I grew up in a family where my mother had converted and so my Nana, a very religious Catholic, would want to mark the day. My children’s father also converted and so they, too, have a mixed faith family, for whom Christmas is very important.

But all of us – unless we are completely cut off from the world – know Christmas is coming. We feel it, we see it and we hear it for a good six weeks before it is upon us. Personally, it is an annoyance – reminding me that, since I no longer live in Israel, it is impossible to have a party on my birthday.

But I know for many others it indicates some well-deserved time off is coming. Many love the chance to have a day when all those whom they care about are off work and school and can be together. Equally, there are Jews who feel the profound loneliness of this time of the year and we must be there for them.

But now the perennial question – should we have a Christmas tree?!

Each of us has to walk those negotiations in our own way. There are no Christmas decorations in my house – they would detract from my birthday, obviously! But the children will visit their non-Jewish family during the season and will take them presents and, I am sure, feast on the chocolate on their trees. It is also important for us to recognise that, for some Christians, decorations and trees are trappings that distract from a holy time
for them.

For me, the principle lies in shalom bayit – the essence of this time is bringing light into what is a cold and dark world at the moment. So whether you have a menorah, a tree, both or neither, I’m wishing you all light in this time.

  • Rabbi Charley Baginsky is chief executive officer of Liberal Judaism
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