Holiday Spirit? Part Two

Hanukkah at White House

Holiday Traditions at the White House

One of my readers, Phil Buckberg, posted a story in response to my Holiday Spirit? blog on Tuesday.  I was delighted that Phil offered his own story from the perspective of his own faith, which has been my vision for this blog since I launched it a little over a year ago.  Since I’m not always sure that people see the comments at the end of a blog, I asked him if I could repost his story, and he graciously agreed.  Thank you, Phil, for making this a dialogue.  I hope that his story will inspire others of you to join in the conversation, so here is today’s guest blog:

Many years ago, when I worked for Xerox, we held a holiday-time fundraiser for a colleague who was, as I recall, a very young widow with mounting bills. As it was December, we made it a holiday party in which many of us sang and danced and generally made fools of ourselves for a good cause.

Our “director” decided that, for one part of the show, we should all wear our corniest Christmas clothing, whatever it might be. I told her that, being Jewish, I didn’t actually own Christmas clothes, but I could find some red and green and wear them together. She was truly astonished at my suggestion. She asked me, “Don’t you have anything with Santa Claus? He’s universal, isn’t he?” I don’t recall if I was speechless, or if I replied with, “Uh, no?” This woman was well-educated, successful, and although a bit flighty, a very kind and caring soul. And yet, in all of her 50+ years, she had not learned that Santa Claus, by virtue of being “Father Christmas,” might in fact be a Christian icon and not a universal symbol.

The punch line is that, Jewish or not, I have always loved Christmas. Growing up, we didn’t celebrate Christmas at home, but we had Hanukkah, Passover, Rosh Hashanah, and a few other special days when the house was filled with the people I loved the most. I learned that we celebrated some holidays, other people celebrated others, and we all lived together.

Shortly after my wife and I married, a friend of hers invited us to celebrate Christmas with her family. I suppose they felt obligated to invite us to Easter the next year. Twenty-five years later, we have celebrated nearly every Christmas and Easter with them, along with weddings, births, graduations, and everything else. We don’t observe the religious aspects of the holidays, but, as it turns out, neither do many of the members of our adopted family. Does it matter? Not to any of us. We love them like family and they love us like family. My kids barely acknowledge a difference between our “Catholic” family and our own Jewish family. Maybe we missed the sermon about loving one another, but we got the message.

I applaud the County Council for allowing leaders of all faiths to offer prayers, moments of silence, or whatever observance they choose to acknowledge the beliefs of those whom they represent. Perhaps it serves as a reminder to the council of the diversity of the people who will be affected by their votes. Perhaps the separation of church and state is effected by including all faiths non-selectively as much as by excluding all of them.

Thanks, Estelene, for another beautiful and thought-provoking essay. Best wishes for a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!