For Jews in North America, December can a challenging month. Here are some tips for maintaining your Jewish equilibrium in the midst of Jingle Bells and Silent Nights:
DO keep Shabbat. “More than Israel has kept the Sabbath, the Sabbath has kept Israel,” said Ahad HaAm, one of the wisest of the early Zionists. If you don’t know what he’s talking about, try tasting Shabbat for a month and see what happens in your life.
DO celebrate Chanukah. Yes, it is a minor feast, but it is a celebration of dedication to Jewishness, exactly what we need in the Christmas season.
DO make your home a sanctuary. Home can be Jewish space where other traditions don’t intrude. Read 10 Ways to Enhance Your Jewish Home for ideas on how to do that.
DO have clear and loving boundaries in your interfaith home. Exactly what those boundaries are is up to you and your beloved, but clear communication about them can save a lot of pain. If you are already in a place of pain about it, get a counselor to help you sort things out.
DO reach out to and support other Jews. December is a challenge for most of us. Invite people for Shabbat, or for a little Chanukah gathering. Set up a movie date for Dec 25.
DO be proactive with your children’s school. Make sure your child’s teacher knows that he or she is Jewish, and what your boundaries are on Christmas-themed activities, ideally before these things become an issue. Combine with other Jewish parents if there are any to offer to bring a Chanukah lesson to school, etc.
DON’T feel guilty that your children “don’t get Christmas.” Use these tips (especially Shabbat!) to give them the rich and sustaining tradition that is their birthright. Christmas is once a year. A strong Jewish identity is a treasure year-round and for life.
DO keep consumption under control. This is the season for marketing and partying. Don’t overbuy, overeat, or over-consume, no matter what the culture at large is pushing you to do. If you have children and the grandparents are going overboard with presents, share A Tale of Two Grandmothers with them.
DO give yourself permission to enjoy. Christmas isn’t our holiday, but perhaps you enjoy the decorations, or the lights, or the music. I love my neighbors’ light displays. Enjoying them as I drive by doesn’t make me a traitor to Judaism. They can enjoy the light of my menorah, too.
DON’T spend time in retail space unless it’s required. Cocoon at home. Add a new mitzvah to your life. Watch Jewish movies. Find a new Jewish blog or two. Enjoy a hobby. Exercise. Enjoy your family. If you work in retail, you have my sympathy.
DO have a reply ready for “Merry Christmas.” My favorite reply is, “I’ll take a happy Chanukah and wish YOU a Merry Christmas.” If you have a stock reply on hand, then you can deal with it “on automatic.”
DON’T take every mention of Christmas personally. A great deal of of the “Merry Christmas” we get is highly IM-personal, which is irritating, but if I got mad every time I heard it, I would have to double my blood pressure meds. Good self care sometimes means “let it go.”
2 thoughts on “Jewish Self-Care for December: 12 Tips”
Thanks, Rabbi, wonderful list of suggestions! I think it is lovely that the evening of Dec. 25 is Shabbat. I plan to have friends over for Shabbos dinner and to make a cozy evening with loved ones.
In an interfaith home, we have worked on understanding balance. We are always learning. Keeping Shabbat is such beautiful advice…as in not losing sight of Shabbat in the midst of holiday crush. We will have a wonderful time with a Chanukah party. Other nights will have sweet and peaceful lightings. Richard sings the blessings right along with me. Later, closer to Christmas, we will have a tree. I will help make this special for Richard. It is his and I am here to help make that happen for him. We will also have stockings for all the kids and our granddaughter. We will probably have latkes for lunch, when they are gathered here after Christmas, since they would have missed Chanukah. Mishugenah…maybe, but also kind of sweet. The one step daughter for whom this really matters is dating a Jewish guy. Go figure. She and Rebecca used to make the latkes…..I may make them do that again! Ultimately, being secure in who you, and with your identity as a Jew, is most important. Being open to enjoying another’s holiday and sharing yours can be a fun way to establish a meaningful balance. It takes sensitivity, knowlege, and love.