Jews in December: 12 Survival Tips

Image: Blessing the Shabbat candles. (Photo by Linda Burnett.)

For Jews in North America, December can a challenging month. Here are some tips for maintaining your Jewish equilibrium amongst the cacophany of Jingle Bells:

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. The modest little lights of Chanukah remind us that it’s worth the effort to maintain our identity as Jews.

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. Check out Interfaith Challenge: When December Isn’t Wonderful for some ideas.

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. Remember that other non-Christians may be feeling it too; check in with Buddhist, Muslim and agnostic friends for some non-Christmas socializing.

DO be proactive with your children’s school. Make sure your child’s teacher knows that little David or Sarah 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, or God forbid in a competition, 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 chanukiah, 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.”

This post appeared a few years ago in a slightly different form.



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Rabbi Ruth Adar is a teaching rabbi in San Leandro, CA. She has many hats: rabbi, granny, and ham radio operator K6RAV. She blogs at and teaches at Jewish Gateways in Albany, CA.

One thought on “Jews in December: 12 Survival Tips”

  1. Wow! Now this is a statement: 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.

    I’m not Jewish. Being Jewish is so totally different than other “religious customs”. I think Muslims, too, have a true identity. I wouldn’t say now that Christianity is part of my identity (of course, I’m searching for answers at the moment so…)

    I grew up Christian, but it isn’t something that had your rich and sustaining traditions, or that it is even a birthright. Christmas is once a year. This speaks VOLUMES. If Christianity were more part of our identities as Christians wouldn’t every day be a celebration of Christ on earth instead of breaking it into his birth and death? Ugh…all the questions I have…

    Still this post is beautiful and it is resonating with me and giving me a lot to think about.

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