How This Jewish American Wiccan “Celebrates Christmas”
In the very near future, I will be spending a huge chunk of my time in Israel. It will be nice not having to explain holidays to anyone or explaining why Christmas is just another day to me. For now, in the suburbs of a predominantly Irish and Italian neighborhood with a good 20 churches in pretty much every direction I turn (I wish I was exaggerating), I am still explaining myself. I have no idea why people still think their religion is the only one that exists on this planet. I’ll never understand it!
I am completely respectful of other people’s religious beliefs and their holidays, so long as I am not subjected to them in a means to try and convert me, but my spiritual beliefs and holidays are often met with some extremely disturbing questions, as opposed to the few I have received recently that were honest, curious, and filled with excitement for knowledge. They were by no means offensive. When a person is open and honest, and interested, it makes it so much easier for me to be me, as opposed to feeling like I have to repress my thoughts.
A few weeks ago someone wished me a “Merry Christmas” and received my usual response, which is that I do not celebrate Christmas. This is someone whose establishment I frequent once or twice a month, and not only did she look like I’d just kicked her, but she came over to make sure she hadn’t offended me. I had to explain that I celebrate Chanukah and Yule, and that I am not Catholic or Christian. She was incredibly confused, but she came over to make sure she hadn’t offended me with a wish for a good holiday. Me, I simply like to be clear with people. I am not trying to offend anyone, but if you’re going to wish me well, wish me properly. Don’t make assumptions and please, don’t tell me I “don’t look Jewish”. I don’t even know how to answer that one without telling you off, and because I come from a rich ancestral well of knowledge and an incredibly deep DNA pool, I can assure you that we come in all different shapes, sizes, and colors. We are all distinctly unique, some more than others.
Growing up, Christmas was not a word used much in our home. Not for any other reason than the simple fact that we’re Jewish. We had many Christian and Catholic friends, some who understood and some who did not, that we ourselves did not celebrate the same holiday, nor did we share the same spiritual or religious beliefs that they did. It is extremely disturbing to me that in 2013, any Jew still has to explain themselves.
People like to quote the Bible at me, and they are generally New Testament folk. They’re the kinds of people that don’t realize exactly how “new” the New Testament really is. I, myself, do not adhere to anything outside of the Old Testament. Even that kind of loses me at times. Prayer is an amazing thing, but I like to stick to my own path when it pertains to anything of a spiritual nature. I am not trying to change or convert anyone.
Today is simply December 25th to me. It’s not a holiday, but it IS my Great-Uncle’s birthday. He passed away 15 years ago, but I still remember him very clearly. I remember the last things he ever said to me, and I remember how silent this time of year became after he passed away. For several years prior to his passing, myself and two other family members would try to spend the day with him. Even though he had long since stopped acknowledging his own birthday, he still loved going out to a nice restaurant and enjoying good food, good company, and he told stories like nobodies business. They’re the kinds of stories you want to hear from someone over the age of 80, because you know that no matter how much time passes, you will never hear such stories again.
After he passed away, the tradition maintained in my home on Christmas Day was movies and good food. Either we went to the movies and came home to a really great meal, or we stayed home with a pile of movies and made a meal together. Almost always, it was homemade Italian food from scratch, or Chinese food from the best place in the area.
To know me is to know that I make killer Italian food. It’s something I love doing, but I am just as comfortable making Asian cuisine, Mexican cuisine, and pretty much anything else that I have mastered in all my years of cooking. Nothing is impossible, but I am an epic lasagna failure. It’s the only thing I make that falls apart, so I’ve stopped doing it. It is never inedible, it just never does what it’s supposed to do. Despite a family recipe for veggie lasagna that has been passed down for four generations, I completely and utterly suck at it. It’ll probably be another ten years before I attempt it again. It takes time and patience, and we all know I have no patience.
Over time I have found that people really seem to be offended whenever I clarify that I do not celebrate Christmas. They look at me like I kick puppies, torture kittens, steal winning lottery tickets, and am just, on a whole, not a good person. I look at them with the knowledge that, for over 5000 years, my people have not celebrated Christmas. It’s not on our calender and it’s not in our religious texts. It’s perfectly ok to not share the same religious beliefs. If we did, we’d be living in some kind of bizarre utopia. That’s not a world I can imagine functioning in. Differences make the world go ‘round. We can either choose to come together and learn from one another or we can continue fighting in the name of religion. The choice, however, is generally not ours to make because those that govern our respective countries are a huge part of why organized religion is failing. I could go on, but I won’t, or I assure you, I will offend you.
One year a family friend (one of my brother’s best friends at the time), on leave from the Army, wanted me to convince my brother to come to midnight mass with him. I, personally, do not spend time in churches. It has never been my thing. My brother politely declined, but as his friend became more insistent he finally said “Look, there’s a Jew hanging from a cross in no less than 7 places in there. With that track record, I don’t care to be the sacrifice sometime between midnight and 2 a.m.” We ALL laughed, and no one was offended.
This very same friend asked us about Christmas trees, genuinely wanting to know “If we put up Christmas trees, what do Jewish people do?” Never one to miss an opportunity, I turned around and said “We put up a Chanukah Bush, John.” He nodded and said “Oh, ok.” I said absolutely nothing for a few minutes, everyone was in on it because they’d heard me do this little bit before. Finally, after suppressing serious laughter to the point where I almost hurt myself, I admitted to him that I was just fucking around with him, that there was no such thing as a Chanukah Bush (though I admit, I know some people that put one up because they love Christmas trees, but don’t celebrate Christmas). Again, laughter ensued. You have to really know me to know that I will joke like that with the people that know me best, and that, while inappropriate to some, I am careful what I say in mixed company because I don’t go out of my way to be hurtful to others. I do like to be very clear though, that’s just my way. Humor and clarity.
Approximately 11 ½ years ago, Wicca was introduced to me. It is the perfect blend of a nature based religion steeped in Kabbalistic teachings. Kabbalah is Jewish Mysticism. If you don’t know what that is, use a search engine. That will explain it more clearly for you.
For me, Wicca was like coming home. It was pretty much everything I had been raised around, especially a love for animals and nature, and the elements. Part of the Wiccan Rede is “An it harm none, do as ye will”. There is no governing body, you govern yourself, and the Wiccan Rede tells you “So long as you are not harming anyone, do as you will. Live your life.” It is laid back and calm, and it brings an extra level of peace to my life. Even my Rabbi is comfortable with my spiritual beliefs. He’s one of the most open people I have ever met, so I feel supremely comfortable being myself and speaking my mind around him. Until I met him, I had NEVER been in the presence of a man of God and not felt judged. However, my Rabbi is unique. He too, is from a foundation of “You’re not harming anyone by being you. Live your life.” In this, I always feel incredibly blessed.
Almost all of my friends are religiously different than I am, and that is beyond ok. I am not sitting in judgement of them or their beliefs. I want them to be their authentic selves, and I can only hope they want the same for me. I have friends that are Jewish and friends that are Wiccan, so I don’t feel spiritually deprived in any sense of the word. We should all celebrate what we believe in and do so with those we love. We should wish the people in our lives well EVERY DAY, not just during the month of December.
So Lisa, exactly how does a Jewish American Wiccan “celebrate Christmas”? Simply put, I don’t. I ignore the insanity of my neighbors, all of whom DO celebrate Christmas, and I go about my day. I will bake Cranberry Orange scones for breakfast, I will do laundry and maybe enjoy a movie. I will play with my fuzzy little Princess. Later on, I will be making a nice meal for the family I am spending my day with. I might even get some writing finished, if I’m feeling up to it. Basically, anything goes. It’s just another quiet day for me. After years and years spent taking care of others, quiet days are something I really treasure.
Wishing you & yours a beautiful holiday season.
You know I wouldn’t ever try to defend someone who doesn’t deserve it, and I get how it would be annoying to have people simply presume to know more about you than they really do. But, I offer this – maybe she was just trying to be friendly and in her less than enlightened way that’s how she chose to express it. And I’m glad she did. Not because it wasn’t the best thing for her to do, but because it prompted you to share with us some of your beliefs and traditions. Any opportunity for education is a good opportunity in my mind.
Hoping you enjoy your scones and have a delightful day. The trip to Israel sounds amazing. I’d love to visit that part of the world some time. The historical aspects of all religions fascinates me.
It really wasn’t a big deal, but the more I thought about it, the more it started to grate on my nerves, People do get offended when I clarify it for them, which I always do. I like to be very clear. For a lot of people, it’s an education. I’m a little appalled by that because isn’t most of this stuff taught in schools any way? I know it was for me, and I did not attend a religious institution.
I come from a place where all religions live side by side, no one makes a big deal out of any of it, but having left that area, people make a much bigger deal out of it now than ever before. They say the most inappropriate things, or the most ignorant things, and sometimes it’s a combination of the two. I am inappropriate 99% of the time, but I am not ignorant. There’s a difference. In some areas, wearing a symbol of faith that isn’t the faith of 99.9% of everyone else around you definitely gets you come odd looks. Being the only house on a heavily decorate street that is not decorated for Christmas does get you some questions. Even today, a neighbor that knows I am Jewish wished one of my guests a Merry Christmas. Being a guy, he said nothing, wished my neighbor the same, and that was the end of it. I asked him “Doesn’t it bother you sometimes?” and he was like “It’s not that big a deal. I will clarify if asked, but I don’t feel as strongly about it as you do.” I’ve always made myself very clear.
I have family & friends in Israel. I will be doing research while I am there, but mostly it’s a trip to spend time with one of my best friends, which will be awesome. We’re so stoked. For now, the idea is to later spend the three month maximum that you can spend on a visa, while I finish up some additional research. I just don’t know, right now, if I can truly be away that long. Like many people, I do have responsibilities and commitments here. I will definitely blog about it and post tons of photos. I’m taking two cameras and lots of memory cards. 🙂 I will definitely be taking my readers with me on this journey.
I hope you’ve had a great day and an even better holiday! 🙂 Also, I appreciate you taking the time to read this. That means a lot to me.
My biggest wish for the holiday season, is that the people the I love and care about are in good health. And yes, I probably should have read this before I was wishing my lovies a Merry Christmas. I got a bit carried away on my comments this morning, lol but I’m sure you know I didn’t mean to offend anyone. 😛 Being in the melting pot of California, I’m pretty accustomed to all walks of life and religion and don’t find it strange one bit, that someone doesn’t celebrate Christmas. My family and I will be having dinner soon, my mum made her infamous red curry and I’m excited! Hope your day has been good so far. I just woke up from a nap and it was nice to read this about your family, the jokes, and the insight on Kabbalah. ♥ *hugs*
I know full well that you did not intend to offend anyone. Trust me, you would have known if I had found anything offensive. I’m not shy.
I know that religiously, I am a minority. The ignorance, however, is pretty astounding. There truly are people in this world that do not believe any other religion, but their own, exists, and they refuse to acknowledge that others do, in fact, exist. It’s very scary dealing with people like that. Dealing with blank stares and people’s references to “devil worship” simply because you don’t share the same religious beliefs is a bit much for me. That’s taking it to a whole other level of crazy that it need not go to.
I hope you had a wonderful holiday with your family.
People tend to associate Kabbalah with Madonna, so I wanted to clarify it a bit. It’s a pretty deep place to go and it’s limitless, which is part of why I have always felt comfortable with it.
I know you’d put me in my place if I did get out of line and I would respect you for it. ^_^
Oh, I’m familiar with what I call ‘Holy High Rollers.’ My father used to be a pastor and I was raised in a very religious household. I was blindly following what I was taught because that was all I knew growing up, but as I got older, some things didn’t sit right with me so I chose my own path. I do believe in a God, but I also believe in astrology and nature. Everyone should be given a choice to pursue whatever religion they deem right for them or none at all. Don’t know why people fuss so much about it. *shrugs*
And yes! Madonna did come to mind, but the part you said about the love for animals and nature, and the elements resonated well with me so I had to look into it further. 🙂
I’m not that rabid. LOL. I try to just put things into perspective for others so that they can see it from both sides. You’re open, you’re not ignorant, so it’s easy to share things with you and talk to you, as opposed to some people who are basically living in glass houses. They piss me off, so I will absolutely throw stones if needed.
Most of the friends I have were either raised in really religious homes or in a less rigid fashion, and that goes for all religions. When you reach a certain age and things no longer sit right with you, you either make your own decisions or you keep following. I worry about those that continue to follow, as opposed to saying “This is not how I feel.” A lot of people are afraid of disrespecting their parents, which I understand,
I wasn’t raised as religiously as my parents were, and my father didn’t allow anything more than Reform Judaism. He made a lot of things hell for my mother, which is why I never went to Hebrew school or had a Bat Mitzvah. My brother speaks some Hebrew, but I only knew a few prayers and that’s really about it. Even though my Dad knew it, he was so against us being involved with it and he never explained why. Everything my mother wanted for us on that level he would not allow. She didn’t want us to be humiliated or tormented by his behavior, so she let it go.
Like you, I do believe in God. I also chose a Goddess when I started practicing Wicca. I’ve always believed in the duality of God and Goddess. No one ever taught me that, I have simply always believed it. I was raised with magic, astrology, nature, and discussions of the paranormal were widespread throughout one side of my family. In that respect, we were very open, and even if some people didn’t believe in what was being said, it was still discussed openly and honestly. I do have family members that are much more religious though. To them, I’m considered “not Jewish enough”. The fact that I have piercings, tattoos, and speak my mind only galls them more, and honestly, the more it bothers them, the more I’ll say and do things just to irritate them. It’s not coming from a childish place either, it’s coming from a “Get over yourself.” place. They’re very holier-than-thou and that is no way to win me over.
Wicca is probably more your speed in terms the fact that is is nature based and encourages a love of animals, Mother Earth, the elements, astrology, and all of the things you connect to, and have strongly connected to in your journey over this past year. It is not rigid, you do it all on your own terms, and the progression is as slow or as fast paced as you want it to be. I blend it with Kabbalah because the similarities are very fitting for me. I’ve had people tell me I can only fully be committed to one religion, but I disagree. I am committed to my heritage and that which makes me who I am, but I am also committed to that which promotes my growth and my ability to evolve. You can study Kabbalah forever and only grasp half of it, or less. My mother studied far longer and knew more about it, but that’s how she raised me. She was very spiritual and believed in reincarnation, she also strongly believed in astrology. She was definitely a nature/animal lover. She had such a connection to nature and animals, it was really beautiful to see.
There’s tons of reading material and information out there, and I will continue to post about it sporadically as well.
My own reactions to Christmas have “morphed” several times over the years. I even wrote a piece for my blog on what Christmas taught me about Shabbat. There’s relatively little open discussion about our feelings, as Jews, about Christmas (not so much its meaning, as much as the holiday atmosphere that surrounds us). Thank you for your openness.