Why I celebrate Christmas as a Jewish person

I have no problem getting into the Christmas spirit before reaching Thanksgiving

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Hanna Preston is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. 

Riley Walsh | Cavalier Daily

It’s the beginning of November. The leaves are changing, houses have their Halloween decorations up and pumpkin-spice-everything is taking over every coffee shop in Charlottesville. So naturally, I am already in the Christmas spirit — I have been wearing my reindeer pajamas for the past two weeks and my alarm ringtone is set to Frank Sinatra’s “The Christmas Song.” 

I understand this may raise a few questions. Hanna, you’re Jewish — why are you excited for Christmas? Why are you skipping over an entire season? Why do you like something that’s become so commercialized? Trust me — if you have a question about my love for Christmas, I’ve certainly heard it before.

First, it may not be a bad thing for Jews and other non-Christians like myself to take part in festivities and celebrate the holiday. However, I understand there are some considerations to keep in mind. It is important to acknowledge the holiday as an integral religious practice to a large group of people and not to devalue that. 

On the other hand, it sometimes feels easy to want to participate in a tradition that is extremely influential and widespread across a population. Often, the nearing of winter feels synonymous with Christmas as the mainstream holiday — Christmas trees in public places, Christmas ads and music everywhere and stores pushing people to “check off your Christmas wish list.” For better or worse, I have come to enjoy the Christmas vibes of family, joy and celebration, even though I don’t necessarily practice the religious faith. It’s important for me to balance celebrating and recognizing my own Jewish traditions with Christmas festivities that excite me.

In fact, both of my parents — despite being Jewish — grew up celebrating Christmas every year, as do some other Jews in the U.S. and countries where Christian influence is heavy in mainstream culture and life. While actual Christian religious practices may not permeate mainstream culture to the point where everyone practices, the traditions surrounding it often do. 

My love for the season started at a young age with my parents introducing me to the holiday. Every November on the Friday after Thanksgiving, my mom wakes up early to put up Christmas decorations around the house and play Christmas music in the morning to wake us up. I think a huge part of my love for the season comes from this family tradition that would never fail to make me smile. 

My love for the holiday has become deeper than family tradition as the years have gone by. The transition from fall to winter always seems to coincide with a lot of stress. Mid-October through November brings the lull that comes once you’re settled into school, whether it be high school or college. There’s no more excitement about syllabus week and minimal work — you’re heading straight into midterm exams and papers. In high school, that transition coincides with the start of one of the most stressful times of all — applying to college. Looking forward to Christmas is a way to bring a little bit of cheer into that stressful time.

Sure, you can be cheerful at other times of the year, but this is a time where joy and spending time with people you love becomes a priority — this attitude is propelled not just among the public but in the media and commercial industries as well. Christmas movies leave me feeling warm inside, Christmas songs all express finding joy in the little things and I’ll happily cringe at the cheesiness of “Love Actually.” So even though I’m not Christian, I still appreciate and enjoy Christmas values. 

To state the obvious and to enlarge my scope, the world is a scary place — sorry. Political conflict, social inequalities, economic fears and, of course, climate change are all terrifying. So celebrating a time of the year that emphasizes being kind and thankful is not crazy to me at all — in fact, it’s a relieving break. Beginning my Christmas celebrations early allows me to feel a little more positive and joyful when the fall and the surrounding world feel overwhelming. I do hope my roommates read this so they know to get used to the sound of Frank Sinatra singing about chestnuts until we go home in December. 

Hanna Preston is a Life Columnist at The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at life@cavalierdaily.com. 

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