Waking up on December 25th, 2010, I had a fairly standard day planned. I slept in, planned to do some chores, and go dancing with friends that night.
For many this is confusing. December 25th is supposed to be a magical day of presents, Santa, eggnog and various family traditions.
Unless of course like me, you are Jewish.
Like all other religious and non-religious people who are not Christian/Catholic see this time of year a little differently.
For me, Christmas means most of my friends are busy for two days, all the stores are closed, the streets are empty and there is nothing to do.
Unless Hanukkah happens to fall over Christmas, those two days are just average days.
Christmas Eve I went to the movies with my mom. There were a few people in the theater, including another mother and daughter who I recognized from synagogue.
Jessica London, a sophomore at Lafayette College and good friend of mine is also Jewish. We’ve grown up encountering the same thing year after year.
Christmas Day, she packed for a trip she was leaving for in a few days, went out to dinner with her parents and went dancing with me.
For Jessica and me, it was easy to get up and go dancing that Saturday night. The rest of our friends were hesitant because “you guys, it’s Christmas.”
We did not know any better, because for us it was not a big deal.
But the lack of understanding was not just from our end. Both of us have experienced the confusion people have when we explain we don’t celebrate Christmas.
For me, I got a number of “Merry Christmas” texts and saw a Facebook wall covered in holiday cheer.
I even had a friend text and say “So maybe you’re Jewish but I still feel inclined to tell you Merry Christmas…” to which I laughed at and reminded him that Hanukkah is there for a reason.
“Even my friends who know that I’m Jewish still always wish me a Merry Christmas,” said London. “Maybe it’s just a habit, or they don’t connect Christmas with religion in the mainstream.”
Whichever it is, I also had a number of people ask me how my “average day” was going.
For people of other religions, it is definitely a strange time of year. However, for people who are not religious at all, Christmas means something completely different.
University of Oregon sophomore Thomas Van Hevelingen considers himself agnostic. Although he has not done anything religiously with Christianity in many years, his family still celebrates Christmas.
“It’s more of a family get-together thing for me,” Said Van Hevelingen. He explained that they’ve even delayed the holidays a couple of days in the past due to bad weather. “The day itself isn’t really significant to us, more just the act of getting together as a family” said Van Hevelingen.
However, they do get each other gifts, and put up traditional decorations. But his Christmas is about family time and everyone being on the same level. And making all of their special treats from scratch.
Sophomore Matt DeAtley has a similar stance. He considers himself Atheist, and doesn’t even like presents, But Christmas isn’t about religion or presents for him.
“It’s one of the only times when my entire family will get together for something not related to business.” He said.
DeAtley’s family construction business controls a majority of his life. He works every time he goes home, usually hours away. His dad is his boss, so there is a professional relationship that rules their day-to-day life.
Christmas is the one time when he doesn’t have to work or call his dad “Mr. DeAtley.” He is not there for the religious aspects, or the materialistic ones, but he does like being able to relax with his family for a few days.
Like Matt, Thomas does not feel like he is celebrating Christmas, but rather family time.
“I could go without it honestly. But my family is important to me and it’s just a really convenient time to see them because most of the nation is on Holiday break at that point so it just works.”
And while there is so much going on about Christmas, Thomas feels it necessary to acknowledge other religions and the traditions of other peoples.
“I just try to err on the side of caution because a lot of people go around saying merry Christmas and I try to be more sensitive towards the people who don’t celebrate it or celebrate something else” said Van Hevelingen.
The holiday season should be a time in which we learn about one another’s traditions and embrace our diversity. We spend so much time wrapped in our own world, that we don’t ever take the time to familiarize with the millions of people who have different holiday customs. We are missing out on a great opportunity to learn from one another when we do so.
The world should be focused on only one set of traditions; In my case, I might find myself at a Christmas party or two, but I’ll also make latkes for anyone who asks.