Christmas and Me…

I do not recall lobbying for anything, as a boy, as hard as I lobbied, with my sisters, for a Christmas tree.

My parents objected. “We’re Jewish,” they said. “We don’t do Christmas. We do Hanukkah instead.”

This did nothing to stop the lobbying. Anyway, Hanukkah was no substitute for Christmas. My parents, unlike my grandparents, didn’t always remember to keep Hanukkah, and even when my mother remembered the festival, we children could see that a menorah and candles were not a Christmas tree. My parents kept kosher, went to shul on high holy days but that was the extent of things in our house. My grandparents were properly observant Jews. My parents were not particularly observant Jews, while we children were, quite simply, bad Jews. We knew we were bad Jews because we wanted a Christmas tree.

We were surrounded by Christmas, after all. When I was eight I was offered the choice of playing a shepherd or wise man in my school Nativity play. I was a precocious child and I had read widely, so I argued with the primary school teacher, pointing out that you could choose either to have wise men or shepherds, but not both, as the gospels of Luke and Matthew contained accounts of very different nativities. Wisely, she declined to argue theology with an eight-year-old, and instead pointed out to me that, as first shepherd, I would also be the narrator and would read from a scroll, and, fearful of losing what was going to turn out to be a fairly good part with no actual lines to learn, I stilled my tongue.

Christmas presents, that was a battle we had already won, my sisters and me. It didn’t matter that my mother wrote “Happy Hanukkah” in my Doctor Who annual with William Hartnell or Patrick Troughton on the cover: the book still arrived on Christmas day, in a pillowcase filled with gifts. What the present was called was mere semantics: as long as we got the swag we did not care what was written on it.

We were not jealous of friends who got Christmas presents. We were jealous of the friends with Christmas trees…

(You can read the rest of it at http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/features/neil-gaiman-hanukkah-with-bells-on-1203307.html)