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I'm Jewish and I put up Christmas lights. Sorry, "holiday lights"

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Enough is enough. I’m finally making my stand. I have hung up Christmas lights and I'm Jewish. Er, I mean, "Non-Denominational Colored Holiday Lights."

My parents are not happy. My relatives look at me askance. But I'm not sorry and I'll do it again. Oh Lord, if I have sinned in your eyes, please smite me down now for the evil I have done...

Ok, I'm still here to write this next paragraph

My 6 year old daughter came into her own with Christmas last year. And she has been hocking me about Christmas since Labor Day. She loves Santa Claus and all the pageantry.

She "oohs" and "aahhs" at every ornament, tree and light covered shrub she sees. She is having fun. She loves the spirit of the season. So why shouldn't we have fun?

Lead Us Out of Temptation Moses

Now it may just be me, but every year growing up and into adulthood, I saw the Christians having a blast this time of year lighting up the night sky with every conceivable color and light and bead and bauble imaginable while we Jews grumbled and averted our eyes at any and all references and inferences to Santa, reindeer, sleigh rides, candy canes, pine trees and Bing Crosby.

True, some of the Jewish hesitation to celebrate may come from the fact, and in some places it's still true, that if you identify yourself as a Jew you are summarily killed.

But here in New York in the latter part of the 20th century, secretly we (or maybe just me) felt left out, even if it's we who did the leaving. Sure we have Chanukah, a holiday with gifts, 8 candles and a dried out piece of clay that you spin for money. But where are the lights? The colors?

Traditionally this time of year, we would visit the gentile neighborhoods to gawk at the beautiful (and sometimes wildly tacky) displays. Then on Christmas we do what all good Jews do, we eat Chinese food and go to the movies. That's enough holiday cheer, isn't it?

No. I want to celebrate. Even if it's just once.

Jesus Almost Causes A Car Collision
I had had enough. As I was driving in the car with my parents and daughter, I floated the idea of putting up a wreath or lights. My father nearly crashed into a parked car.

“What!?” he asked alarmed. “What are you doing? Don’t you know more Jews have been killed in the name of Jesus than anything?”

“George, don’t worry, he’s only joking,” my mother said as she checked her own pulse, and then his.

“No, I’m not joking,” I replied. My father slammed on the brakes and put his head in his hands.

“It's ok," I said, "Jesus was a Jew and so was Mother Mary."

When my mother came to, I explained that I was not celebrating Jesus's birth (even though he is the 2nd most famous Jew of all time, right behind Spielberg) but I am celebrating the “return of the light in the darkness.”

After my mother revived for the second time, she begged me not to do it, for her granddaughter’s sake, for the sake of her father who was in a concentration camp and for the sake of all Jews everywhere throughout time. Not wanting to kill my parents outright, I said I would think about it.

A Star of David is much better than a pine wreath that sheds all over the floor
The very next day my mother showed up at my apartment unannounced with a gigantic six pointed, tinsel blue and white Hebrew star that would have put Moses to shame and hung it on my front door.

“Your granddaughter asked me to put this up,” she claimed. “You’re not still thinking of putting up a wreath,” she continued as a statement.

Before I could answer, she monologued: “What are you going to do when it dries out? You have a very hot and dry apartment. The needles are going to dry out and fall off and then who’s going to clean them up? You have allergies. So does your daughter. They will make a total mess or worse or worse, catch fire.”

How the Jews killed Jesus
Two days after that my mother called to tell me she happened to be reading an article in the news and it talked about how Jesus told Christians to kill the Jews.

A day after that she was at a friend’s wake and told me the priest said that Christmas was all about Jesus and that, “without saying the word Jew he said, ‘we should remember who really killed Jesus,’ and then he winked at the congregation.”

Now my guilt over making my parents upset was starting to sink in. How could I do this to them?

Why Most Christians are Wrong

When I informed my mother that Catholic Christians co-opted an ancient pagan holiday to celebrate the winter solstice, she stared at me blankly. I told her in an effort to convert people they actually got the date wrong, as the solstice is usually on the 21st or 22nd of December. I also added that Armenians celebrate Christmas on January 6 and I was just trying to discover the truth.

She asked me why I would want to do that.

Jesus Likes You, More or Less

I also explained to her that while most of the Bible is mistakenly taken literally and that I esteem Jesus as a human being who developed his potential, I don't worship him. I told her I like Moses, Mohammed and Siddhartha, but I don't worship them either and that Jewish people ought to embrace the Gnostic Jesus as a Jew and a great teacher of Life without resorting to making him the Messiah.

My mother asked me why I was doing this to her and didn’t I know my father had a bad heart and why did I want to see him die before his granddaughter had her bat mitzvah?

The Christmas Tree of Death
The next day, my mother forwarded me a story she found on the internet about how a family of four burned to death. Their chord with the lights short circuited and caused a fire on their dried-out tree which burned the house down. I said I would mist the tree.

I cited the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas where Jesus said, “if you bring forth what is in you, it will save you, if you do not bring forth what is in you, it will destroy you.”

My mother asked why I had to be like that and said the only thing destroying her was if I put up a Christmas tree and asked if I could "be serious for one moment," why would I want to confuse my child?

Colored Lights May Hypnotize
A few days later, my daughter and I were walking on the street and we saw rainbow colored lights. She ‘oohed’ and ‘aahed’ at them in child wonder and amazement.

That was the final straw. I was going to get my lights. But where? How? I'd never done anything like this before. I felt like a criminal sneaking into a warehouse. Is there a special store you go? Do you need to show Christian ID?

That night when I went to pick up my daughter from a playdate with Catholic friends (and their ceiling scraping 10 foot tree topped with a gilded angel and their Elf on a Shelf), I asked the mother where one goes to get holiday lights. She replied, “this is your lucky day” and exited into the other room.

In the True Spirit of Christmas, A Christian Lends a Helping Hand

My daughter's friend's Catholic mother emerged with a 50 foot chord of dazzlingly rainbow colored lights. “Here, you can have this," she said, unceremoniously shoving the knotted tangle at me. "I was just going to throw them out. White lights for us this year, it reminds me of snow. Take these please.”

If this was not a sign from God, then nothing was.

I held the tangled chord in my hand. I felt triumphant and guilty at the same time. I'm sure the mom felt she had just saved my family from Hell.

We exited the apartment, I looked at the lights like I had just scored a pound of weed. How on Earth, I wondered, am I supposed to untangle this unholy mess and how does one string lights anyway and what would happen if they started sparking?

My God, I was was now beginning to understand those comical Christmas movies and holiday jokes. Jesus Christ!

The Lights Are Up Where They Belong
With the keen eye of my daughter to guide, we strung the colored holiday lights across the living room, bright enough that a 747 could land safely in my apartment.

The lights snake over two Korean theater masks, past a clear crystal flower vase, wrap around a photo of my grandparents (God bless their souls) and comes to rest on a carved wooden fish from Mexico. If I still had the tinsel Star of David I would string it through that.

Now, How Do You Turn These Things Off?

I plugged the lights in and they went on just like that. Yellow and blue and green and orange. Strangely, there is no ‘off’ switch. I have to remember to unplug them every night before I go to bed or risk a fire. Or are you just supposed to keep them lit 24/7? I don't know, I just don't know and if I look it up on the internet, then I am getting in way too deep.

My parents have not seen the lights yet, nor have they asked about them. If they do, of course I will lie and tell them I did not string them up. But I think they have not asked because, a.) it's so far out of their range of possibility it could not have taken place or b.) they'd just rather not know.

But my daughter ‘oohed’ and ‘aahed’ and loves them. And the apartment is more festive. And really, isn't that what the spirit of this season is all about? Be it Chanukah, Kwanzaa, Diwali, Eid al-Fitr, Christmas or anything else I've missed.

Adding A Wreath

Triumphant in our success, I caved and got my daughter a wreath with a red bow and a jingly bell wreath holder. I am also hanging a Chanukah candle pillow on the wall.



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