Winter holidays give Jewish teens time to reflect

For many teens, the holiday season is a time of gratitude and giving. It’s also a chance to spend more time with family and friends, as well as to enjoy themselves. 

For Jewish teens, the holiday season often means  celebrating Hanukkah, which takes place for eight nights and days, and commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple. Families get together to light the menorah candles, sing songs, eat latkes and in many cases, exchange gifts. 

However, many more teens here and throughout the United States — one Pew study puts the number at 90 percent — celebrate Christmas. Ohr Chadash spoke to several Jewish teens in the St. Louis area to see how they felt about the prevalence of Christmas in our community. 

For Micah Frank, a sophomore at Parkway North High School and member of Central Reform Congregation, Christmas is merely a time for a vacation from school.

“As a Jew, I’m not really excited about Christmas, because it doesn’t really affect me in any way other than the shops that close down,” said Frank. “I get excited about the lack of work in general, because I’m mostly relaxing on winter break. I also look forward to the snow, if there is any, because the cold weather is great.”

Additionally, Christmas for some Jews means a certain tradition when it comes to food. 

“Sometimes (on Christmas) we get Chinese food, like a lot of other Jewish people do,” Frank continued. “The time is also represented by hot chocolate because I look forward to the cold weather. Also, on the occasions that Hanukkah falls on Christmas, I get to enjoy latkes and sufganiyot.”

Frank  also has some interesting thoughts about the correlation between Christmas and Hanukkah.

“You can’t really compare Hanukkah and Christmas because they are completely different. It’s ironic that they occurred both in similar time periods, and now at the same time of the year (Hanukkah begins at sunset on Dec. 22). I can understand the excitement around Christmas, because it’s very nostalgic, [especially] getting presents.”

Brett Miller, a sophomore at Ladue Horton Watkins High School and member of Congregation Shaare Emeth, has a unique perspective on Christmas.

“As a Jew, Christmas hype feels kind of taken out of proportion, though I think that it is more  about getting excited about presents [for the kids]. I also get excited for Christmas, though, because I celebrate [Christmas] with my mom’s side of the family, who are Baptist.”

For him, Christmas is represented by family and traditions.

“I normally go to my mom’s parents house for Christmas. I get excited for all of my family to come in, because I get to see them and spend quality time with them. Sometimes, we eat more traditional foods like turkey, [while] other times, we eat Chinese food.”

He thinks that while Christmas and Hanukkah have very different origins, some similar traditions are practiced today.

“Hanukkah is celebrated because of how the oil lasted eight days, but like Christmas, you get to be with [and] enjoy your family,” Miller said. “It’s a time of giving and helping, not only with the gift-giving. For me, Hanukkah is just happy when I get to light the candles with my family, eat great food and just catch up with everyone.”

Sarah Malter has a particular outlook on Christmas. For the freshman at Parkway Central High School and a congregant of United Hebrew, the holiday itself has a diminished importance.

“Christmas is not usually one of the things that I look forward to. [However], I get excited over winter break because I get a break from school, (I get to) sleep, and I get to hang out with friends and family. Winter break is usually the one time that my family and our o ut-of-town family all have off, so we see them most years.”

However, she has many traditions that fill up the day.

“As a Jew, I have never felt the hype in Christmas considering my family has never partaken in the holiday. [That said], my friends and I usually create a secret Santa group and I sometimes go to Christmas parties that they throw. On the actual day, my family eats Chinese food and we have a family dinner at my grandma’s house, because everything is closed.”

She also often goes to the Jewish and Muslim day of service that occurs every Christmas. 

“This event is when Jews and Muslims, all who do not celebrate Christmas, get together and do countless good deeds across the community,” she explained. “It is an amazing feeling to help the community when you are not a part of the big thing.”