How do I celebrate a Messianic Hanukkah, while my family celebrates Xmas?
December 15, 2008 10:24 PM   Subscribe

How do I celebrate my first Messianic Hanukkah? No one else in my family is Jewish, and they're trying to "make me" celebrate Xmas.

I "converted" to Messianic Judaism, from Evangelical Christianity, a few years ago while in college [I know, I know, that's not 'technically' possible, but for the sake of my question, just bare with me]. I attended synagogue as regularly as my college schedule would allow, but never really got the chance to observe many of the holidays to their true extent. I've finished college, (I'm 23) and moved back into my parents home, but the closest Messianic synagogue is way too far of a drive, and so I haven't gone in awhile. But I really want to celebrate Hanukkah this year. A lot. I'm at a point in my faith where the entire meaning behind it is so symbolic. So regardless of whether or not I have a local synagogue I attend this year, I want to celebrate Hanukkah.

Here's the catch: No one else in my family wants to.

My parents are evangelical christians, and are decorating our house with xmas tree, lights, and will be hanging {and stuffing} a stocking for me. The morning of Dec. 25, there will be presents under the tree with my name on them. I. don't. want. this. {my extended adult family decided not to exchange gifts this year; only the children}

*sigh*.... I just want to light my menorah in peace. {though, I still haven't even been able to find one to purchase yet...}

I suppose my question is twofold:

1. What are some general tips/suggestions/practices etc. for someone celebrating their first Messianic Hanukkah, alone, with no "home" synagogue.

2. How can I make the gift exchange process easier, with less "drama"? I think I just plan on giving each immediate family member their gifts, one each night, starting on the 21st, and ask that they do the same for my gift(s). And how do I politely refuse to "celebrate" their Xmas traditions that they'll try to impose on me, like stockings, and xmas-eve candle-lighting church service? The big family dinner, sure, I'll eat with them, but I don't want to get all wrapped up in the other nonsense.

I know this is kind of.... complicated, and... confusing. And I know the Messianic community is rather small. But any and all advice you could give me would be greatly appreciated :)
posted by hasna to Religion & Philosophy (46 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You do what Jews always do when others are celebrating Christmas around them: You smile and go along graciously with it. You are living in your parents' house; the least you can do is not refuse and reject something obviously important to them.

Here is the important point: Smiling and playing along with Xmas politely does not contradict you celebrating Hannukah by yourself. I don't know what the best way to celebrate Hannukah by yourself is; perhaps others have advice. However, you can do both. Honor your parents (which is a Jewish virtue!) when you are in social settings that require it, and honor your own faith in whatever way is most true to your heart.
posted by zachawry at 10:36 PM on December 15, 2008 [2 favorites]

How can I make the gift exchange process easier, with less "drama"?
Either don't force your gift-giving methods on them, or don't complain when they force their gift-giving methods on you.

Seriously, Christmas is a fairly secular holiday. Celebrate Hanukkah on your own (I hope you get some good suggestions on that front in this thread), but I don't think there's anything wrong with enjoying some family time and sipping some eggnog. It's full of noggy goodness, and enjoying it with the fam may earn you the brownie points to skip out on Xmas eve services.
posted by piedmont at 10:39 PM on December 15, 2008 [2 favorites]

I'm not Jewish, but I agree with zachawry. You can't expect your parents to take part in your preferred traditions if you are unwilling to take part in theirs. Even people of the same faith have to put up with things they consider to be "nonsense" amongst each other now and then. I don't know see why you can't do both.
posted by katillathehun at 10:40 PM on December 15, 2008

Would it kill you to participate in the traditions of your family? Not for your own beliefs - but because it's important to them. Give your family their gifts on Christmas and accept yours then too. If you want to invite your family to light the menorah with you every night you should but don't get all indignant if they don't want to. What you've done is a fairly strong affront to their beliefs - try to be gentle with them. You are in their home - polite guests respect the traditions of their host.

Next year - hopefully you'll have more of a jewish community and you can celebrate hanukah with people who share your beliefs. Go online and print out the Hanukah prayer transliterated in case you have family that wants to participate - but don't force the issue.
posted by Wolfie at 10:41 PM on December 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

Good advice so far on the 25th of December. Remember that the trappings of Western Christmas celebration—trees, gift exchange, stockings, singing and candles—have little or no grounding in Christian theology, Protestant or otherwise.
Nonsense-wrapping is as nonsense-wrapping does.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 10:43 PM on December 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

Exchanging presents, Christmas trees, and hanging up stockings for people don't have anything to do with the Christian religion. People (in Europe, anyway) have been celebrating winter festivals since pre-Christian times. In the mostly religion-less Soviet Union, people kept doing all the Christmas stuff, but used the excuse of New Year's instead. And witness the spread of Christmas (in the sense of giving presents, Santa Claus, etc.) to regions of the world which have never had a tradition of Christianity (Japan, Korea, etc.)

You can view your family's desire to celebrate this holiday with you in the context of a cultural tradition, not necessarily imposing on your newly chosen religion.
posted by pravit at 10:44 PM on December 15, 2008 [2 favorites]

And how do I politely refuse to "celebrate" their Xmas traditions that they'll try to impose on me, like stockings, and xmas-eve candle-lighting church service?

Depends. How do you want them to politely refuse to "celebrate" your Hanukkah traditions that you'll try to impose on them, like giving presents starting Dec 21, and lighting the menorah?

That's not snark, it's an answer to your question. You want them to give you respect that you refuse to give.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 10:46 PM on December 15, 2008 [8 favorites]

I am Jewish, and will try to help you with this. I will avoid the question of whether Messianic Judaism can be considered a form of Judaism, and answer your questions as if I were answering them for a newly converted Jew.

First, Judaism in no way requires you to attend a synagogue, ever, to do anything. There are mitzvot (commandments) to be observed, and most of them can be observed on your own. In the case of Hanuka, the mitzvot are to get a hanukiah (the 9-candle menorah), light the candles and say the appropriate prayers. You may do this on your own or in the presence of anyone who cares to join you. A good place to get the prayers is here.

It is customary to enjoy fried foods, such as potato pancakes or jelly doughnuts, on Hanuka. This is fun and recommended, but not required. Your may also do this with other people.

Second, and I cannot say this strongly enough, Hanuka has nothing to do with gift exchange. Jewish people who choose to exchange gifts on Hanuka do so because all their gentile friends are exchanging gifts on Christmas and they feel left out, or don't want their children to feel left out, or something similar. The actual Hanuka custom that bears the closest resemblance to gift exchange is the distribution of small pieces of candy to children so they can play dreidl. I urge you not to burden your family with any sort of requirement to exchange gifts at Hanuka. Whether you choose to exchange gifts with them on the day celebrating the birth of your lord is entirely up to you.
posted by ubiquity at 10:47 PM on December 15, 2008 [12 favorites]

And how do I politely refuse to "celebrate" their Xmas traditions that they'll try to impose on me, like stockings, and xmas-eve candle-lighting church service? The big family dinner, sure, I'll eat with them, but I don't want to get all wrapped up in the other nonsense.

The nonsense of celebrating the birth of your Savior? You're right, the question is confusing me (and my father is a Christian Jew and I was raised in evangelical churches), because from where I'm sitting, I don't see why you have to reject Christmas. It seems that to do so is less about honoring your new religious tradition and more about trying to rouse rabbles among your family as a way of saying, nyah nyah, I broke away from your expectations of me! Resist the urge to use your newfound other-ness to purposefully try to cause strife in your household. Such is the madness of the immature.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:53 PM on December 15, 2008 [3 favorites]

BTW, Hanuka commemorates an event that took place about 200 years before the time of Jesus. At the time of Jesus, there was still some question as to how to observe the holiday. It is possible that Jesus may not have lit the Hanuka lights the way we light them today, and may not have lit them at all.
posted by ubiquity at 10:56 PM on December 15, 2008

Huge thank you to all the responses so far. It's giving me much to think over.
Two points to add, that maybe I should have added earlier:

-For messy (abuse) reasons I won't get into here, I have a very bad relationship with my family. We all know it. I absolutely believe in "honor thy mother and father", and I do, but I just wanted to put it out there, I'm barely on speaking terms with my father.

-I'm also very anti-consumerist/materialism, etc. Xmas, even as a purely secular holiday, with all the religion removed, is just a disgusting thought to me, and I personally believe that such materialism/greed/waste is a disgrace to G-d/Allah/The Great Spirit/Mother Earth/whatever. So celebrating it as a secular occasion doesn't do much, either.

... yeah. this is messy :/
posted by hasna at 10:57 PM on December 15, 2008

Coming from a traditional Jewish perspective here are my suggestions:
1. It is very easy to make a menorah (actually it is a hanukkiah). This one of the easiest: Buy a box of Hanukah candles. Go to the hardware store and buy 10 nuts with holes that are just large enough to screw the candle bottoms in. Get a piece of wood long enough and wide enough to hold the nuts in a row. Glue them on the wood, stacking two for the shammes (the helper candle) and filling the lower one with glue so the candle rests in the higher one.
2. Presents are a relatively modern addition to the holiday. Some give them every night, some all on the first or last night, some give money (usually once, most often on the night they visit in person). Don't put your energy into the present issue. Open them all on the fifth night if that keeps family harmony (shalom bayit - peace in the home is an important Jewish value).

This is the way we think about a similar situation - My children have non-Jewish grandparents on one side. When we spend Christmas with the non-Jewish family, we show respect for their traditions by participating non-religious aspects of the holiday (tree, gifts) and skip the church services. When we spend the holidays with family, gifts from a Jewish relative to our children are opened for Hanukkah, gifts from a Christian relative are opened at Christmas. Gifts from us to others are open by them on the holiday that they celebrate. If we are not sharing Christmas with family, then all of the presents are opened for Hanukkah (our holiday). Sharing a holiday with people you love does mean that you endorse their religious beliefs - think of yourself as a visitor in their home from a foreign country

I have no idea how a Messianic Jew can incorporate Jesus, much less Christmas, into a Jewish belief system but I will leave that exercise to you.
posted by metahawk at 10:59 PM on December 15, 2008

I'm not qualified to answer your first question. But as far as your second question, I think you're being a little bit inconsistent--you're asking your family to change their gift giving customs to follow the tradition you believe in, while at the same time saying that you don't want to change your behavior to fit the tradition they believe in. Sounds like a recipe for drama to me. Especially because a lot of people's emotions are super-charged around holidays anyway.

I think it boils down to a question of boundaries, which are complicated because you're an adult child living in your parents' house. I don't think that boundaries should always be set according to convention, but I do think it's reasonable for your parents to decorate their house however they want to. I think it's perfectly acceptable for you to decline to attend a Christmas Eve church service. But asking your family to change their gift giving practices a couple weeks ahead of time? I think that's asking a lot.

But what I think isn't really important--what do your parents think? Have you talked to them about this? I wouldn't approach that conversation like, "This is what you need to do" but rather "This change in faith is important to me and I feel pressured to do things I don't want to do. Is there a way to celebrate and give gifts that can make everyone feel happy and good?"

I guess I'm not sure there is a way to politely refuse a Christmas stocking. Perhaps I lack the necessary cultural awareness but I'm pretty uncomfortable with a lot of Christianity and I find stockings to be a pretty harmless, irreligious custom. But, more importantly, politeness is contextual, based on shared social understandings. I suspect, for your parents, there may be no way to reject what they see as both a gift and a family tradition that doesn't feel at least rude and at worst like an attack on their values.

On preview, what everyone else said. :) But I'd stress that participating in your family's customs doesn't have to take away from your own celebrations. I wonder if part of your desire not to engage in the nonsense-wrapping comes from not having a community of your own to celebrate with? Maybe finding that would make it easier to politely go along with your parents' tinsel and stockings.
posted by overglow at 10:59 PM on December 15, 2008

If it's the crass consumerism of the holidays that bothers you so much, maybe give tzedakha on their behalf/in their name to a non-religious charity you think they might like. You can avoid consumerism, do a good deed that translates to either religion, and gift in the manner of your choosing. (Even if it's, say, to a charity that benefits victims of domestic abuse.)
posted by np312 at 11:01 PM on December 15, 2008 [2 favorites]

Just saw your response hasna... the stuff with your dad makes me think living with your parents is probably not a very good space for you. I'm a survivor of abuse too and not speaking with or seeing my dad at all, and living in his house would make me crazy.

I'm also very anti-consumerist too. I sometimes try to resolve that by asking for subscriptions to leftist magazines or Naomi Klein books. I also know some people give donations in people's names as presents. But I wonder--is your problem with the way they're giving gifts (under the tree on December 25th versus once a day starting the 21st) or the gifts themselves?
posted by overglow at 11:05 PM on December 15, 2008

If you want your family to refrain from involving you in their Christmas traditions, then do not impose your Hanukkah traditions on them (e.g., the giving of gifts over the eight day period). It may help if you bear in mind that giving gifts during Hanukkah is a fairly recent phenomenon that evolved in response to the Christmas gift-giving tradition.

(NB: Do not confuse this with the much older tradition of Hanukkah gelt, which is the mostly symbolic giving of coins meant to commemorate the winning of the right to mint coins.)

Stockings are not particularly tied to Christianity, being as they are just a handy place to put small, often-unwrapped gifts. They have much more to do with the modern Santa Claus myth than Christ. Given that you feel comfortable giving and receiving gifts in one context, why not accept gifts given in another context, especially one that isn't overtly religious?

That leaves the religious service. My suggestion is to go to the service in polite observance rather than celebration. Thank your family members for graciously extending an offer to observe something that is important to them, just as you would hope they would respond if you invited them to a shabbat service at your synagogue. You would not expect them to convert or even to participate spiritually, but you would expect them to politely and respectfully observe an important part of your life.

If you compromise in these ways, I think your family will be much more willing to dole out their presents over eight days and politely ignore that funny candelabra in your room. As far as I can tell, your family isn't asking you to do anything contrary to your religious beliefs (e.g., lead a Christmas prayer). Both Hannukah and Christmas are times of family celebration. You have a lot to gain by graciously introducing your family to your new beliefs and practices and not much to gain (and much to lose) by digging in your heels.

To address the materialism issue: perhaps politely suggest that, what with the difficult economic times and such, that you would prefer non-material/non-consumerist gifts. An example of the former might be donations to charities that everyone can agree on (I leave that to you). Examples of the latter might be a savings bond or something extremely practical and inexpensive, like socks.
posted by jedicus at 11:05 PM on December 15, 2008

I may not fully be understanding your position, but I'd recommend the following:

Light the candles, preferably in a window. Say the prayers, reflect on the miracle of the lights. Offer your family the chance to join in with you, but try not to be offended if they don't wish to.

On Christmas, focus on just being together with and respecting family, along with the birth of the savior.

Don't worry about getting to a synogogue. Just use the time for personal reflection, if so much of the treatment of the holiday bothers you.
posted by piratebowling at 11:09 PM on December 15, 2008

I'm Muslim and was taken in by a Christian family when I was offered asylum in America during the war in Bosnia. I'm not religious, but being "different," one is keenly aware of the strangeness which occurs when you're cast into alien surroundings, religious and cultural customs, new foods and so on.

What does one do? One deals with it with grace and class and good manners, and by understanding one's appropriate place as a guest.

First of all, if I were your family, I'd find your religious conversion a bit suspicious. I'm not saying you don't keenly believe . . . but just look at it from your parent's point of view. You're not especially observant. YOU STILL LIVE AT HOME AT 23. You're not exuding much sense of grace in any of this. Your situation kind of reminds me of when a teenager becomes a vegetarian or an adherent of some "alternative" music sub-sect and drastically everything changes at home with new dogma and rules superimposed from below, while the rest of the family just wants to carry on as normal - a bit bratty. What are they doing that's so offensive? Hanukkah isn't about gift-giving at all, even this Bosnian Muslim girl is well aware of that. And if "secular" Christmas is offensive to you, just tell your family you will neither accept of give presents, but you will enjoy their company, the food, and that you'd be delighted to attend church services with them. That'd be honest, and classy.

When I lived with said Christian family, I attended religious services with them whenever they went. I made friends, I learned a lot. I never once considered this an imposition, I never once considered converting or anything like that. It was simply the right thing to do, as a guest / quasi-family member. (And yeah, even if I suffered and watched my parents killed at the hands of self-proclaimed Christians and had reasons to be reactionary, it was still the right thing to do.)

You don't live in your house, you live in their house. It's not their duty to adjust to your changes while they're in their home. You're a grown-up now. I'd say suck it up and deal with it, but that seems heavy-handed . . . because nothing you've written implies they're being anything but their natural, fairly kind selves.

Judaism's a great religion, and I would suggest reading Aleichem or Peretz, whose books are full of fine Jewish people who dealt with much greater inconveniences and evils with good grace, humour and fantastic spirits.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 11:48 PM on December 15, 2008 [29 favorites]

Only answering Part One due to my inability to get my head around Part Two (if you believe in the divinity of Jesus, why not celebrate Christmas?)

You can go here for lots of information on celebrating Chanukah. You can get a free menorah here (paying only shipping).

If you are interested in attending services at a (non-Messianic) synagogue, check here for information on Judaism in Toronto.

That said...

If you decide to celebrate Chanukah, or any other Jewish holiday, among Jews, you will almost certainly be welcomed, particularly in a Reform or Reconstructionist community. However, please remember that Judaism and Messianic Judaism are two fundamentally different religions that are only tangentially connected (oh! we celebrate some of the same holidays! sweet!) and actually have very little common ground theologically. Attempting to discuss or spread the gospel would be considered very, very offensive at a non-Messianic synagogue.

posted by charmcityblues at 11:49 PM on December 15, 2008

So regardless of whether or not I have a local synagogue I attend this year, I want to celebrate Hanukkah.

Here's the catch: No one else in my family wants to.

*sigh*.... I just want to light my menorah in peace. {though, I still haven't even been able to find one to purchase yet...}

Hanukkah is a pretty minor holiday in Judaism. You can pretty much just "light your menorah in peace," eat a jelly donut, and get on with your life. You already said that your family isn't going to exchange gifts, so that big drama is out of the picture.

You can order menorahs online, you know - or hell, you could even just get a bunch of candlesticks together and do it that way. Hanukkah is not a big religious holiday, so do it the way you want to.

Whichever religion you belong to - honoring your father and mother is part of it - remember this, and respect their home while you are in it.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 11:53 PM on December 15, 2008 [3 favorites]

Is the root problem the Christmas rituals themselves, or the feeling you have that your family don't respect your beliefs?

I'm sure I'm missing some of the nuances here, but it seems like celebrating the birth of Christ in and of itself wouldn't pose a strictly theological problem for you, since you believe Christ is the messiah...right? It sounds like you have a difficult relationship with your family aside from this issue and the Christmas stuff is aggravating your impression that your family don't understand you.

That said...

The big family dinner, sure, I'll eat with them, but I don't want to get all wrapped up in the other nonsense.

If it makes you feel any better, lots of Jews sometimes do the secular bits of Christmas with gentile friends. (Hold the ham, though.)

That's not to say there's nothing about Christmas celebrations that ever makes Jewish people uncomfortable, but merely attending someone else's party doesn't revoke your Jew license. It's okay to enjoy someone else's holiday. (Although in your case it sounds like you don't enjoy your parents' company much normally, so enjoyment might be too much to ask. Will there be there extended family members there who you get along with better?)

What are some general tips/suggestions/practices etc. for someone celebrating their first Messianic Hanukkah, alone, with no "home" synagogue.

Since it's not a major holiday, observing Hanukkah doesn't really require a synagogue. You can make a menorah out of a potato or beer bottles or what have you. Put it in the window, and you're gold.

Having Chinese food on Christmas is more Jewish than going to synagogue for Hanukkah: maybe someone in the family is up for it at a time when you don't have anything else arranged?

I think I just plan on giving each immediate family member their gifts, one each night, starting on the 21st, and ask that they do the same for my gift(s).

Formal gift-giving isn't traditional anyway, so if you choose to start on the 21st and space them out that's only barely more Jewish than just giving them on Christmas.

And how do I politely refuse to "celebrate" their Xmas traditions that they'll try to impose on me, like stockings, and xmas-eve candle-lighting church service?

Is the church service any more uncomfortable for you than the more secular traditions? If so, maybe you could be gracious about the stockings &etc. and then politely excuse yourself from going to church. (Gosh, you already signed up to volunteer at the soup kitchen!)
posted by lemuria at 12:02 AM on December 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

You're certainly in a stressful situation: you've made official a change in beliefs that your family doesn't approve of, you get along very badly with that family, and you've moved back in, making that conflict very visible every single day. That can't be easy, and in the long run, it may be better for you to find a way to move back out.

All that said: you may want to try to figure out what you really object to. Your problems with your family? Your disagreements with their religious beliefs? Their celebration of the non-religious aspects of Christmas? It would not be reasonable of your family to expect you to lead a Christmas prayer or actively participate in church (as opposed to respectfully observing.) However, traditions like a Christmas tree, stockings, lights, presents under the tree and a Christmas dinner are generally very secular and have more to do with traditional mid-winter celebrations than they do with the birth of Christ.

Similarly, Hannukah has been reinterpreted in the last century as a much larger celebration than it used to be, primarily so that it can play a similar sort of societal role; eight days of Hannukah gifts have as little to do with the fundamentals of Judaism (Messianic or traditional) as a Christmas tree and stockings filled by Santa have to do with the fundamentals of Christianity. Jedicus' remarks regarding the importance of tolerating your family's beliefs are worth listening to, although they are probably a little hard to hear. However, tolerance breeds tolerance: if it doesn't seem like you are trying to actively disrupt something that's part or mostly family tradition (by trying to make your family adapt to the less religious aspects of your beliefs but not being willing to do the same for theirs), they will probably be more open to your celebration of Hannukah. You may also be able to find some common ground by emphasizing that as a Messianic Jew, you also celebrate the birth of Yeshua, even if you don't show it through traditional Christmas celebrations.

The materialism associated with general media-publicized Christmas (and Hannukah!) gift-giving doesn't have to define your December holidays, any more than the gifts you plan to dole out beginning on the 21st have to be materialistic. Homemade gifts, donations to charity, delicious food, etc. are all gifts that represent familial love without being symbols of consumerism, etc. If you give gifts of that sort, and make clear that the things you want most are things of that sort (it sounds like you're open to receiving gifts, although you want your family to give them along the Hannukah schedule) the holiday won't be defined by commercialism. The current recession could definitely provide a good context to request that sort of gift without getting into arguments with family members.

I do wonder whether you'll find it easier to deal with your family's celebration of Christmas when you have a religious community of your own and are living away from your parents. If you're able to simply live out your beliefs instead of feeling like you have to constantly defend or justify them, it may be easier to spare some energy to respect and/or benignly ignore your family's religious traditions. Right now, you're in the thick of it; I know that I wasn't able to successfully redraw my relationships with my family members until I was able to get some distance from them all. The sort of urge to define yourself as Different From Your Family reminds me of my frustrations when I was still living at home. In the long run, finding some way - any way! - to move out might be the best route towards less stressful holidays and more relaxed relations with your family.
posted by ubersturm at 12:09 AM on December 16, 2008 [3 favorites]

Judaism, like most religions, is flexible. Do what you can do in terms of celebrating the holiday and don't preach or try to convert others. If it comes down to you lighting eight tea lights (or even just one), that's good enough. I know Jews who are uncircumcised, who've barely been to Temple, who don't fast on Yom Kippur, who don't believe in God, etc., and they all consider themselves Jewish and more or less doing their part.

This is coming from an Agnostic cultural New York Jew though, so I may skew towards the "it's all good" side.

Also, as has been pointed out, Christmas is pretty much an American holiday these days. That's why the whole war on Christmas line is stupid -- there was a "war" years ago and Christmas won, but in doing so it became a non-religious event. Christmas trees? Santa Claus? Do you think there was a stocking with Jesus' name on it? Just relax and enjoy the family and television parts of the holiday. And if you're forced to go to church, pray as you would in Temple. A holy house is a holy house.

Phew, I made it through without a single disparaging remark towards religion. A Christmas miracle!
posted by Cochise at 1:03 AM on December 16, 2008

Just go out to Chinese food and a movie on Christmas. Sheesh.
posted by Jacqueline at 1:13 AM on December 16, 2008 [3 favorites]

I think it would be nice to offer to say the prayers/Berachot. You could talk to them about this beforehand, explaining their interpretation as a Christian would see them. Perhaps print this out to help with the discussion... it even includes a Messianic blessing for Chanukah that quotes the New Testament but not Paul ("I am the light of the world..." John 8:12).

In other words, I think you'll have the most success by adding to, instead of subtracting from, their traditions. Respect their traditions as a guest (it's their tree, a tree in the house, not your tree) and include them in your traditions, with explanation so they can understand the meaning behind the traditions.
posted by Houstonian at 3:06 AM on December 16, 2008

Maybe I'm just ignorant here, but don't Messianic "Jews," you know, believe in Jesus? And wouldn't that make celebrating Christmas completely unobjectionable? You shouldn't expect your family to celebrate Hanukkah; it's not part of their tradition. My question here is why you don't want to celebrate Christmas, because I can't think of a single theological reason why you wouldn't. I'm gonna go out on a limb here and venture to guess that what's really going on here has nothing whatsoever to do with your "conversion" and a whole hell of a lot to do with 1) your relationship to your family, and 2) your idiosyncratic anti-consumerist disposition.

If that's even plausibly the case, do everyone a favor and stop pretending that this is really a religious or theological issue. That just gives you a "Why won't you respect my religion?!" rhetorical weapon which, from what you've said in the OP and your followup, you don't deserve. Stop being a prick and eat your medicine.
posted by valkyryn at 4:26 AM on December 16, 2008 [8 favorites]

As an atheist with a Christian family who is dating a partner with a Jewish family, I just do the gift exchanging on whatever day pleases them. Something about tolerance and all that.

Now if my Christian family were to do something crazy and ask me to protest at a gay wedding (which they wouldn't, but let's say they would) I would refuse since I find that to be immoral -- people should be able to marry whomever they want.

Do you consider it immoral to exchange gifts on December 25? If so, refuse. No one has any right to make you participate in anything immoral. You could always return whatever gifts they brought you and donate the money to a better cause.

Did your family take away your menorah? Is so, it's time to move out, while immoral, it is their house, not yours. But from what I can tell, they're not stopping you from doing anything you want to do.
posted by Brian Puccio at 4:35 AM on December 16, 2008

-I'm also very anti-consumerist/materialism, etc. Xmas, even as a purely secular holiday, with all the religion removed, is just a disgusting thought to me, and I personally believe that such materialism/greed/waste is a disgrace to G-d/Allah/The Great Spirit/Mother Earth/whatever. So celebrating it as a secular occasion doesn't do much, either.

This seems like a big part of your problem. You don't want gifts except on your own terms and even then they are full of consumerist taint. But it's just too late at say, "I don't want gifts this year!" and it's also too late to spring a new tradition on your family. If you would like to give gifts starting on the 21st (though why you even got presents if you hate the consumerism, I don't know), go ahead. But don't demand that your parents do the same. Rejecting the family traditions that they love will not make your relationship with them any better. Instead, after the holidays are over, tell them that you would prefer to have charitable donations made in your name- this will hopefully be acceptable to them. And if you still get gifts, just donate them.
posted by Mouse Army at 5:21 AM on December 16, 2008

Unless you are leaving part of this story out, I suspect you of creating 23-year-old drama where there needn't be any.

I want to celebrate Hanukkah. Here's the catch: No one else in my family wants to.

No shit. Do you think that might be because they are not Jewish?

The morning of Dec. 25, there will be presents under the tree with my name on them. I. don't. want. this.

How delightful! People are giving you gifts!

Give your gifts when you want to give them, and accept the gifts given to you when they are given. Dictating when people may give you gifts is completely unacceptable social behaviour. It is also incredibly, unbearably rude of you to refuse gifts given to you - these people are including you in a family tradition, not sneaking scrapple into your latkes. (Someone remind me - is graciousness a learned skill?)

And, as has been previously mentioned, you are over emphasising the gift-giving aspects of both holidays. This drama has no merit.

What are some general tips/suggestions/practices etc. for someone celebrating their first Messianic Hanukkah, alone, with no "home" synagogue.

Light your menorah, say your prayers, have some pancakes, enjoy the pretty lights, live and let live. This is not the holiday to get worked up over, nor is it the ideal holiday to try to introduce your religious practices to your family.

For that, you want Purim. So few people can resist "hey, let's build a hut and get drunk!"
posted by DarlingBri at 5:27 AM on December 16, 2008 [5 favorites]

You don't want their religion/lifestyle shoved down your throat? Don't shove yours down theirs. Simple.
posted by banannafish at 5:33 AM on December 16, 2008

I am christian and I am going to say this. Chhristmas is not about christ anymore.

You can sort of celebrate it because its been forgotten what the holiday is really for.

I would say santa can apply to everybody. Just dont sing any christmas carols and you will be set.
posted by majortom1981 at 5:48 AM on December 16, 2008

I think this is really about rebellion, not religion, especially since you've said your family is abusive. Fair enough, you're entitled to be pissed off. Deal with the abuse though, either through therapy or moving out (preferably both). But not by shitting on their holiday, just as you wouldn't want them to shit on yours.
posted by desjardins at 5:52 AM on December 16, 2008

For that, you want Purim Sukkot. So few people can resist "hey, let's build a hut and get drunk!"

Fixed that for you. Though the one you mentioned is all about making noise, dressing in costumes and feasting (maybe getting drunk), so it's not so resistible either.
posted by Gnatcho at 5:59 AM on December 16, 2008

I'd just like to say that I appreciate that you call yourself a Messianic Jew, and don't try to confuse the issue by calling yourself a Jew.

Celebrate Chanukah by lighting the candles as you would like to. You can request that your parents join you, or not. Leave the candles in a window. You can make one using nuts, as suggested above, or bottle caps. I've done them using tea lights. Just make sure to have 8 at one level and one at a different level. (Traditionally higher, but not necessarily.)

Either you get your gifts on your holiday and they get theirs on their holiday, or you give yours on your holiday and they give theirs on their holiday. (Yes, I know, gift giving isn't traditional, but people give gifts.) Conveniently, the two holidays *overlap* this year, so you can be doing both at the same time. Worry about next year later.

Do whatever of their traditions you feel you can do without being untrue to yourself, and just say no to the other things. But give your family the same respect and let them say no to your candle lighting as you say no to theirs. Figure out what's important to them, and do as much of them as you can.

Purim is about getting drunk, Sukkot is about making a hut.
posted by jeather at 6:34 AM on December 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm a bit surprised at the number of people who advise that the poster's beliefs are immature rebellion, should just be ignored, or are not valid because they are not our own beliefs.

I'm not a Messianic Jew, but it seems that they do not put up Christmas trees, honor Jewish traditions while believing that Christ was the messiah (because they do not believe Jesus abolished the rules set out in the Old Testament), and most seem to already know that some Christians and Jews think they are wrong, wrong, wrong.

If her beliefs tell her to celebrate the Jewish holidays, and not change the holiday into a secular event (gifts) or one that has adopted originally-pagan attributes (Christmas tree), why do we advice her to go against her beliefs? Are they less because of her age, or because we disagree, or because they are not popular?

I think the poster fundamentally is asking how to find tolerance in an intolerant environment. Has she come to the wrong place with this question?
posted by Houstonian at 6:42 AM on December 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

Listen guy =)

I celebrate Christmas with my family and I don't even believe in -any- religious deities. I go to church with them on Christmas Eve, I sing the hymns they sing, and I do it not because I'm being untrue to my atheism but for the same reason I eat strange food when I travel in Asia. I temporarily adapt to their culture for their comfort, for the ease of my visit, and to be polite. It doesn't sound like they are asking you to recant your beliefs or get re-baptized or any thing.

I was a college student finding myself once. Stop being dramatic and spend time enjoy the holiday season with your family. The years pass quickly and the people you love are gone even quicker.
posted by JFitzpatrick at 6:48 AM on December 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

This Jew totally loves exchanging presents with his favorite schicksa Christmas morning.

Also, Hannukah is one of the most minor holidays in Judaism. The vast majority of its current "importance" is thanks to its proximity to Christmas. By and large, the only people in the Tribe who get really into Hannukah are children, because they get presents.

Get some perspective, and consider the gross irony of the drama you're creating.
posted by mkultra at 7:49 AM on December 16, 2008

I think there are a lot of good answers here for you to think about. As a partial solution to some of your questions, why not go on a road trip somewhere Dec 23rd - Dec 26th and think about them? This way you avoid everything.
posted by mikepop at 7:59 AM on December 16, 2008

It's not a matter of what you are choosing to believe, but how you are acting with it. I have a friend who is a strict vegan and another one who is a vegetarian. As a meat-eater, guess who I argue with about eating habits? Turns out it's the vegetarian, because she is always complaining that there aren't enough vegetarian offerings and is always making faces of disgust at the meat that people eat, or bringing up the conditions in places that produce meat. My vegan friend just follows her beliefs and doesn't try to make others suffer for disagreeing. That is a sign of maturity. Your situation is no different.

(Also: you haven't found a menorah yet? If you feel you need one... don't you need to get on that? Isn't Hanukkah less than a week away? I found one for 20 bucks at Bed Bath & Beyond online in literally less than one minute. Don't you think your family would be more likely to take your beliefs seriously if you put a bit more effort into it?)
posted by kosmonaut at 8:22 AM on December 16, 2008

My entire immediate family is atheist, but Christmas is a very important family tradition for us. It ain't got squat to do with Jesus. It also isn't like we have a big thing against Jesus either. He's a nice guy. It's just that we manage to give each other presents under a tree regardless of our beliefs.

Try latching on to the Santa thing. Stockings are made by elves, reindeer bring a the fat man to crawl down your chimney and give you presents, the tree comes from the lollipop forest in Candyland, I don't know. It doesn't matter. In America, Christmas is completely accessible for the religiously-handicapped. Your family might be taking all that symbolism a different way, but you don't have to. Very little of it has any absolute religious meaning. Anyway, the point is that all of the traditions set apart a time to be with family each year. That's the deal. A religion that prevents family togetherness sounds like it's worth questioning. Or you might be following it incorrectly.
posted by dosterm at 8:41 AM on December 16, 2008

I'm a bit surprised at the number of people who advise that the poster's beliefs are immature rebellion, should just be ignored, or are not valid because they are not our own beliefs.

I'm not saying her beliefs are rebellious. I'm saying the way she's handling it is dramatic and rebellious. She's free to disagree with her parents and anyone else about her beliefs. But being upset that her family refuses to participate in a holiday in which they don't believe, while simultaneously (and dramatically) rejecting the holiday celebrated in the house in which she lives, is immature.

I don't have a stake in the Christmas/Hanukkah thing anyway, since I'm buddhist. I am curious about the hut-building thing, though.
posted by desjardins at 9:06 AM on December 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

To a lot of people who come from actively non-Christian backgrounds (not just atheists whose grandparents or great-grandparents were Christian), Christmas is religious (in a cultural sense -- like I can do various Jewish things because they are my family background despite being an atheist: they're still Jewish traditions, whatever my specific faith is. I'm not going to argue this is true for everyone, but it's true for some people). I'm assuming that if Hasna comes from an evangelical Christian background, it's religious to her as well. Telling her to treat Christmas as if it magically turned non-religious is asking something that might be an incoherent idea.

You don't need to take Santa etc in the same way as your family, but you don't need to take it the same way as random strangers on the internet who mostly do not share your beliefs tell you to.

Don't make a big deal of what you won't do, join in happily for what you will do, and allow your family to make the same decisions. Assuming you want to convert them (no idea if you do), you'll end up having a much better chance if you are positive about what you believe instead of negative about what they believe. It will probably make you happier as well.
posted by jeather at 9:11 AM on December 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

-I'm also very anti-consumerist/materialism, etc. Xmas, even as a purely secular holiday, with all the religion removed, is just a disgusting thought to me, and I personally believe that such materialism/greed/waste is a disgrace to G-d/Allah/The Great Spirit/Mother Earth/whatever. So celebrating it as a secular occasion doesn't do much, either.

This is the part that I may be most qualified to help with.

I may have some insight into your parents' mindset when it comes to giving. Some people just like being generous towards others -- I am definitely that way. This doesn't mean I'm consumerist, however -- I'm just as happy giving you something I made as I am giving you something I bought. It is the giving itself that is the point -- if you are someone I care about, and I know such and such a thing will make you happy, or you'll get a kick out of it or it's something fun you'll like, I'll give it to you.

This is one of the ways I express affection, I think. Not that I don't also do so in other ways -- this is just one of them. My mindset is, if I care about you, that means that I think you also deserve good things. And if it is in my power to see to it that you have some of those good things, I'll do it. Where this philosophy can get bunged up is if you don't really know the other person well enough to know what they would themselves consider to be a good thing. If I knew you well, I'd probably be well aware of the fact that you don't much care for materialist things -- but I would probably seek out some other way to bestow something upon you that you probably would enjoy, perhaps some kind of food thing or a modest token of some kind, or some kind of experience (maybe taking you out to lunch, something like that). But that's the mindset.

My hunch, too -- since you said that you have had a difficult relationship with your family -- is that some of this gift-giving may be prompted by guilt. They may not know how else to mend fences and express affection for you -- or just may not be ready to face whatever demons in their psyches that would help them to repair things with you -- but they feel guilty, and want to do something, and this may be how it manifests itself.

Mind, this is not meant to talk you into happily going along with what their plan is -- I'm only pointing this out as a means to perhaps help you regard what they're doing with enough compassion for them to get through the day. There's actually nothing that suggests that you can't do both -- celebrate Christmas with your family because that's what THEY want to do (treat it like they're hosting a dinner party, and you're just a guest at this friend's party and this is just what they...DO at this party), and then you go home and have your own observation of what you want to do as you please for yourself. As for the gifts -- if you're given a gift, nowhere is it written that you have to KEEP that gift in perpetuity. If you really don't need a reindeer sweater or whatever, you always have the option of graciously thanking the giver for his or her generosity, and then after a few days, you give it to Goodwill.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:23 AM on December 16, 2008

I'm going to point out that Chanukah is a MINOR Jewish holiday. Seriously, nothing in Israel closes during Chanukah, and man, they close for EVERY minor holiday (try getting anything done in September or October, it's impossible due to the High Holidays and everything around them).

Otherwise, ubiquity has it 100%.
posted by micawber at 1:09 PM on December 16, 2008

I think you should find a web-based forum of like-minded people. You should learn much more about the religion you have embraced. It's hard to respect the religious feeling of someone who doesn't really know about their religion. I recommend Herman Wouk's This is My God for general background reading.

Adopt some of the cultural traditions - latkes, which are really tasty potato pancakes, and other Jewish holiday food. Light a Hanukkah menorah for 8 nights - they're very easy to find. Ask your family to give your gifts to someone in need. Or thank them graciously, and donate the gifts.

If you despise your family this much, you should seriously consider finding a new place to live.
posted by Mom at 1:27 PM on December 16, 2008

I know that there are Christians out there that like to celebrate the feasts (I understand the concept of messianic congregations-I was lead to the Lord myself by a Messianic Jew.)

Back when I attended Assembly of God churches, there were usually some folks who wound up celebrating Jewish holidays-but honestly they concentrate on Passover and Rosh Hashanah-never heard of any of them doing Hanukkah.

By the way, having been around a lot of selfproclaimed Jews who believe in Jesus, I have never met one who didn't celebrate Christmas as well. After all, Jesus is the fulfillment of the feasts, no?

And as to the giftgiving-well, the Three Wise Men did set a little precedent.

I think your issues have little to do with Christmas, don't you think?
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:39 PM on December 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

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