Chinese food and a movie. Family Monopoly and other board games. Volunteer at a soup kitchen. Hanging out. These are just a short list of activities that Jews will be doing this weekend as our Christian friends and neighbors celebrate Christmas.
My mom was a public school teacher with many Christian colleagues. We were often invited to Christmas Eve gatherings. One of my high school basketball buddies, and his parents, extended an invitation to me to celebrate Christmas Eve with them as well. Lots of food and fun times. I was a little jealous of all of the decorations and the presents under the tree. Hey, we had Hanukkah, and that was for 8 days. But when the consumer world is so oriented to Christmas with all of the money that is spent in advertising and marketing of everything, Hanukkah just didn’t seem to ever be on equal footing.
This year, Hanukkah starts on Saturday night, right on Christmas Eve. Even though many people will be on beach or ski vacations, our Hanukkah celebrations, at least for the first two nights anyway, will be at the same time our Christian friends and neighbors will be celebrating Christmas. A welcomed merging of the holidays, which has only happened 5 times in the last 100 years!
Christmas is an opportunity for programming and congregant engagement. This Shabbat is of course a chance to do something special. On Saturday evening you can gather people for Chinese food, a movie, Havdalah, and the lighting of the first Candle.
You can organize congregants on Sunday to volunteer at a local soup kitchen or other similar community organization. That is what my family has often done wherever we have been on Christmas.
For many years, our synagogue, Temple Ner Tamid, organizes congregants to volunteer on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day at a local community hospital. Tasks people do include greeting visitors, issuing visitors passes at the front desk, answering the phone and other tasks.
And Sunday, at the end of the day after volunteering and/or programming, is another opportunity to bring the community together for candle lighting and perhaps some latkes or jelly donuts.
Each night of Hanukkah is an opportunity for community building. Whether it is 10 people, or 100 or more people who show up. Even if you have done no planning until now, do something and take advantage of this great opportunity.