Holiday customs: Making light of our differences

Issue: BCMJ, vol. 54, No. 10, December 2012, Page 490 Editorials

Where I grew up, Christmas falls during the height of summer. No snow, no reindeer. Not much in the way of Christmas decorations outside people’s homes. Being Jewish, the first time I saw Christmas decorations was on a Christmas tree in the living room of a friend’s home. Their twinkling tree lights were no match for the elaborate decorations that adorn the exterior of many homes in the average Canadian neighborhood today. 

In 1990, during my first winter in Canada—in Gladstone, Manitoba (population 1000)—I was asked to be the one and only judge in the town’s annual Christmas light competition. I was likely asked because I was the new doctor in town and was viewed as being unbiased. Perhaps it was also a way to make me feel welcome. The request came as quite a surprise, since not only had I never seen Christmas lights like these before, but I don’t even celebrate Christmas! As my wife had not arrived in Canada yet, I was the only Jew in Gladstone. Ironic, that they chose me to be the judge of this very serious competition. 

I know the story of Christmas and its traditional images, but have never understood the nuances of what constitutes a winning Christmas light display. Although I may have been un­biased in the eyes of the locals, I was more clueless than anything else. I didn’t know whether to choose the display with the most colorful lights or the display with the most lights; the display with the traditional images of the baby in the manger, or the more modern images of the chap with the white beard in the red suit. In the end, I don’t recall how I decided on a winner. I do remember that they didn’t ask me to judge the competition a second time. 

There is the same irony in this editorial. Each member of the BCMJ Editorial Board gets his or her turn to write an editorial once every seven issues (excluding the editor who churns out an excellent editorial 10 times a year). It so happens that the only Jew on the Editorial Board has his turn come up for the last issue of the year. There is a saying in Yiddish that came to my mind in the fall of 1990 that also applies here: “Vos vais a chazzer vun lokshen?” Literally translated this means “What does a pig (or non-kosher animal) know about Jewish noodles (or traditional Jewish food)?” What do I know about Christmas?

I know that this is a joyous time of year for most. For many, it is exhausting. For those without loved ones nearby, it may be a difficult time. Some of my patients feel more de­pressed over the holidays. A lot of people feel stressed by the pressure to spend money on gifts, or pressure to host large gatherings for extended family members.

The Jewish festival of Hanukah falls at this time of year as well. Hanu­kah is not connected with Christmas, except that they both occur in December. It celebrates two miracles that occurred about 2200 years ago in which light (or enlightenment) won over might (or brute force). We celebrate for 8 days, and the emphasis is on family, food, fun games for the kids, and giving to charity. 

For me, it is also a time to reflect on the year about to end—both the good and the bad. I look forward to the approaching year with hopes of happiness, health, peace, and prosperity for everyone. To those of you celebrating the birth of Jesus, I wish you a very Merry Christmas. To those of you celebrating the Miracle of Light, I wish you a very Happy Hanukah. To those of you who celebrate other holidays, I wish you a happy end to 2012. 

To all of you, I wish a Happy New Year!

David B. Chapman, MBChB. Holiday customs: Making light of our differences. BCMJ, Vol. 54, No. 10, December, 2012, Page(s) 490 - Editorials.

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