Sarah misses Christmas and decorates the mosque for Eid with Christmas decorations. Fatima walks out and they end up with no food. McGee and Amaar fight over the parking for parallel events at the church-mosque. Layla reads from Dicken’s Christmas carol at the school show against Baber’s wishes.
Amaar [about parking]: Why don’t we just throw it open, first come, first serve?
McGee: First Eid year 600, first Christmas year 1. First come, first serve!
We have already talked about Layla feeling as the outsider at her school. Christmas of course is the perfect opportunity for that. Christmas is so pervasive, it is impossible to escape. And there is no question that many Jews celebrate Christmas in some way or other or at least attend celebrations at work or school. So, what is the limit, what is permissible, what isn’t? The general question is of course hard to answer and basically every individual needs to find a balance that she or her family is comfortable with. What I am writing here is purely my personal opinion, is open to debate and may change in the future as I grow and learn.
So let’s start with the relatively easy stuff, active participation or celebrating yourself. And I’d say that’s a clear "no". I don’t celebrate Christmas, just as I don’t celebrate Ramadan or the Chinese new year. I have my own holidays. So I think a Jew should not attend Christmas service in a church. Because it’s a religious ceremony and of a different faith. Christians don’t go to a Mosque to pray, Muslims don’t attend synagogue services, Jews don’t go to church. If (and there’s a big if) any Jewish individual wants to get to know Christian religious worship out of curiosity or as part of an interfaith/dialogue project, sure, do that, go and have a look – but on a regular day, not on a holiday. Synagogues, Jewish schools or other buildings and organizations should not put up decorations for Christmas. An exception could be if it is outside as part of a street-wide display or something like that. But just as it would be weird to have a booth in a Mosque for Succot, or an Italian flag for the Italian national holiday all over a Chinese city, it is weird to have a Christmas tree in a synagogue. A Jewish organization should also not host a Christmas dinner, hand out Christmas gifts, have a concert with Christmas music or anything similar. It’s just not a Jewish holiday. It’s also not a secular holiday. It’s the holiday of a different faith. I personally also would not do any of the above (decorations, dinner, music, gifts) in my home, but that is a more personal decision and especially in intermarried families there may be other equally valid ways to deal with this issue.
What about participation that is not active celebration of the holiday but more of an acknowledgement that others are celebrating? I’d mostly say "yes" to that, so long as it is clear that I am a guest a someone else’s festival. Just like I go share a Ramadan meal with my Muslim neighbors, I go to the (secular) Christmas party my boss or school throws. In this case, even if of course it is themed (decoration, music, etc), there is no religious component, it is just a party for the staff that takes place in the Christmas season, because this is the time when you have a party for your employees. We also have a party in June. I don’t write Christmas cards, but I know non-Christian people who think it’s a bad business decision not to write them and they send something non-religious, just as a reminder that there is some business contact. I accept Christmas gifts from well-meaning family (even though they should know better, but they want to send me something once a year and they chose Christmas for that), and I give gifts to those who expect them from me. They are celebrating and I as a guest at their celebration I do what is expected and polite to do. My choir has a Christmas concert that I am skipping if enough other people are there, but if they need me I will come and sing so that there is a concert to enjoy for those who celebrate the holiday. I am not so sure what I will let my children do (learn Christmas carols? make decorations? perform in a Christmas show? a church service?), but we’ll see which compromises we can find when the time comes. Bottom-line: I am not celebrating myself, but I try not to spoil it for the rest and my identity is strong enough that I can have fun with them as a guest.
This post is already way too long, there is much more to say about the topic, but in the end every person needs to take her own decision of how much Christmas she lets into her life. Just keep in mind that no matter what, it is not a Jewish holiday.