Photo by Cade Schmidt// AS Review

On the afternoon of Dec. 25 this year, the presents under the Christmas tree are unwrapped, extravagant dinners are being prepped and the faint sounds of Christmas music emulate around people’s homes. But for some, Dec. 25 – Christmas Day – is just like any other day on the calendar.

With the exception of this year, the Jewish holiday Hanukkah is typically celebrated before the 25th of December.

When Hanukkah does not cross with Christmas, certain Jewish families who do not celebrate Christmas have special family traditions, while others treat it no differently than the next day.

"We’ll go see a movie, that’s what most Jews do," Anna Levin, a senior at Western, said.

Levin and her family are Jewish and do not celebrate Christmas. They have had the same tradition her whole life, Levin said. Her parents, brother and she go to the movies with close friends of her parents, who are Christian and celebrate Christmas.

Afterward, they will either go to a Chinese restaurant for dinner or her mom will make dinner complete with appetizers and wine. Then they typically play board games and watch "Lord of the Rings," Levin said.

The popular traditions of the Christian holiday can be found in schools, television and billboards. Jewish student Western student Sasha Parsley, senior, said when she was in elementary school the Christmas festivities made her feel alienated. "It was always a bummer in elementary school because we live in America and a lot of people do Christmas, even if they’re not Christians," Parsley said. "So in elementary school, we’ll be having a Christmas party and singing Christmas songs, I always felt left out as a little kid since I couldn’t be a part of that."

Parsley said she knew the Christmas practices most of her classmates celebrated were not the same as her own religious practices. Luckily, once in a while her teacher would ask Parsley’s mom to come in and teach the class about Hanukkah.

For Levin, it was a different situation. She always understood more or less that Christmas was something that she did not celebrate.

"It was a different culture, a different religion. I was always really happy that I had Hanukkah. I really like it," Levin said.

Many of her friends growing up did not understand why she did not celebrate Christmas, Levin said. One her best friends, who celebrated both Hanukkah and Christmas, did not understand why Santa never came to Levin’s house.

Speaking of Santa Claus, the epitome of present-day Christmas, Levin said she was always aware of the ugly truth and had to keep that secret from her friends.

"We obviously knew he didn’t exist," Levin said.

Another part of Christmas that affects those who do not celebrate it, like Levin and Parsley, is the constant utterance of "Merry Christmas" and "Happy Holidays." Rabbi Avremi Yarmush, the director of Western’s Jewish Student Organization, does not mind the "Merry Christmas" greeting.

"I hear a lot of people who have issues with "Merry Christmas", but personally I don’t have any issue with it," Yarmush said.  I feel it is very important to celebrate a holiday and maintain a culture, and everybody has a right to celebrate happily. I have no problem saying ‘Happy Hanukkah’ to people."

For Parsley, she has mixed felling toward the phrase. When people say "Merry Christmas," she said she believes they are genuinely trying to send well wishes for the holiday time. At the same time, what goes through her mind occasionally is, "Thank you, I don’t celebrate Christmas, but I appreciate the gesture."

On the other hand, Parsley finds phrases like "Happy Holidays" annoying. She said people sometimes call their December festivities a "holiday party," but still have Christmas music, lights and candy canes.

"I actually prefer people to be genuine in those situations. If you’re having a Christmas party, call it a Christmas party," Parsley said. "Don’t call it a holiday party when you have everything that symbolizes Christmas. It’s not a holiday party because it certainly is not related to any holidays I celebrate."

Last year, Parsley studied abroad in Israel. It was refreshing to not hear Christmas music and "Merry Christmas" there, she said. Ironically, on Christmas Eve, she was in Bethlehem. 

"A Jewish girl in Bethlehem on Christmas Eve…it’s kinda funny," Parsley said.