Rabbi Shmuley On Traditions

Traditions are identity. They are what we use to define us. Just as a doctor defines himself by his long white coat, and a soldier finds identity in his uniform and rank, so too a family and a nation find their identities in the traditions they embrace, the customs they practice, and the rituals they observe. To live without tradition is to be stripped naked of one’s uniqueness. It is to be rendered nameless and anonymous. It is to be left forever questioning who we are and what we stand for.

As a Jewish boy growing up in the United States, I loved Thanksgiving but felt alienated from Christmas. Thanksgiving was a holiday that was right up the Jewish alley, a time to reflect on all of God's blessings and to draw closer to family. In fact, the very existence of Thanksgiving made me feel so proud to be an American. Here was a secular democracy acknowledging that its bounty came from God. As a Jewish boy, I was taught to say a blessing every time I ate even the smallest morsel of food. On Thanksgiving, America offered a collective blessing to thank God for its sustenance.

Christmas however, to me, was not a national holiday, but a Christian one. It did not include me, and I felt like an outsider in its presence. Even Chanukah was inadequate comfort for the all-encompassing, all-consuming Christmas behemoth. From Christmas lights that flooded our streets, to Christmas carols that filled our ears, there was no way of escaping it. We went from the inclusiveness of Thanksgiving in November to the exclusiveness of Christmas in December, and it was quite a jolt.