Whether you have visions of sugar plums and candy canes, or latkes and sufganiyot, dancing in your head, one thing is certain this time of year. We are all eating a lot – and not always the healthiest of fare. However, what we need to remember, as we drag our stuffed selves from one holiday party to the next, is that there are many people who do not have food to eat, or family or friends with whom to celebrate.
I would never dare to challenge the Jewish ritual sanctity of Chinese food and a movie on Christmas. But I do say that there is more than enough time on December 25th to eat with chopsticks, catch the latest flick, and also show some Yuletide good will toward men (and women and children). Although I am not a rabbi, I am quite sure that there is no halakhic prohibition against making Christmas Day a Mitzvah Day.
Our family has occasionally done this, and we have resolved to make it an annual tradition. When we lived in New York, we once spent the day at a nursing home holiday dinner. We served food, and the bolder among us even got up and boogied to Jingle Bell Rock on the makeshift linoleum dance floor in the crepe-paper festooned lounge. This little party could not have taken place for the elderly residents without us volunteers having taken the place of several staff members who were deservedly home with their families that day.
This year, we will be distributing holiday food packages at the Ecumenical Hunger Program in East Palo Alto. To be especially ecumenical about it, we have invited a Mormon family we are friendly with to join us. This volunteer gig is technically going to take place a few days prior to December 25th (so that recipients of the food can have time to prepare their holiday meals), but it still counts as a Christmas mitzvah. As I see it, you can enjoy your chow mein and eggrolls in peace so long as you have done your part to ensure that others are eating their turkey and fruitcake on the holiday.
No doubt, charity starts at home. If you are Jewish, then giving of your time and money to Jewish organizations is a priority. But most of us have more than enough, at least in terms of time (particularly on a Federally-mandated day off work and school) to give to our non-Jewish neighbors in need. As far as I recall, the biblical exhortation to feed the hungry, house the homeless and clothe the naked has no qualifiers. If you have not already adopted this Christmas tradition, then consider doing so. Check with your local Jewish Community Centers and synagogues, as many have such volunteer programs set up.
Who knows? You might be so full from too many greasy potato pancakes and jelly donuts that you just skip the Chinese food and movie theater popcorn all together.
© 2009 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.