It’s that time of year again. Christmas is approaching and the hap-hap-happiest season of all is in full swing. Lights are lit, trees are trimmed, shops are bustling, and the oh-so-familiar Christmas music is pleasantly and joyously echoing throughout the city.
Except at our house. Because Christmas is dead.
Now that I’m a Jew, Christmas is a very bitter-sweet – melancholy even – time of year. It was one of the hardest things to give up. Actually, it was the hardest thing to give up.
And this year I’m particularly bummed, now that “ugly Christmas sweaters” are all the rage. I could totally rock one of those. You know, like with a side ponytail and candy-cane earrings.
BR: Blondie, what are you doing?
Me: Oh, just baking cookies. You know, for Hanukkah.
BR: Really. Well that’s interesting, because they oddly resemble Christmas cookies.
Me: No, they’re Hanukkah cookies. See?
BR: Blondie, there’s no such thing as Hanukkah cookies. And just because you’ve cut them in the shape of a Star of David and decorated them with blue icing and sprinkles, doesn’t mean you’re not secretly making Christmas cookies and trying to disguise them as something Jewish.
Me: No, they’re very Jewish. Just try one.
BR: Ok… wow, these are delicious. I will let this slide. This time. But I need to make sure that I’ve successfully wiped the Christmas right out of you. So let’s have a little test, shall we?
Me: (blinking and staring)
BR: As a Jew, what do you want to do when you see a Christmas tree?
Me: Umm… I don’t know. Quietly admire it from afar?
BR: Blondie! That is incorrect! You should want to roundhouse that Christmas tree and kick it over!
BR: Now I’m going to ask you again. When you see a Christmas tree, do you have the urge to give it a solid roundhouse-ing and kick it over?
Me: Uh, no BR. I do not have the urge to “roundhouse” a Christmas tree and “kick it over.” What is wrong with you.
BR: Well you should. Otherwise I’m going to take you back to the Rabbi so he can dunk you in the Mikvah and drown the Christian right out of you! Is that what you want? A good Christian drowning?!
So needless to say, BR is not a fan of Christmas. He’s more like the Grinchstein who stole Christmas. Or the Grinchstein who came into your house and kicked over your Christmas tree.
Now I’m sure many of you are wondering, why can’t you celebrate both holidays? After all, Christmas isn’t necessarily religious. Why can’t you have Christmas and Hanukkah? Or “Chrismukkah?”
Well the simple answer is… you just can’t. Jews don’t work like that. At least not the ones I’ve shacked up with. And it took me a little while, but I eventually came to understand that after thousands of years of enduring religious persecution and antisemitism, Christmas doesn’t necessarily give Jews the “warm and fuzzies.” In fact it often serves as an annual reminder of segregation and persecution.
But that doesn’t mean that I’m still not mourning it. Every. Single. Year.
I loved, loved, loved Christmas. I loved every single thing about it. I loved decorating the tree. I loved our Santa collection. I loved shopping for presents and wrapping them with glittery paper and bows. I loved stuffing stockings. I loved playing Christmas music all month long. I loved Christmas parties. I loved playing my favourite Christmas CD in the car and driving around the neighbourhood looking at Christmas lights with my family, while sipping hot chocolate from Starbucks. I loved watching Christmas Vacation every year with my dad – that was our special little tradition. I loved turkey and stuffing and mashed potatoes with gravy and cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie… and everything else we ate at our dysfunctional family gatherings. I even loved our dysfunctional family gatherings. And my Grammie, who I miss dearly. I had 31 Christmases at her house.
So when you give up Christmas you’re not just giving up one day a year. You’re giving up an entire lifetime of happy memories, celebrations and traditions. You’re giving up much loved, very special moments with your family. Forever.
(Sigh) It’s not easy being a Jew.
So the best way for me to deal with giving up Christmas is to basically cut it off like a limb. Just hack it off like a dead lump of coal. This may sound harsh, but you have to understand – it’s very hard to be around Christmas and not want to participate. You can’t just dip your toe in, get a little sprinkling of Christmas glitter on it, and then walk away like nothing happened. Or at least I can’t.
So every year BR and I have had the same strategy: we travel. Because if I’m not home for Christmas, then I won’t have the uncontrollable urge to hang Christmas balls on all the plants and put Santa hats on the dogs. And for any of you newly-minted Jews are out there – quietly sobbing into your old Christmas stockings that you’ve kept hidden in the closet while shoving bricks of fruitcake into your mouths – I highly recommend this strategy. Actually, I highly recommend Vegas. It’s easy to forget about Christmas when there’s all sorts of drinking, gambling, prostitution and general debauchery going on around you 24-7. Unless, of course, that’s how you like to celebrate Christmas. Then you better go somewhere else.
But this year is different. This year we’re home.
Holy Christmas, pass the rum balls. Blondie’s riding in on a one-horse open sleigh full of glitter with a carton of eggnog in one hand and a bottle of spiced rum in the other. Ho ho ho, lookout bitches.
And last night I had the ultimate test. BR is away, and I was invited to my parents house for my sister’s annual gingerbread house party. Did I go? Hell yes. And it was awesome.
I brought along the lady who cooks for us and the dogs. My cousins were there and my Aunt, and a few close family friends. My parents go all-out for Christmas. Their house is so… festive. As soon as I walked in I was bombarded by all the familiar sights, smells and sounds. The lights were twinkling, the tree was beaming, stockings were hanging from the fireplace and Christmas music was playing in the background. As usual they had lots of food and wine out, candles lit, lights dimmed, and an explosion of Christmas decorations everywhere. I almost cried. I was so happy to see everyone.
So we mingled for a while and then my sister threw some blankets down and got us all seated on the living room floor. Then she passed each one of us a gingerbread house kit. I was so excited. I wanted to bedazzle the crap out of mine, in a pent-up frenzy of icing and sprinkles and forbidden cookie dough. I almost started to hyperventilate.
And then I remembered my conversion. I remembered the commitment I made to BR and to his family. And to Judaism. Suddenly the visions of sugarplums dancing in my head were replaced with frowning Rabbis. And BR’s grandmother scolding me and shouting, “I knew this would happen!”
Ah, good old Jewish guilt. That’s how you know you’re really a Jew. So I took a deep breath, unwrapped my kit, and decided to make a gingerbread synagogue. Or a ginger-gogue. I put a Star of David on one side and a menorah on the other. And I put a little yarmulke on the gingerbread man.
There. See? I could handle being around Christmas and not be pulled back over to the dark side. I could sniff some glitter and not become addicted. I could drink the eggnog and not join the cult.
And just as everyone was taking a step back to admire their gingerbread houses which were spread out around the living room floor, BR’s beloved black poodle came stomping in like Godzilla, and tried to trample and eat every house in her path. Everyone started screaming. Christmas was ambushed.
Was this a coincidence? Maybe. But I can’t help thinking that somewhere far off in Austria, tucked away in a remote ski village, BR was sipping scotch and slowly rubbing his hands together, laughing that evil laugh of his. When I texted him what happened, his response was, “Yay. I hope she stomped your ginger-gogue.”