Solitary holidays and how this Jew-by-choice learned to enjoy the season again — anyway
So it’s all rolled around again — quicker now as I’ve aged. Earlier, too, but that’s not my fault. Blame capitalism. I saw Christmas stuff out before Thanksgiving hadn’t even happened yet. I was not alone in my irritation — people around me nodded in annoyance and observed that “isn’t this a bit premature?”
At least it gave me a chance to brace myself for the music. The classical stuff? It’s just beautiful and the truth is much of the best classical music is based in Christianity and I’ve just had to get used to it. But the constant stream of it starting the moment the last turkey sandwich has been consumed has been known to give me a facial twitch.
I worked damned hard to get rid of that twitch, too.
I am the mother of three wonderful kids — one produced by my body and two a gift of my long but now-ending marriage (at least I still like him). People who differentiate between kids due how they got them shouldn’t be parents to anyone. I am also the easy mom. The less demanding one. It’s hard enough to have one demanding parent, plus in-laws, plus one who’s not doing very well right now and needs a little extra love without me adding to it. But it means that I spend most of my holidays alone. Given how much sweet time I get with my kiddos and my kiddos-in-love (screw the “law” part) and my amazing, heart-filling grandchildren, I really can’t and shouldn’t complain.
Okay, I get a little pang sometimes, but that’s my responsibility, not theirs.
Raising kids meant no solitary holidays but making the huge, ancient monstrosity of a house into the closest thing to merry and bright I could manage. Despite my Jewish adoptive father and Jewish name, I didn’t take the plunge (literally — my conversion mikvah was a lake in December) until 1993, so we did Christmas. I made sure there were lights and presents and a tree and yummy food — all but one year when I had no money at all and…well, never mind the rest of it.
When I converted, I thought I’d left Christmas behind. And indeed, it absolutely isn’t my holiday anymore and I don’t miss that.
But I had reckoned without my kids, particularly my wonderful younger daughter and her husband and my heart-filler of a little granddaughter. My youngest does Christmas and boy does she do Christmas!
Every year they get a huge tree and proceed to decorate it with lights and ornaments with such gorgeous precision that it looks like a professional window display. The whole house fills with the scent of that tree, augmented by the redolence of holiday baking. Really good Christmas music is the background — blessedly eschewing that monstrous 40 year old woman carrying on about her two front teeth (get dentures, you nincompoop and shut up about it). Did I mention that she bakes like an angel, her husband cooks like a dream and little granddaughter dances her fairy ballet joyously as it’s all happening? They, like my older daughter and her beloved guy, are raising a happy child. To someone with my history, this is like watching a miracle unfold before my very eyes — one I get to be part of.
How can I not enjoy this?
For a while, as a new Jew, the entire business made me really uncomfortable. I felt pursued by Christianity, slammed with it, cornered by it. I felt disloyal when I couldn’t help but be delighted by all the lights on the houses and the scents and goodies.
It’s not as if I didn’t have a perfectly good holiday to enjoy. I adore Hannukah. Menorah lights, the music. Dreidls and chocolate gelt (coins). Latkes with sour cream and apple sauce. We even get eight whole days while all y’all poor blighters only get one (okay, the 12 days of Christmas, but whatever…).
It’s just that Hannukah isn’t literally everywhere.
And it isn’t like Christmas isn’t actually a perfectly respectable pagan holiday. I was pagan before I was Jewish and plenty of it remains — if filtered Jewishly. The Goddess is Shekhinah, now known as the Sabbath Bride but is actually G-d Immanent (within) while Adonai, the male face of G-d, is G-d Transcendant. Christmas is also Yule and the Solstice. It can be enjoyed from that point of view as well.
But given I will be a hostage to the season for as long as my family celebrates it, what was this new Jew to do?
Give in — sorta.
I look at it this way. If I was in India or Thailand or any number of other countries with holidays never celebrated in this country except by immigrants, I would love every minute of it. I would participate joyously, if within the boundaries of it not being my faith.
And there’s the key. Christmas is not my holiday. Not at all. I’m not a Christian and I have no interest in being one, either. But just as if I was in India, I can enjoy this not-my-holiday just fine. I can savor the lights. Enjoy the music I like (even as my face twitches every damned time I hear that song about teeth). Nosh happily on the gingerbread and mulled apple cider. I can go to Christmas parties and chow down. My white elephant gift will be wrapped in Hannukah paper and I might very well wear the ugliest Hannukah sweater ever misdesigned, but I will enjoy it just the same way as I would if I was in India during Diwali (read about Diwali) or Thailand during Songkran (read about Songkran) or any other country with super fun celebrations that have nothing to do with anything I believe.
It’s not a betrayal of my faith. It’s tolerance and the ability to appreciate cultures that are either no longer or never were my own.
And isn’t that what the season is really about?