I grew up in a home with a mother who was desperately trying to shed some of her Jewish identity that she felt was forced down her throat. Her parents had kept a strictly Kosher house. Though they weren’t religious, she felt denied…..denied of having the experience of even just knowing how other people lived. She lived in a very Italian neighborhood, so I am sure that Jewish people were a minority. She loved Christmas and felt that she was an outsider looking in from year to year. The house surrounding her own were smothered in Christmas lights and the delicious Italian bakeries sold Christmas delicacies and so forth.
So, how did I grow up? Having pictures taken with Santa, going on Easter egg hunts. One year (gulp) we even had a small (fake) tree that she threw into the closet every time the doorbell rang. Clearly, something was wrong with this picture.
For me, I don’t want my children to be confused. They have two Jewish parents, so why muddle the waters by pretending we are something we are not? However, my mother still loves Christmas, and I must admit, I certainly do, too. I love the songs, I love the lights, I love Christmas trees. Every year, I clamor for invites to our friend’s homes. Need any help decorating the tree? Need any company on Christmas Eve? But I realize that Christmas is truly a family holiday, and each year no one takes me on my genuine request to be included in their celebrations.
My youngest son clearly loves the holiday as much as I do. He has been singing “Frosty the Snowman” non-stop since he learned it in school and has watched the Frosty videos on You Tube for hours on end this week. We’ve driven around looking at the lights in my neighborhood for the last 7 nights in a row, and we’ve even gone out to Dyker Heights and the Bronx to explore the grandest of lights in other neighborhoods.
Surprisingly, or maybe not surprisingly, my kids do believe in Santa Claus. They know that he won’t be coming to our house, but they are just a little bit jealous that he will be sliding down the chimneys of their friend’s homes. I don’t dare discount their beliefs and don’t want to destroy their interpretation of the holiday so they keep on believing in Santa and all the joy that this holiday brings to believers.
The other day at the Stepping Stones Museum, Santa, Frosty and the Gingerbread Man were posing with kids. My kids, who love Christmas, didn’t want their photo taken with the characters, as I had done growing up, but they did want to stand on the sidelines watching the other kids who did want to. It was very indicative of how we spent the holiday all week: gazing at the beauty and fun of the holiday and wondering what would be like to wake up to a tree, drinking eggnog, gathering with our loved ones. Being a minority in America, it can get frustrating to be a part of something so big but not really being a part at all.
The other day, when I put on A Charlie Brown Christmas my daughter said, quite angrily, “Why aren’t there any shows about Hanukkah?” While there are a few, they are few and far between, and it would be nice to have more programming revolving around the holiday. However, Hanukkah is just not as commercial as Christmas is, which is part of the charm of our holiday. It is truly ours for eight nights. It’s quiet, with little concern for it by American media or the public. While the kids do get eight presents, if parents do give one to each child a day, they tend to be smaller and not as plentiful as millions of presents under a tree. I read many comments on Twitter and by bloggers about the fact that their kids wanted to convert to Judaism during the holiday to get their share of gifts. I am sure now that Christmas is over, they have long forgotten about that pipe dream.
Yesterday we slept in quite late. While others were unwrapping gifts and going to Christmas mass, we were just taking it easy. With nothing open, what is a Jew to do? Having lived in NYC for many years before moving to the suburbs of NY, surrounded by other many other Jewish people in the same boat, a typical Christmas for us has become Chinese food and a movie. So that is what remains. Last night my son and I dropped off my husband and daughter at the airport, as they were going off to see his parents and family for a few days, and the two of us headed to the movies. Unfortunately, we chose the terrible Yogi Bear, a decision I will long regret. On the way home, at around 9pm, I turned to my son and asked him if he wanted to stop for something to eat. He answered, completely unprompted or aware that it is the norm for Jews to have Chinese food on Christmas day, “Chinese food.” Not sure how he knew that. But he was right on the nose.
And the holiday would not have been the same without it.