Christmas is the loneliest day of the year for a Jew, and don’t try to tell me it isn’t.
All notions of religion aside, it’s the biggest party of the year and the Jew, simply put, is not invited. I come by this feeling honestly. It’s genetic. My mother has her own story of a basement, a ping pong table, and a sad excuse for a tree. (You can read about it here: http://www.salon.com/mwt/feature/1999/12/22/jew2/)
I don’t have that problem, not anymore. Now, I didn’t mean to marry a goy. For crying out loud, the guy had dark curly hair, a very Semetic last name, and he was from Queens. Turns out his great grandfather changed the family name way back, so he could get himself a job in the Garment District.
But since I wasn’t very Jewish and Ray was no longer Catholic at all, it really didn’t matter (much, don’t get me started on our resolution to join a temple next year — maybe) and as a bonus, I got Christmas. My mother in law has always been impressed by my knowledge of Christmas trivia; I generally win the game where you get clues and have to name the carol.
I love Christmas. The blue and white stockings my mom filled with everything but the candy we wanted are a distant memory, replaced with way-too-big (I realized this year, when it came time to fill them) red and green stockings for Annabelle and Sophie. OK, so I swipe the candy and throw it out when they’re not looking, but the idea is still there, and I want more than anything for them to have great memories of Christmas.
This year was a success. Sophie got her “Noggin bath toys” and Annabelle got her Nintendo DS, and if we don’t establish some rules soon Ray and I won’t see more than the top of the head of our elder child for the next several years. (I already hate that thing.) We spent a decadent morning lounging around (both Ray and I fell asleep sitting up, after staying up way too late with last minute preparations) and then headed to the in laws for more presents and more lounging.
I’ve happily had my fill of red and green.
All day, though, I thought of my sister. Jenny doesn’t have any sort of reason for the season. She married a bona fide Jew, and they don’t celebrate Christmas. At all. And while I don’t think it really bothers her much in general (Jenny’s pretty practical, and Christmas is a pain in the ass), the text messages started last night. I don’t want to reveal off the record details, but let’s just say there was a small amount of sulking going on and maybe some illicit sneaking around to listen to Christmas music.
Of course I felt guilty for all of my merry making (even a tree! the worst!) and wished I could make it okay for her, but the truth is that even with my access to Christmas by marriage, I’m an interloper, a faker. I know the tree doesn’t look quite right.
I know how she feels.
It’s just not the Most Wonderful Time of the Year for a Jew. From a commercial perspective (you can debate the religious significance) Hanukkah’s a loser of an also-ran, if you ask me. Nothing — not even a present a night for eight nights — compares to the blissful excess of Christmas morning. And if you do try to celebrate Hanukkah with any panache, pious Jews diss you. I’ve heard the Hanukkah decorations are kept boring ON PURPOSE to keep observers in line. A good friend of mine told me recently that someone from her temple chastized her for hanging blue and white lights on her house. Too Christmasy, she was told.
“It IS the festival of lights, after all,” she told me in disgust. She refused to take the lights down. We got a chuckle out of it, but that jerk’s comment probably ruined the lights for her, at least a little bit.
So yeah, I get it, Jen. Today Jenny and her family went to a friend’s house for Christmas. It’s a mixed marriage, like mine, so I’m sure there was a little Christmas. I hope they had fun. I missed them. (They live out of town.)
As we were washing the dishes tonight, my father in law heaved a sigh and said, “All that preparation — and now it’s over!” He’s like a little kid, he really looks forward to Christmas and gets depressed the moment the last piece of gift wrap is thrown away.
“I know,” I replied. “You always say that. You’re right.”
“Yeah,” he sighed, turning back to the dishes.
Driving home, listening to Annabelle whine that she needed MORE Nintendo games (already?!), I felt a little depressed, too, mainly at the thought of the living room and the fact that it will take days to locate the floor.
Then I remembered something. It’s the fifth night of Hanukkah. We got home, dumped the presents from Grandma on the dining room table, and I dug the wax out of the menorah to make way for more candles. Ray yelled at me for holding the lighter too close to my hand (he was right, of course; I burned myself) and the girls and I said the prayer.
Every night, they get better at it. Even Sophie’s starting to memorize the few lines. I haven’t figured out what I’ll say when they ask what the Hebrew means; there’s a lot of god in that prayer. (No duh, Amy!) But honoring the tradition felt good. I felt at home.
And there was one more present to open, from Aunt Jenny.
I don’t know how to put this without sounding impossibly corny, but it’s still officially Christmas, so I’ll just go for it. It doesn’t matter if you drape it in red and green or blue and white — what matters is what’s in your heart.
But it sure would help if somene would come up with some catchy, sappy Hanukkah songs. Meantime, I’m going to burn a copy of the Christmas CD my friend Sari made me and send it to Jenny for next year.
Merry Christmas, little sister. See you at the family Hanukkah party on Sunday. I’ll keep the Christmas tree up for you.