Christmas is in the eye of the beholder

“Hey Deborah, will you be celebrating Christmas?” an acquaintance asks in her politically correct tone which, if you are unfamiliar with that tone, is half an octave higher than a person’s normal tone and is ever so slightly sing-song though not as syrupy as the patronizing tone you may hear from customer service representatives who are clearly paid to represent their companies by not servicing their customers.  

It’s understandable that they should ask.  Even if you present Jewish and have a name like Deborah Goldstein and you wear glasses and your dark hair outlines features that are more bulbous than angular and your body type is a swimmer’s triangle turned upside down and you’re having a conversation at a synagogue, no one can be sure that you are Christmas-free. Perhaps your spouse is not Jewish or one of your family members married a gentile.  Perhaps you adopted a child from Panama, and you want to expose said child to the traditions of his/her people.  It’s possible you’re one of thoseparents who chooses to expose your children to every religion allowing them to be a child of the world.  And if your kids happen to have an Italian last name you make certain assumptions.  Surely, someone in your family is Catholic if you’ve got an Italian surname, right?  Al contrario!

Whether Gabriella’s family on either side is originally Jewish is unknown, but she is, in fact, Jewish, and ours is a Jewish household where we raise two Jewish mensches who happen to have an Italian last name.  Yet, even if you are aware of the tens of thousands of Italian Jews, and even if you know that we are a Jewish family that subscribes only to Jewish traditions, the question is still fair.  You just never know these things.

So I don’t judge and I don’t lecture, I simply answer, “No, we don’t celebrate Christmas.”

“Great, you’ll be around then!  Would you like to come over on Christmas Eve?  We’re watching movies and ordering Chinese food with a few other local Jews.  You know, celebrating the traditional Jewish Christmas.”

“Oh, we’d love to join you, but we’ll be in Queens on the 24th.”

“You have family there?”

“Mm hm.  Gabriella’s family.  We’re all getting together for dinner.”

“That’s nice.  Chinese food in Queens, then?”

“No, we do the Seven Fishes every year.”

“As in the traditional Italian Christmas dinner?”

“As in they make seven types of fish, and we all eat a lot of food together.”

“So you’re all being ironic?  The Jewish version of the seven fishes!  Love it!!  What are they serving?  Gefilte fish?  Herring?  Lox?  White fish?  What else?  Help me on this one.  It’s hysterical.”

“It would be hysterical if we were having an Ironic Seven Fishes meal, but we’re not.  They serve cod, octopus, shrimp…”

“As in shellfish?  So, her family celebrates Christmas then.  And you’re going to celebrate Christmas with them.  That’s what I asked in the first place!”

“Right, and I answered that we are not celebrating Christmas.  Her sisters and their families celebrate Christmas.  Wego over for dinner because everyone is off of work and school and we can all spend time together which we rarely have a chance to do.”

“And there’s a Christmas tree there?”

“Yes, but…”

“And, they give the boys gifts on that day.  The 24th?”

“Only because they wait until we are all together so that they can gift them in person.”

“And they wrap the presents in Christmas wrapping paper?  Red and green with Santa Claus all over it?”

“It’s difficult to find Chanukah paper where they live.”

“And they take the presents wrapped in Christmas paper out from under their Christmas tree and they hand the presents to the boys and say…. what?”

“What do you mean?  They wait for the boys to open the presents and then the boys give them all big hugs and play with their new presents until it’s time for us to go home.”

“I mean, they wish them a Merry Christmas, right?”

“I don’t recall.  I mean, I don’t think they do….anymore.”

“Will you be playing dreidle with the famiglia?”

“Chanukah is over, you know.”

“Any poinsettias in the house?  Wreaths on the door?  A crucifix in every room?”

“It’s just dinner with the family.”

“On the 24th every year?  You know what they say about denial?”

“You know what they say about kolboyniks?”

“About what?”

“Annoying know-it-alls.”

“What do they say?”

“I don’t know.  I’m not an annoying know-it-all!”
“You know, you’re not any less Jewish because you celebrate Christmas with her family.”

“I know.  I know.  But I feel less Jewish without Chinese food and a movie on Erev Christmas.”

“I get that.”

“Thanks for the invitation, anyway.  Have a great time.”

“Thanks.  And Merry Christmas!”

“Eff you.”

7 thoughts on “Christmas is in the eye of the beholder

  1. I don’t understand what the big deal is.
    If you are Jewish, tell me “Happy Hanukkah”,
    If you are Christian, tell me “Merry Christmas”,
    If you are an African Canadian, tel me “Joyous Kwanzaa”,
    If you don’t prefer those, tell me “Happy Holidays”.
    I will not be offended.
    I will be thankful that you took the time to say something nice to me.

  2. My husband is jewish, our only child lives in NYC most of her friends & family is jewish. She is included in many hanukkah celebrations & other holiday events. She never gets uptight or offended, she says her daddy’s family is open, loving and kind, she is related by blood that is all they care about. Many try to get her to date their friends who happen to be jewish but she told me her momma that they are funnier and kinder than others she has met..Smart too, she grew up on the outpost of the west coast and lived in Seattle where she finally met jewish young people and lovely families, but did not like the town per se, okay for a short time but not for her, she had to go to NYC to meet her dad’s family really her family and get into film work, there was no other town, she got a job in LA but based in NYC she flies all over the world, she says people are people everywhere if they hate in america, they hate in London, Greece, Italy, Paris, Spain, etc. All people are human, she is beautiful inside and out and we are so proud of her. She is fearless for women, will stick up for the downtrodden and kind..She looks like her daddy so much and we miss her so much, we get blue at hanukkah & christmas..but we see her in Seattle in January and we live for that, then when she comes to the west coast LA we drive to see her in norther california san francisco, california. We do not understand people who have family and never ever see them lest alone argue over tiny tiny things..Life is short and I like to think we are not on an unexpected journey like the Hobitt talked of in the fab. movie The Hobitt but we are travelers together in this world with care and love and peace..ciao!

    1. Now that’s a comment that I would love to hear spoken! So much love and thought behind your words. I am taken by your story and your observations and I wish for you and your family much love wherever you go and with whomever you find yourselves. Thank you so much for sharing a bit of yourself with us and reminding us about what is important in life. Ciao!

  3. We unapologetically celebrate Christmas with my Mother every year, along with my atheist sister and her two kids and my other sister who is married to a Jew and raising two Jewish boys. If Hanukkah overlaps, we bring a menorah (or make one out of my mother’s ratchet set if we forget! true story)and light the candles together, say the prayers, play dreidle, eat latkes, and make sure all the kids, Jews and gentiles, have a hanukkah present to open. This year my non-Jewish nephew celebrated Passover with us in NJ. Hell, my Christian mother has even hosted two brisis (britot?) in her home. Sharing holidays and traditions only makes everyone feel more loved!

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