Dec 25th, 2004

This Isn’t Going To Be What You Think

Today is the day every Jew feels like a stranger in a strange land. I don't care how assimilated they are, how they call it a Channukah Bush, or they've married outside of the faith, and they are accomodating a spouse. This is not our holiday.
But that's OK, too, you know? When I was growing up in that small South Florida town, my family used to drive around, looking at all the Christmas lights. It was charming. The little Mediteranean Revival cottages, the mid-century not so much modern as ranch-styles were all duded up for a holiday.

There was magic in the way the palm trees glowed. It made it feel like a holiday.

In our store we always decorated for Christmas. It was a Christian town. We were in business. Christmas was big business in a dry goods store. Still is, you might notice. Big business is good for a small mom and pop business. We loved Christmas.

Christmas meant hard work for all of us. Only my Grandmother was exempt during the season. Curling ribbons, straightening stock, wrapping packages, making sales... that was the ladder we grandchildren climbed. On Christmas Eve we closed the store as early as we could gently expell the truly last second shoppers. There was a party for the employees, and the men and women who weren't family might just as well have been. These people had been in the store almost as long as my parents. After the party, the family would head over to my Grandfather's house, just a block away on the St.Lucie River. We'd all drink a toast to Christmas. I'd love to say that we then all went out for Chinese food, but there wasn't much in the way of Chinese food in Stuart, and I don't remember going to Frances Langford's Outrigger.

All my friends thought that I had no Christmas, being Jewish, so I can't count the number of trees I trimmed as a child. My sistergirlfriendgirl's family had wonderful ornements, little hedgehogs from England, based on Beatrix Potter's illustrations. Another friend's family had old glass balls, the ones people kill to collect these days. Sigh. It's never stopped, either, this Christian sympathy as though I've missed out on something.

When I lived in New York, a pair of women friends thought I needed to experience tree buying in the snow. So their present to me was a trip to the tree lot in Greenwich Village, picking their tree, helping to schlep it through the falling and deep snow to their West Village apartment where I would get to decorate the tree with them. It was just as magical a time as they wanted me to have.

Frankly though, I've always been in it for the grub. Lawdy. The grub in a Southern home at Christmas is why God invented ham. Redeye gravy and grits with butter the next day. Homemade biscuits. Butter. Cream gravy. Did I mention the roast ham? Exotic food and I still swoon for a good slice of fried ham with redeye gravy. Haven't had one in years.

I think that I embrace Christmas as the secular holiday my friends all tell me it's become. I celebrate Christmas vicariously through my friends, but I still won't celebrate it in my home. I am a Jew. This is the dividing point between them and us. I respect Christian belief enough to abstain from celebrating Christian holidays. I am grateful when they chose to share one of mine with me, and love to open my Passover seders to my non-Jewish friends.

But make no mistake, I am treating them to my holiday, letting them in on the Jewishness of the night. I am not trying to convert them. I would ask the same of the Christian Right.

I keep reading about Christmas in Bagdad, and around and about Iraq, and how the soldiers are giving out candy canes. I was asked by a business to click on a link to send gifts to the soldiers and children. The soldiers could get books, an amazing array of titles mostly having to do with politics, anti-war politics mostly, and how to get a better job, or prepare yourself for leaving the military. I thought that was a little cold, a little too much propaganda for those guys over there who don't want to be there any more. I opted for a rag doll for an Iraqi child, but at the same time, I felt guilty. As though I were one of the Christians trying to force a religious holiday on someone of another faith. Hey, little Iraqi kid getting a rag doll for a holiday you don't celebrate: I don't celebrate it either. Take the presents and roll with it.

RJ and MJ have an agreement: he celebrates all the Jewish holidays, and she has to celebrate Christmas and St. Patrick's Day with him. I think this is a great deal for RJ and told her so. She gets all her holidays (and trust me when I say that they mostly involve food) and the only two of his he wants to celebrate require giving presents and drinking to excess.