Christmas is not my holiday. This is my 64th Christmas. It is there, every year, whether I’m looking for it or not.
I do not remember individual Christmases. Some passed by as just another day. Some were filled with happy children and good food. Mostly however, when I think of Christmas the specifics are blurred, and my body reacts to feelings of jealousy, incompetency, guilt, and confusion. Christmas is always sooo big that it is hard not to be caught up in it – trying to find a place to fit in even if you don’t believe.
My experiences are not that unusual I’m sure. I was a bright Jewish girl in a predominantly Catholic grammar school. Much to my displeasure my mother would not allow me to participate in the annual Christmas pageant. I sat alone in the auditorium during rehearsals while my classmates practiced walking down the aisles carrying candles and singing carols. They played bells and made decorations and chatted about their trees and wish lists.
My next door neighbors would invite me over to help them trim their tree and I would return home to unsympathetic parents with my stories of how I helped stick cloves into oranges and sprinkled sugar on cookies.
My parents caved in finally and one year allowed me to put a wooden shoe by the side of my bed before I fell asleep and they filled it with candy. I also remember going to see the department store windows on Fifth Avenue – full of teddies and snow, and animals, and lights, and I think we also went to Rockefeller Center one year I wonder if they did this out of love for me, not wanting me to feel so different.
When I moved out on my own and had my own apartment it took me several years before I got up the nerve to put up my own small Christmas tree. I bought eggnog and exchanged gifts with friends. I never told my family because some of them would think of this as treason, not standing up to the Christian takeover of the season, not supporting the Jews who chose to not even acknowledge secular Christmas.
Then of course, I fell in love with Clark, a non-Jew, one who’s mother loved Christmas, decorated her home, shopped with fervor, cooked and baked, and brought out the holiday dishes.. The first year we had them at our house for the holiday I was a bundle of nerves. Do I leave the menorah up? Do I buy decorations? What do I cook?
When we had children it was even harder. I was happy they loved our sons so much that they showered them outrageously with presents, but at the same time, I never knew how to reciprocate or how to balance one set of grandparents’ Chanukah with the other grandparents’ Christmas.
Our little family created our own Christmas traditions. We’d set up the tree on Christmas Eve – this started mostly from my not wanting to crowd out Chanukah when the two holidays coincided. It made our Christmas Eve very special. We’d cuddle in our family chair and read Polar Express; we’d open one present. After a wild morning opening presents on Christmas day, we’d go to a movie – it often was the newest Star Trek – and then we’d return home for a good dinner.
After my husband’s death in 2006, my sons and I continued to get together for Christmas. It was his holiday, and it is their holiday too. This is the first year that I am not with them. I am happy that Morgan, my elder son, has a girlfriend who shares her family Christmas with him. It is a much better Christmas than I could give him now. My younger son, Alex, spent Christmas with members of his band. I think he was looking forward to doing this.
Without my boys Christmas has little fascination to me and I feel out of sorts. It is there, trying to poke itself into my life, but somehow I can skirt around it a lot easier. Yes, I brought my sons presents and yes, we will get together sometime in January to celebrate our memories of Christmas with Clark. We will never let the holiday go because of our love for him.