It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. I was afraid that would happen.
Like many Jewish people, Christmastime for me is generally a conflicted period. The carols rule (name another genre of music in which artists like Bing Crosby, Bruce Springsteen, Dolly Parton, The Beach Boys, The Pointer Sisters and Alvin and the Chipmunks have all recorded the same song), the blue spruce and Douglas fir trees smell like little slices of heaven and, as is the case with most Jews (although few will admit it), I’ll jump at any excuse to eat party ham.
But I’m constantly bidding Christians a polite “Happy Holidays” in response to their “Merry Christmases,” because otherwise I feel a little disingenuous (just as I imagine anyone outside of the tribe might feel awkward asking God to inscribe me in the Book of Life during Yom Kippur). I try hard to figure out the six degrees of separation between Frosty the Snowman and the birth of Jesus (via Santa Claus). And I remind myself that even though it’s a holiday that’s advertised sometimes as early as July, it actually only falls once a year (or twice, depending if you count how many times “Ernest Saves Christmas” and “The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause” are shown on TBS).
My husband has all but humbugged every Christmas in the time I’ve known him. A self-described recovering Catholic with agnostic leanings and Jewish tendencies, he thinks there’s no better time than Dec. 25 to indulge in Chinese food, watch movies and patiently pass the time until Dec. 26.
But this year his mom is coming to stay with us for Christmas. While we cheerfully invited her, I’m now under no small amount of pressure to get my Christmas on. Mixed holiday feelings aside, Santa Claus will be joining my mother-in-law at our home, and as an unofficial disciple of Martha Stewart, it’s my duty to shovel as much joy and warmth into the occasion as possible.
A few years ago we bought a small, pre-lit tree. (I wasn’t about to be the subject of one of those news stories where the house burns down because no one remembered to water the freshly cut tree. We have a hard enough time remembering to refill the fish tank every few months.) It gets decorated with nothing more than plain silver ornaments. It’s a simple, elegant tree for a proud, mostly Jewish home.
We also have stockings. I picked out the ones from Pottery Barn Kids that were the most religiously ambiguous — like the one with the ballerina and the one with the train. Although I suppose the act of actually having a stocking erases any doubt as to what holiday is being observed. After all, last time I checked, quilted stockings played no role in the Maccabees’ celebration of that drop of oil that miraculously lasted eight nights.
The do-it-yourself gingerbread house kit is traditionally a big December activity in our house. Thankfully there’s nothing religious about gumdrops and jellybeans. Candy knows no spiritual boundaries.
However, I’m concerned that our slipshod Yuletide tokens won’t suffice now that we’ll be officially recognizing Christmas this year, so I’ve been scrambling to beef up our non-existent traditions.
We bought new ornaments last weekend (because our existing ones are actually glass and will be gleefully tossed, broken and eaten by our almost-16-month-old daughter before she can say “emergency room” and “stitches”) and browsed other decorations at Target. However, the gold wreaths seemed too, well, gilded. And the Peanuts nativity scene seemed too proselytize-y. I might have taken myself out of the running for Jew of the Year, but I have to draw the line somewhere.
Then there’s the matter of the Christmas dinner menu. My mother-in-law usually eats gumbo and boiled crawfish with my brother-in-law and sister-in-law’s family in Louisiana on Christmas. The problem is, I’m still scarred — emotionally and literally — from the roux of the gumbo I made a few years ago. So I investigated flying in live crawfish instead, but judging by the price, they’re demanding to be seated in first class.
From my cursory research, I’ve determined that gelatin salad molds are also common Christmas fare. Forgetting that Jell-O is up there with bacon cheeseburgers in terms of the holy grail of non-kosher foods (not that ham is exactly pareve), simply making anything with the word “mold” in it just feels wrong.
To be sure, I’ve got my work cut out for me — channeling my inner WASP to try and make this year’s Christmas one that everyone will treasure. It’s just not easy creating a meaningful holiday when it’s not your holiday. It’s kind of like throwing someone a surprise party when the theme is based on a book you didn’t read.
Except in this case, the book is the New Testament, it’s Jesus’ birthday and someone other than him will be on the receiving end of the cake. That’s a lot of guesswork for a Jew. Here’s hoping for a Christmas miracle.
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