Christmas is an odd time of the year if you're not a Christian. Let me say right here, right now, that I am not knocking Christmas. I just want to be crystal clear about that. I think the idea of Joy and Peace and Love are wonderful. Giving unto others, being kind to your neighbors and strangers, and everything else that the Christmas Spirit can embody. No, what I'm talking about is seeing the majority of your world celebrate a holiday that you're not truly a part of. There's a disconnect that not a lot of people talk about, though I know I can't be the only one to feel this way.
I didn't grow up celebrating Christmas. Being Jewish, this makes a lot of sense. The allure of Christmas always grabbed at me. My friends in elementary school would talk about decorating trees, making cookies, and visiting with Santa. I didn't get Santa. He was fake, everyone had to know that. I knew for a fact he was fake, because my grandfather, who did not live in the North Pole and who knew diddlysquat about reindeer, dressed up as Santa for some events at Briarcliffe College where my grandmother worked and taught. Lets forget about Santa. Lets talk about the Elves. I can get behind the Elves. Look at history with tales of Brownies, Cobbs, Faery Forts, Jenny Greenteeth, Faeries, Pixies, Dwarves, Dryads and more. How many faery tales are there? How many stories about Elves and Pixies and any of the countless Fey? Seriously, my grandfather wasn't dressing up as Oberon, ya know? My friends believed in the jolly fat man, but try to have one serious conversation about the Fey and get you get labeled a nerd for life. Ah, well, you pick your battles, right? So, back to Christmas.
I never understood what Jesus had to do with Santa, presents, or the holiday decorations that spewed across the neighborhood after Thanksgiving. I also had no clue what Jesus had to do with trees, cookies and reindeer. My friends couldn't explain it, and my family didn't talk about it. The combination of Sacred and Secular always confused me. Again, I am not knocking Christmas, Jesus or Santa.
What I loved about Christmas, being an outsider, were the decorations and the music. I loved the carols. I loved the lights in their garish cacophony. Most of all, I loved the trees. Christmas trees were amazing. Real trees, in your home, decorated with lights, sparkles and so many ornaments. The trees got me every year. I remember in elementary school when I asked my mom if we could have a tree. The answer was a resounding No. Jews didn't have trees. Trees were for Christmas. There was no other discussion. It was fact, laid out, end of story. I have to say, I felt conned, but I let it go. Several years later my family was invited to Christmas dinner with friend's of my parents. Their family emigrated from Scandinavia, and celebrated the holiday with more European traditions. The food was different than the more American/traditional Christmas dinners my friends told me about, and there were amazing decorations. Everything was carved out of wood, and there were candles everywhere. Their tree, however, stopped me cold.
The tree was huge, and by huge I mean it was over 7 feet tall. It was decked out with lights, ornaments, and strings of cranberries. There was a glass finial on the top of the tree, and on almost every branch tip there was a small candle. The ornaments and lights were mostly white, silver, or cream. The string of cranberries popped against the light colours. It was simply breathtaking. After dinner our host turned the lights off in the room, and then he and his wife began to light the candles on the tree. They may have sung Silent Night while lighting the candles, but I don't recall that as clearly. Once they were done, the candles were the only light in the room, and it was magical. It didn't matter that my family didn't celebrate Christmas, for that moment, in the warm glow of the candles, everyone in that room was connected. It was breathtaking. Looking back, I don't think I've ever felt that kind of connection again.
Over the years holidays, not just Christmas, have become more commercial. In college, away from my parents' prying eyes, I celebrated Christmas with friends and had my own "Chanukah bush". After college, when I had a place of my own I would put up lights (indoor and out) and sometimes have a small tree. By then I knew I didn't have a Christmas tree, but a Yule tree. Pagan roots, pagan holiday, and I mixed it with the cultural trappings of the Jewish holiday. It felt comfortable and right to me, but it wasn't Christmas. It certainly wasn't that feeling of belonging that I'd felt that Christmas so long ago.
Throughout college and beyond I dated and married non-Jewish men. I celebrated Christmas with their families, and incorporated their festivities with mine. I was now celebrating Chanukah, Yule and Christmas. Finally, I was celebrating Christmas in a cultural way that made me feel like I was part of it. I'd made the cut! I was Celebrating Christmas.
There was some grand Christmases, and some crappy ones. There were years with gifts, years without gifts. There were even years without trees, but I still celebrated Christmas with loved ones. It was nice. I developed my own Christmas traditions. Like most Jews, I enjoyed Chinese food for Christmas dinner, and I would go to the movies. There were compromises along the way. More traditional Christmas dinners with lovers and friends, so the Chinese food & movie would move to Christmas eve. It all worked somehow. 2010, however, was different.
I didn't have a significant other to celebrate Chanukah or Yule with. The holidays seemed empty, especially Christmas. I read blogs, facebook posts and tweets from my friends talking about the joy of the season, and how they were spending the holidays with their loved ones, and I was back in elementary school again. Don't get me wrong, friends invited me to celebrate with them, but it didn't feel right. I lit the Channukah candles with my daughter every night, and it was sweet. It was calm, there wasn't a big fuss, and the night moved on. I celebrated Yule with my daughter, and it was the same thing. It was sweet, calm, and not a big fuss. Both holidays felt comfortable and inviting. Christmas, however, was uncomfortable.
I made a baked ziti for Christmas Eve dinner. Christmas day we had Chinese food for lunch and we watched movies. Meanwhile my friends online were posting their Christmas stories, tweeting their loot, and I felt like a voyeur. I was out of the loop again for Christmas. Christmas 2010 was lonely. It was an uncomfortable quiet. It was a day where I felt I didn't belong. Christmas wasn't special for me, it was just a day.
I propose this.
I propose that Christmas isn't about gifts, food and insane holiday decorations. It isn't about carols or drunk uncles. Christmas is about surrounding yourself with people you care about, and enjoying their company. It doesn't matter if you celebrate Christmas as a sacred or secular holiday, it's the people who matter. I think I want to celebrate Christmas in 2011. I can't tell you where I'll be, if there will be a tree, or carols playing, but I can tell you that it will be more than just a day for me. I don't want to be disconnected. I want to be part of the Peace, Joy and Love that can embody the holiday season. Maybe, by being a part of it all, I can reach out to others who are on the outside and we can all celebrate together. Wouldn't that be spectacular?
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