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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Jewish Christmas

It always feels strange to be Jewish this time of year. Living in a predominantly Christian culture, the entire month of December feels like there is a big party going on that we are not invited to.

I love and hate the holiday season.

I love: tasteful Christmas decorations, Christmas trees, fruitcake (yes, I love it...especially with marzipan icing!), the parties and the time off from work/school, etc.

I hate: tacky Christmas decorations (why oh why do the people down the street have a life sized inflatable Santa??), the excessive consumerism, the boredom.

Yes, I said boredom. Because while all you Christmas celebrators are so "BUSY" with whatever it is you are busy with...shopping, baking cookies, cooking, partying, etc., us Jews have very little to do. Hannukah, after all is a minor Jewish holiday that lasts 8 days (compared to the Christmas holiday season which is really the entire month of December) and really doesn't involve heavy gift giving and most of us can't be bothered to make the labour intensive latkas or sufganiyot (jelly donuts) and buy them instead (I personally can't stand fried food so I would never make them anyways). Add the fact that so many businesses and services shut down, and there isn't a lot of ways for us to fill the time. That's why most Jews who have the chance in North America, head somewhere south for a getaway, but that hasn't been an option to us most years for financial reasons or the constraints of having very young children. I have never really understood why Christmas celebrators always complain so much about everything they have to do. I love being busy, I love shopping, baking, cooking and parties. What is really so bad?

I was lucky enough as a kid to have several friends include me in their Christmas celebrations. Two of them even had me overnight on Christmas Eve and their thoughtful, generous parents filled a stocking for me. I loved it. But even then, I felt like an outsider. There are some Jews who succomb to pressure from their children and put up a Christmas tree or participate in other Christmas traditions, but my parents did not, and that doesn't feel right to me. I'm Jewish. I don't celebrate Christmas and that's that.

But there is so much pressure to embrace Christmas, especially when it's all about presents and candy for kids. Big A doesn't believe me when I tell her Santa doesn't really exist. She says, "But mommy, I've seen him at the mall!" And she already feels excluded. After Easter last year, when all the other kids were getting baskets of chocolate, she stated, "Mommy, when I grow up, I don't want to be Jewish!" Fortunately, Hebrew school (and tons and tons of chocolate Hannukah gelt) have given her a more favourable perspective on Judaism.

Toronto Jewish Christmas day, for those stuck in the city, generally consists of Chinese food and a movie, which is fine with me, and Adam and I did just this before we had kids. But our kids are still too young for a feature film and going out to restaurants with them cannot be a long, drawn out, leisurely affair, so this is not an option for us right now either.

Last year was the pits. Little A came down with a severe ear infection on Christmas day and simply screamed and howled (she was only 8 months old) and we had to cancel going to my brother's house, which made Big A very upset. Aside from taking the girls to a pub (the only place open near us) for lunch, we were pretty much house bound and climbing the walls. I ate too much fudge I made and got a tummyache.

This year Adam actually has to teach a spin class at the JCC (I love that there is a gym open on December 25th!) on Christmas morning and then we are heading to my brother's (assuming EVERYONE is healthy). On the 26th, we fly down to Florida for a few days with Adam's family. His family goes every year. If it's feasible, I have realized that we should really get out of here every year. I can't wait for the sun, the time with family and a break from it all.

But I would like to establish "Winter holiday" traditions of our own once the girls are old enough. I'm thinking something charitable - volunteering at a food bank, etc., as well as something physical (sledding, skating, cross country skiing, etc.) so that my girls feel busy, included and always have something special to look forward to. Then again, maybe going to Florida every year is enough.