How Jews Spend Christmas

How Jews Spend Christmas

            Being Jewish in a Christian country makes me feel like an outsider sometimes. When I was a little girl, the Bible was read at the beginning of each day as well as “The Lord’s Prayer.” I felt on the outside not because I was Jewish, we read the Old Testament, but because my parents were not theists. I insisted on going to Sunday School because my best friend Linda was Episcopalian and went every week. My parents put me off as long as possible, and then found a Sunday School that was Jewish but not attached to a temple. It was sponsored by The Workmen’s Circle, a Jewish labor organization. I learned how to read, write, and speak Yiddish, not Hebrew. I learned the history of the Jews. There were no bar andb at mitzvahs, only Hanukkah parties where we performed scenes from Sholem Aleichem and Purim parties where we dressed like Esther, Haman, King Ahasuerus, or Mordecai.

            My mother’s best friend Pat was Christian. She and her husband Abe, a Jew, had integrated Riverton with my parents, being the only white in a middle class apartment complex in Harlem. When my family moved to the suburbs in New Jersey, we continued to go to Pat and Abe’s every Christmas Eve. A large Christmas tree was always ready for us to decorate. It was a magical time for me. Many years I slept over on the pull-out couch in the living room, watching The Million Dollar Movie until I fell asleep. A few times my brother or sister stayed over, too.

            In the morning, I awoke to find presents under the tree. I wasn’t allowed to open them until my family drove in from the suburbs. Santa always brought me the most amazing gifts. I got a real printing press when I was in fourth grade and used it to put out a neighborhood newspaper. One year I received a giant green blackboard. It was probably four feet by six feet but I thought it was the size of a wall. For several years my sister, brother, and I played school. My sister, who was four years older than me and six years older than my brother, taught us the algebra she was learning in school. My brother, being a genius, ate it up. I loved practicing my printing and my cursive. It took me until I was an adult to figure out that Pat was a doctor and had no children, so she had the funds to buy us such extravagant gifts.

            After the presents were opened, we would go visit our old friends in the building and the adults would catch up on news while us kids played with the toys. I felt totally included in Christmas.

            I felt out of the mainstream when those visits shortened to just Christmas Day. The holiday no longer seemed to belong to me.

            My first husband was Jewish but his parents lived in a small Ohio town and they always celebrated Christmas, not Hanukkah. So I got the tree back and Christmas Eve and Christmas dinner without guilt. When he and I moved to Arizona, we celebrated both Hanukkah and Christmas. I got to make and buy ornaments for the tree. I had an Open House on Christmas Eve for all the people we knew who were far from family.

            When my husband and I divorced after twelve years of marriage, my daughters kept Christmas with their dad, but I lost it. By this time I had joined a temple in Phoenix and the kid were being raised Jewish. I spent a few Christmases serving food at St. Vincent De Paul Charity Dining Hall. I spent one at the Grand Canyon with a boyfriend. But I was an outsider.

            When I married the second time, it was to a Christian. He and his two sons, who lived with us, had many Christmas traditions which I promptly adopted. It was my holiday again. I learned to make popovers for Christmas morning. Even though our son was raised Jewish, he celebrated Christmas with his dad and his brothers. And we all celebrated Hanukkah. The kids were no slouches. They figured out right away that it meant twice as many presents.

            After fifteen years of jolly Christmases, I again found myself divorced and looking in from the outside on Christmas. My sons spent it with their dad. I spent some years with friends, but always felt like an outsider. Sometimes a Jewish friend would have an Open House on Christmas. That felt better.

            These past few years I’ve come back to the fold and done the Jewish thing at Christmas: go to the movies then go to a Jewish deli or a Chinese restaurant. Yesterday I went to see True Grit with two friends and one of their mothers. I enjoyed the movie on the big screen at the Cine Capri. We went to Goldman’s Deli for a late lunch. The place was packed! Nothing says Christmas like matzo ball soup and cheese blintzes. Happy Holidays.


2 Responses to “How Jews Spend Christmas”

  1. Sharon Says:

    It is a bit uncomfortable for those of us who only do Christmas, too. How do we respond to you? What is appropriate? How much should we talk about our respective holidays? This is a great post to get people talking with one another about what is important to them no matter which holidays they celebrate.

    • annieweissman Says:

      I am interested in what other people are doing for the holidays and like when they share their forthcoming events and how things went. I just don;t like being there for the gift-giving during a family celebration. It remind me too much of what I lost.

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