A Jewish Girl's First Christmas: Perspective from the Other Side
I have never disliked being Jewish. It's true, we live in a mostly Christian world (the western world, anyway), but I never felt discriminated against or marginalized. But just because I didn't observe the holiday didn't mean I couldn't enjoy the world's celebration. My family and I went "Christmas lighting," which just meant we drove around the community at night admiring the beautiful lights and decorations. I enjoy Christmas music!
For most of my life, my family's "Christmas" celebration was going out to Chinese food, as that is one of the few restaurants open on Christmas night. This is a fairly common Jewish tradition! Of course, in the winter, we also have our own holiday, Hanukkah! Sometimes Hanukkah arrives right around Christmas, and sometimes it comes significantly earlier. For those who may not know, Jewish holidays aren't always at the same time each year because they are based on the Hebrew calendar, which counts months by the moon cycle.
Girl Meets Boy
I met my boyfriend GM in college. GM is Episcopalian. His family and I got along swimmingly, and they invited me to spend Christmas with them.
I was a little nervous. I hoped that neither I nor they would feel awkward. For my sake, I hoped there wouldn't be anything I would be uncomfortable with, such as going to church or praying. Not that I look down on church or prayer, just that I would feel uncomfortable both participating and not participating. For their sakes, I hoped that they wouldn't feel they needed to curtail any of their traditions for the sake of making me comfortable.
I arrived at their home on Christmas Eve Eve, or December 23. The tree was decorated and very pretty. GM took me on "the tour," explaining the meanings and stories behind all the different ornaments. He and his brother were allowed one new ornament per year, he explained. He showed me the various aircraft ornaments: he and his brother are both big blimp and airplane fans.
Christmas Eve during the day began the hustle and bustle. It was quite similar to most holiday celebrations I've attended: Thanksgiving, July 4, most Jewish holidays (Rosh Hashanah, Passover, Hanukkah, etc.). The cooking, the moving around constantly (often getting very little accomplished), the feverish sweeping, mopping, de-cluttering, the fighting, the combination of stress and excitement.
I helped a little with the cooking. If you knew my extreme lack of knowledge and experience in cooking, you would understand how new of an experience THAT was for me.
On Christmas Eve night, the five of us (him, his brother, parents, and me) sat in the dark around the lit Christmas tree. It was a warm, cozy, relaxed feeling, especially after the scattered-ness during the day. It felt like the very definition of the word family.
On Christmas Day, everything became crazy again. GM's entire extended family arrived around 1:00, and general insanity ensued until about 3:00, when we sat down to eat. Now, this was new for me. The tradition of eating supper in the mid to late afternoon is a mostly Christian one. However, the continuous eating throughout the entire evening is not. Jews and Christians alike LOVE to eat. I think maybe that's a human being thing, not a religion-based thing.
GM's adorable cousin
A Familiar Story
If this sounded to you like a familiar story, that's because it is. And the "you" is not solely Christians or solely Jews--it's both.
We're not so different. If you looked into a household dining room around December, could you tell (aside from the color scheme) if you were looking into a Jewish home or a Christian one? Holidays, whether you celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah, are about family. They're about warmth. Food. Laughter. Fighting. Dysfunctionality. Sharing.
This Jewish girl's first Christmas wasn't really a first because I've experienced it all before. It just goes by a different name.