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Oy Vey, It’s Christmas Time

Why I love it even though I'm Jewish.

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Chris O'Riley (Stocksy, 2)
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I love Christmas music. From “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” to “Walking in a Winter Wonderland,” I can’t help but break into a smile, start tapping my feet and hum along when I hear these songs piped in at the supermarket. I love Christmas decor, too. Even though I do most of my holiday shopping online, I still take a few trips to the mall during December to see the stores decked out in their evergreen-and-lit-up glory.             

And Christmas movies are some of my all-time favorites. Even though I’ve seen Miracle on 34th Street and It’s a Wonderful Life over a dozen times each, if I stumbled on one of them while flipping channels, I won’t be able to get off the couch until the ending credits roll.

As for eggnog, I am not a fan. But yearly cookie exchanges and making a gingerbread house (eating the “landscape” as I put it together) are on top of my December to-do list. You probably think, What’s the big deal? A lot of people love Christmas. And this year especially, we need a little Christmas — right this very minute … to signify the end of a very rocky 2020. Some people started putting up their Christmas lights back in March to find some cheer in this dreary year.

But what makes me a bit unique is that I am Jewish. Christmas is not my holiday.

I remember my mom telling me that when I was a little girl. My mom got very grumpy when the holiday season approached. She hated seeing the decorations and hearing holiday classics everywhere she went. Immediately when she heard “Sleigh bells ring …” start to play, she would make an annoyed face and say, “I find it so rude … not everyone in the store is celebrating Christmas.” Admittedly, I wished the stores had more than just one little menorah displayed, because it made Chanukah seem like an afterthought. It was the same with the holiday show at school. I wondered why the only song in the program for the Jewish people was “I Have a Little Dreidel.”             

But unlike my mother, I didn’t find Christmas stuff intrusive. I loved our family’s Jewish traditions of lighting candles, eating latkes, getting gifts for eight nights and playing dreidel. However, I also enjoyed being a voyeur to the splendor and wonder of Christmas, even if it was not mine to celebrate. Luckily for me, when I was a sophomore in college, I met Andrea. She lived in my dorm and although we were an unlikely pair, we clicked almost automatically.

She was studying science and wanted to be a doctor. I was an English major with dreams of writing for a living. She was athletic and a big football fan; I was klutzy and preferred Broadway to ball games. Her record collection was legendary, as was her giant stereo system. Conversely, I had six LPs to my name but plenty of books on my shelves. Andrea was loud and confident; I was meeker and enjoyed standing beside her as she commanded a room. Even with her big presence, she never made me feel small.            

Andrea was Italian-Catholic, and when we were seniors she invited me to her family’s Christmas celebration. I jumped at the opportunity. Instead of looking through the window at all the revelry, I had a place at the holiday table. My first Christmas dinner did not disappoint. They had decked the halls, the stairs, the bushes and anything else they could think of with tinsel and twinkle. The food was plentiful and delicious. Her grandmother made homemade ravioli and gravy with meatballs and sausage. After we ate, her grandfather handed out songbooks and we all sang Christmas carols. There was laughter, singing, belching, fighting — it was Christmas magic, and I was so happy to be a part of it. It has been over 30 years since that first Christmas, and a lot has changed since that time. We graduated from college, pursued careers, got married, moved to different states and had children. And yet, no matter what goes on during the year, I know where I will be on Christmas. (And you’d better not spoil it, pandemic!)

Yes, I am Jewish. My husband is Jewish (he converted) and we have raised our three kids in the Jewish religion. All of us treasure our Jewish history, our rituals and holiday celebrations. But like me, they enjoy Christmas, too. We don’t feel like outsiders when we join Andrea and her family. There is always a place for all of us at her table. It doesn't make us feel less Jewish to be a part of their Christmas. It just reminds us that there is no such thing as too much when it comes to love or homemade ravioli.