A Christmas Lesson

A71 christmas

It’s 2012. The world hasn’t ended, and there is snow falling outside—unexpected and wonderful. In a few hours, my girlfriend and I are going to her parents’ house for Christmas dinner. They will eat pork and I will bring something vegetarian for myself. A compromise.

I’m nervous. I don’t want to celebrate Christmas, don’t want to be excited about gifts and family time and pork roasts and good cheer. Though my girlfriend lit the Hannukah candles with me, dutifully reciting the blessings in her heavily accented Hebrew, though she ate latkes and suffered a Chabad-sponsored party where we were the only lesbians, I am begrudging her the same openmindedness, the same faith. I tell her I will come to Christmas, then spend the next two weeks worrying about what it means.

It’s dinner, you idiot, I chide myself. Like Thanksgiving with presents. But in attending this dinner, I am acknowledging Christmas, allowing it a foothold it doesn’t deserve. You’ve got everyone else in America, I tell Christmas. You won’t get me.

After days of moping, my girlfriend asks me, politely, what the hell is up, and a torrent of illogic bursts from my mouth. I ramble about Poland and Times Square and Theodore Herzl and the epic battle that Christmas is waging for my soul and stop only when she places her hand over my mouth.

“Then don’t think of it as Christmas,” she says. “Think of it as a dinner with my family. Can you do that for me?”


“Just dinner. People in ugly sweaters stuffing their faces.”

“I can stuff my face.”

“I know you can.” She takes my hand, twines her fingers with mine.

“It doesn’t mean anything, you know,” she says softly. “Whether or not you acknowledge Christmas. It doesn’t make you any less of a Jew.”

“I know that.”

“And neither does dating me,” she adds.

“I know, I just—”

“You’re always going to be Jewish. You couldn’t be anything else even if you celebrated Christmas 365 days a year.”

“I know.”

“So don’t worry about it,” she tells me. “It means nothing except for the fact that you’re saving me from taking on my mom by myself.”

“You’re right,” I say.

Because she is. I don’t need to ignore Christmas to prove that I’m a good Jew. I don’t need to measure myself in negatives, to suss out my dimensions through the things that I refuse.

This year, Christmas registers as another day on the calendar—magical and important only because my reaction to its existence says nothing about me as a person or as a Jew.

It’s freeing.

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  • An interesting and poignant progression.

    I remember my first “Christmas season” in Israel when I was living and studying in a religious seminary at 18. I loved the fact that I didn’t see a single Christmas decoration nor hear Christmas carols anywhere around me.

    I returned to Israel for my second “Christmas season” when I was studying at Haifa University at 21. I was itching for culturally diverse experiences and trekked over to Nazareth with friends to witness the celebrations and cheer on the Christmas parade which featured little Christian Arab children proudly marching through the streets in red and white Santa outfits.

    I am now back in Israel for my third “Christmas season” at 27. Though I toured the Old City and visited the Church of the Holy Sepulcher for the first time yesterday, I found myself thinking of my black gospel choir in Austin and missing what would have been a first fascinating Christmas experience back home.

    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year (or just Happy Tuesday) to all of our readers around the globe!

  • vashti

    I love these graphics!

  • Banana

    Every time a christmas season rolls around I’m amazed at how many jingles I know by heart.

  • I really coul have used this a few days ago ahah.