Not that Christmas is my favorite holiday anyhow, given that I don’t celebrate it, but this year Christmas is a real non-starter. I was sick on Christmas Eve day, experiencing retching most unpleasant. Slept most of the day away. Christmas so far has consisted of cleaning up one cat puke in the dining room and one dog poop in the living room, and a so-far feeble effort to bring the house into a little order.
I did have a lovely walk with my BFF neighbor Bonnie, she on her broken toe, I with my churning tummy. Quite a pair we were, but we did walk at least a mile. I’m invited to my neighbor’s house for dinner tonight; last year we drank massive quantities of red wine and, ah, here we are back to retching…I was up all night praying to the porcelain deity. I don’t think I’ll repeat that this year. I’ve already had my share of time with my head in the toilet this week.
I think my favorite Christmas was the one I spent with my friend Linda back in the ’80s. Her father had just died, and her family wasn’t in the best of spirits heading into the holidays. I think having a wide-eyed Jewish girl along with them offered a welcome distraction. We went first to a family friend’s house, which is where we ate dinner. It may surprise you to know that Jewish holiday tables do not typically feature mashed potatoes, corn, and gravy, so for me this was a treat to eat all the carbolicious foods. At every house we went to, there was a small wrapped gift for me…I think in each case it was a Christmas mug with a little teddy bear inside. It wouldn’t have occurred to me that they would think to have something waiting for me, and it made me feel like part of the family.
In the evening, at Linda’s cousin’s house, some of the young ones put on a little show. I’m sure to anyone who celebrates Christmas, this is all standard fare, but for me, it was very lovely. While everyone knew I was Jewish and experiencing Christmas for the first time, I never felt like I was on display.
This was very different from the first Christmas I spent with my ex’s family. We were visiting his aunt, uncle, and cousins late in the day, and the fact that I was Jewish made me a bit of a freak to them. His aunt, who was actually a very nice and welcoming person, greeted me with some story about some Jewish acquaintance who gave her daughter a $100 doll every night at Hanukah and wondered if all Jews did that. I’m sure there are Jews whose Hanukah rivals Christmas in terms of spending, or who give outlandish gifts each of the eight nights of Hanukah. But the way I was raised, we got one nice gift the first night, perhaps something small the second night, and we’d visit relatives on another night (the triple-decker in Mattapan where my grandparents, my great-aunt Rosie, and my great-aunt Ruthie and her two boys Sheldon and Steven lived). There we went from floor to floor collecting our Hanukah gelt (money) from our relatives—a quarter or maybe a half-dollar if we were really lucky. I was always a little afraid of my aunt Rosie, so knocking on her door and holding out my hand for the quarter took a bit of nerve.
I remember a few notable gifts from Hanukahs past. One was a Budding Beauty Vanity, which my grandmother sent from New York. It was a plastic version of a vanity, with a middle that opened to a mirror. I think the seat opened and functioned as storage as well. It was very special, the nicest thing I ever owned. Another favorite gift was from my other grandparents, who rarely gave anything but money. But since I’d seen the movie Hans Christian Anderson starring Danny Kaye, I had begged for the album, and I got it from my grandparents, surely purchased by my mother. Oh, how I played that record on my little record player!
(Amazingly, Youtube has the commercial for the Budding Beauty Vanity, but I can’t embed it, I can only link to it here. It is stunning to see this thing again. I think you can see why this was such a memorable gift.)
Hanukah was always quite modest in my family. It wasn’t until I married into a non-Jewish family that I got a glimpse into what happens at Christmas. My mother-in-law sent such a stack of gifts for my son when he was a baby, I didn’t know what I would do with it all. My ex turned Hanukah into Christmas at this house, though after a few years he gradually brought it down in scope. Now that I am on my own, we have the type of Hanukah I remember: one special gift, and a few small things on the other nights, and I’m much more comfortable with that. I’m not a very good consumer, anyhow, and my kids don’t want or need much, so it’s a better fit.
As for me, I don’t receive gifts anymore (Hanukah gifts are just for kids in my family). But all I want for Hanukah is increased readership for The BetsyG-Spot, anyhow, so please don’t hesitate to share it with a friend.
I am due at my neighbor’s house in a couple of hours, so it’s time to get off my butt and make the latkes. I sincerely wish you a happy holiday and a wonderful day with your family, friends, and loved ones, whatever you may be celebrating.