What It’s Like To Be Jewish At Christmas

Photo: Courtesy of Warner Bros.
Christmas can be a time when emotions run high. It is certainly a period for many of us to take stock of our lives: our careers, our relationships, our families. It can bring great joy but it can also be a trial. This year we asked 12 different women, from all walks of life, to write about their own, unique experience of Christmas. When I was growing up, worshipping at the altar of Kevin McCallister, I'd watch Home Alone after school and think, 'These people have lost their minds, thank fuck I don't need to do Christmas'. See, I can't tell you what it's like to have to budget to buy presents for your entire family, I don't know what it is to live with a tree in your house, and I'm a fan of Brussels sprouts because I've only ever had them in moderation and they've never ignited memories of a disruptive family meal, a hangover or unfunny Christmas cracker jokes. This is the truth: I have never celebrated Christmas. Sure, I've sent Christmas cards to people in the past, I've participated in Secret Santas (I tried to hijack one, once, in my politically correct secondary-school years and re-named it Mystery Moses) and I once volunteered at a Christmas Day Salvation Army soup kitchen. I'm not a total monster. But I'm Jewish. Not black hat-wearing, ultra orthodox, won't-drive-a-car-on-a-Saturday kind of Jewish. Just highly neurotic, believes in G-d smiting me down, loves to exclude themselves from good times due to heightened self-loathing kind of Jewish. I'm the kind of Jewish that sneers upon the erection of a Christmas tree in a fellow Jew's house. We don't have to appropriate someone else's culture, we're culturally obese already. The closest I come to celebrating Christmas is the annual tradition we have at home in Glasgow. We move dinnertime to 2pm due entirely to boredom. We invite my best friend – the only other Jew my age in Scotland – over. We eat salmon because my BFF is a pescatarian. Then we discuss the Holocaust because it's the only topic of conversation my dad and my BFF have in common. There are no decorations or tinsel, very little noise and ZERO alcohol. To a passing dog-walker, our house looks like it's either on the market, or someone's just died. After dinner we watch the Queen's Speech, my BFF and I retreat to my bedroom (at our mutual age of 30), and we watch the same films we watched on Christmas Day when we were 9 (i.e., Titanic and Spice Girls: The Movie; sometimes we swap Titanic for Romeo + Juliet, but we always watch Spice Girls: The Movie). Sometimes my mother puts chestnuts in the oven because they're on offer at ASDA. She's still not perfected the art despite being a champion cook – able to massage a brisket, grill a lambchop, boil a hen, and bake an entire apple crumble from garden-grown apples simultaneously and with her eyes shut. So yeah… salmon, Leonardo DiCaprio, a faint whiff of royalism and blackened chestnuts is what Christmas is about for me.

This time of year doesn't leave me FOMO-ish. Jewish people have enough annual festivals to take a break

This time of year doesn't leave me FOMO-ish. Jewish people have enough annual festivals to take a break. And by that I don't mean that we get to do Chanukah instead. A common misnomer is that Chanukah is 'the Jewish Christmas'. It's not. It's not a religious holiday or even a big deal. It's an excuse to sing some Hebrew songs around a Menorah. Like all Jewish festivals it makes little sense to outsiders. We celebrate a tiny jug of oil that lasted eight days while the Jewish people overcame a tyrant in Jerusalem before reclaiming the Temple. It was a miracle! But note: not a Christmas miracle. There are gifts exclusively for the kinder (that's children in Yiddish), but it's certainly not like Christmas every night. In fact, tradition is that you get gelt (Yiddish for money), but someone along the way invented chocolate coins, so you don't even get real money, just cheap, edible, already-melted choccies.
Somehow – maybe as a ginormous fuck you to the American alt-right – in 2016, the first day of Chanukah falls on 25th December. That's a very lovely and uniting thing, but it absolutely doesn't mean that Jewish people are suddenly celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. Remember we're the bad guy in that situation. History likes to misbelieve that we killed him (let's not get into that, or Mel Gibson, or the alt-right right now). We're hardly going to invite ourselves to his birthday party, are we? Here's the thing about Judaism. Every single Friday night we have to sit down and face our family for several hours over a roasted bird. It's usually a chicken, and if it were a turkey we'd probably have an even bigger collective waistline than we currently do. If I sound resentful, good. I am. I harbour the same resentment for Christmas as I do for Thanksgiving now that I live in LA.

In our tiny little microcosmic Jewish world, there's a lot of Christmas-type bullshit every week

Similarly to Christmas, I don't partake in Thanksgiving. I don't understand why people do. I am grateful there aren't Thanksgiving songs that litter the airwaves and precincts for a month in advance of its arrival. (On that note: "All I Want For Christmas Is You" by Mariah Carey is a song that you can legitimately play in March – why people deny themselves until 1st November is sacrilege.) Yet I can't buy anything in the supermarket in the days before because the shelves are bare, I can't move for the traffic of people rushing to get somewhere. I can't go to the gym on Thanksgiving Day because it's shut for America's giant, morally bankrupt, pre-Christmas dress rehearsal. Instead I quietly stand by and wait for people to finish having their nice time until regular service resumes. I am a respectful visitor in a foreign culture, both on Thanksgiving and at Christmas, but I can tell you that a lot of it looks bonkers to me. I'd know. Being Jewish is bonkers most of the time. In our tiny little microcosmic Jewish world, there's a lot of Christmas-type bullshit every week. You don't want to see my mother in the only Kosher deli in Scotland the week before Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur, or – G-d forbidPassover. You certainly don't want to be there on a Thursday afternoon any given week when Manchester Ian (the delivery man called Ian who drives from Manchester once a fortnight) has delivered slightly burnt challah breads, or hasn't brought enough goose eggs for all the Jewish housewives of Glasgow to make a higher-brow chopped liver (apparently if you add a boiled then serrated goose egg it enhances the flavour?). Jewish people already have 99 problems – Christmas ain't one. And don't even get me started on New Year's Eve.

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