I was inspired this weekend by Jjiraffe’s post this week about growing up with “It’s a Wonderful Life.” She, like me, has forgone Christmas for Hanukkah due to a loving, amazing Jewish husband. Even though I converted to Judaism 4 years ago and have been living Jewishly for easily over 10 years at this point…
It’s still really hard to let go of Christmas.
. . .
We still refer to the wandering spirit of Captain Marshall at the odd bump or noise in our house. But I think Capt. Marshall has been joined by another spirit, the Ghost of My Christmases Past.
I’m not really sure how to exorcise this ghost, either.
In the same vein that I said that each holiday season is getting more difficult each year out from my diagnosis, I feel like my Yuletide nostalgia is directly proportional to the ever-shrinking size of obligatory Hanukkah end-cap displays in the store.
I had this realization a couple of years ago when I was standing in the middle of Target and basically had a temper-tantrum on the phone with Larry. I was standing in a sea of artificial Christmas trees, rows upon rows of bows and wrapping paper, dancing Santas and jolly snowmen… and there was literally A shelf of Hanukkah stuff. Some paltry bags of gelt, generic blue wrapping paper, and some chintzy blue gift bags with tacky Stars of David all over them. Larry said something to me I still remember to this day when I lamented at the complete disregard for Hanukkah anything in a store chain as big as Target:
“Keiko, it’s like this every year. This is what you signed up for.”
Ever since then, my longing for all things red, green and Christmas-y has only grown, while I light my menorah for eight nights every winter.
. . .
Here’s the thing. It’s not about missing this connection to the holy story of Jesus’s birth. No no no, let me be perfectly clear: I grew up with commercialized Christmas. The Christmas tree was the central point of my Christmas holiday growing up. Santa was my Savior.
Even though I felt like the Special Child when I got to place baby Jesus in the nativity scene on our mantel, that was my singular moment of religion during the Christmas season. Even the few times I went to midnight mass on Christmas eve, I was secretly running through my Christmas wish list in my head wondering what items I was actually going to get under the tree the next morning.
But for me, it’s the whole atmosphere of the season: the decorating, the ornaments, the tinsel, the stockings, and all those delightfully wrapped gifts. It’s about pulling out the ornaments from years past and selecting the choicest ones to join alongside the new ones bought for this year. It’s Christmas sweaters and warm fleece pajamas and slipper socks that make that funny sticky sound with each step on the kitchen floor. It was A Very Garfield Christmas and A Claymation Christmas and Santa pulling up to our block on a fire truck throwing tiny candy canes at the adoring, screaming kids on the corner. It was playing the newest video game or reading the newest book in the hours between opening gifts at 7am and until Christmas dinner was served. It was knowing I didn’t have to be back at school for another week.
I miss all of that.
. . .
I’ve been prodding Larry for the idea of next year buying a tiny little one foot Christmas tree, and putting my five totally non-religious ornaments on it.
“I’ll keep it in the pantry,” I said. “No one will ever have to see it!”
Larry shook his head. He just doesn’t understand having never grown up with Christmas and then having to give it up. I still do get to celebrate with my family. Tomorrow we’ll head to my sister’s and I get to spend Christmas with my adorable niece. But I think the issue is that it’s not my Christmas. It’s someone else’s.
I think part of this stems from finally having our own house. I live in the historic district in Salem, where there are annual Christmas House Tours through the Peabody Essex Museum. Various historical homes are chosen to be decorated in period Christmas fashion and their homes opened up to public tours. It’s a very lovely affair. All these quaint colonial-era homesteads dotted with wreathes and garland, windows with candles like white glowing jewels…
Even our house has a Christmas wreath on the door. Our downstairs neighbor celebrates Christmas, so we figured, hey- what the hell. Go ahead and put up that wreath. There’s no other decorations on our house.
This year I decided to move our electric menorah to a window facing the street, as if to say to the neighbors, “See! The Jews know how to decorate too!”
. . .
Any JBC’s (Jews-by-choice) out there reading my blog? Have any advice? Am I totally nuts here or is my Christmas longing warranted?
. . .
And to all: a bright and festive Hanukkah and a warm and joyous Christmas this weekend!