Yes, I feel the need to write this in October. Halloween is still days away; it an entire month until Thanksgiving. And yet my mailbox has been filled with catalogues sparkling with Christmas cheer.
The cover of the latest (now coming weekly?) Pottery Barn catalogue welcomes me to the holidays. Good to know that “the most magical of seasons is here” – and that it includes 46 pages of blankets, dishes, pillows and trinkets all in shades of red and green. (Was blue somehow left off the pantone chart this year?).
And Ballard Design, BirchLane, Boden and GrandinRoad and all of your look-alike-catalogue-cousins that fill my mailbox each day – Hello?? – look at your calendars. It is October.
“Cashmere for Christmas” – that would be no.
“Believe” – I do, just not in what you do.
“Have a Fresh and Festive Holiday Season” – not exactly.
“Hope you have a White Christmas” – bet you didn’t know a Jewish man wrote the song “White Christmas”, did you?
So now I sound grumpy. But I’m not really. (nor am I the least bit grinchy.) Hey, I like Christmas. I like the cheerful spirit of the season, I like the sentiments of peace and joy and I even like Christmas songs.
(and I know the words to all of them. You could not help but learn them if you went to public school during the 1960’s. If you were standing next to me in the choir onstage at Fairfield Woods Junior High, yes, that was me who was silently mouthing some of the more religious-themed words during our rendition of “Come All Ye Faithful”. I may know all the words but that doesn’t mean I have to sing all of them.)
Today in writing class I mentioned this early Xmas onslaught to my classmates. The ones who celebrate the holiday reassured me that they too are aggravated by the way-too-early barrage of the commercialization of Christmas. I tried to explain to them that it wasn’t just the Christmas music playing well before we get to celebrate Thanksgiving that bothered me, it was that feeling of otherness.
If you do not celebrate Christmas, whether you are Jewish or Muslim or Atheist or whatever your belief of choice, you feel at this time of year that everyone belongs to one big fat happy club to which you are not a member. And you will never be.
I accept that 100%. And it is fine to have that “I’m not part of the group” feeling for a few weeks before December 25th.
But when Christmas creeps into October (October!), I have to take a stand. I don’t look forward to a full eight weeks of that outsider thing.
When my kids were little we were an interfaith family. My husband was not raised Jewish and although we decided together before we were married that our family would be a Jewish one, Dad included; he did not formally convert to Judaism until our kids were eight and five. Our kids went to Sunday and Hebrew school at our synagogue, we celebrated all of the Jewish holidays, but they still got mixed messages.
Driving by a house one night in December lit up with beautiful holiday nights, my then four-year old commented on how pretty they were and his oh-so-wise seven-year old sister scolded him – “You can’t like those. They are Christmas lights. We are Jewish.”
“No”, I told my kids. “That’s not right. We can enjoy the holiday lights. It is fine to appreciate how other people celebrate Christmas even if it isn’t our holiday. I happen to like the lights, look how nice that house looks on the corner.”
But my kids were not easily convinced. Especially when my then sister-in-law on my husband’s side of the family “thoughtfully” gave my kids Christmas-themed gifts each year – even though she (sophisticated and well-educated) knew that our kids were Jewish. One year they received books titled ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas with a handwritten note from their aunt hoping they’d have a happy Christmas morning (they didn’t). Another year she gave both of them matching red and green striped pajamas with little elves and santas on them, again with a note wishing them many gifts on Christmas morning (didn’t happen).
In fact, when my kids were little and caught up in the weeks before Christmas that permeated each school day, I realized that Christmas could be interpreted – one way to look at it, wait a minute hear me out – as a burden.
When I was volunteering at a holiday fair at one of my kid’s schools in early December one year, I shared a table sorting books with a few other moms who were complaining loudly to each other about how behind they were on their Christmas cards, how many decorations they had to arrange, how overwhelmed they were by all the holiday baking they had to do. I felt a bit smug, I must say. I had no card-sending, decorating or baking obligations.
Being Jewish frees up lots of time for you in December. Many extra hours not spent decking the halls with boughs of holly can be spent doing anything you want!
But then the catalogues come, barraging my mail box, and I start to feel excluded and oh – did I mention that it is only October?
So I am already bracing myself for a l-o-n-g season of wishing others well, hoping they have a wonderful holiday that we will not be part of. And so long as you know it is not my holiday, that is o.k. I am happy to wish you a Merry Christmas and never cringe if you wish me one right back.
But can we please wait until at least after Thanksgiving to start with the festive season thing?
And by the way, if you are reading this in October, Happy Halloween!