“Hey Deborah, will you be celebrating Christmas?” an acquaintance asks in her politically correct tone which, if you are unfamiliar with that tone, is half an octave higher than a person’s normal tone and is ever so slightly sing-song though not as syrupy as the patronizing tone you may hear from customer service representatives who are clearly paid to represent their companies by not servicing their customers.
It’s understandable that they should ask. Even if you present Jewish and have a name like Deborah Goldstein and you wear glasses and your dark hair outlines features that are more bulbous than angular and your body type is a swimmer’s triangle turned upside down and you’re having a conversation at a synagogue, no one can be sure that you are Christmas-free. Perhaps your spouse is not Jewish or one of your family members married a gentile. Perhaps you adopted a child from Panama, and you want to expose said child to the traditions of his/her people. It’s possible you’re one of those parents who chooses to expose your children to every religion allowing them to be a child of the world. And if your kids happen to have an Italian last name you make certain assumptions. Surely, someone in your family is Catholic if you’ve got an Italian surname, right? Al contrario!
Whether Gabriella’s family on either side is originally Jewish is unknown, but she is, in fact, Jewish, and ours is a Jewish household where we raise two Jewish mensches who happen to have an Italian last name. Yet, even if you are aware of the tens of thousands of Italian Jews, and even if you know that we are a Jewish family that subscribes only to Jewish traditions, the question is still fair. You just never know these things.
So I don’t judge and I don’t lecture, I simply answer, “No, we don’t celebrate Christmas.”
“Great, you’ll be around then! Would you like to come over on Christmas Eve? We’re watching movies and ordering Chinese food with a few other local Jews. You know, celebrating the traditional Jewish Christmas.”
“Oh, we’d love to join you, but we’ll be in Queens on the 24th.”
“You have family there?”
“Mm hm. Gabriella’s family. We’re all getting together for dinner.”
“That’s nice. Chinese food in Queens, then?”
“No, we do the Seven Fishes every year.”
“As in the traditional Italian Christmas dinner?”
“As in they make seven types of fish, and we all eat a lot of food together.”
“So you’re all being ironic? The Jewish version of the seven fishes! Love it!! What are they serving? Gefilte fish? Herring? Lox? White fish? What else? Help me on this one. It’s hysterical.”
“It would be hysterical if we were having an Ironic Seven Fishes meal, but we’re not. They serve cod, octopus, shrimp…”
“As in shellfish? So, her family celebrates Christmas then. And you’re going to celebrate Christmas with them. That’s what I asked in the first place!”
“Right, and I answered that we are not celebrating Christmas. Her sisters and their families celebrate Christmas. We go over for dinner because everyone is off of work and school and we can all spend time together which we rarely have a chance to do.”
“And there’s a Christmas tree there?”
“And, they give the boys gifts on that day. The 24th?”
“Only because they wait until we are all together so that they can gift them in person.”
“And they wrap the presents in Christmas wrapping paper? Red and green with Santa Claus all over it?”
“It’s difficult to find Chanukah paper where they live.”
“And they take the presents wrapped in Christmas paper out from under their Christmas tree and they hand the presents to the boys and say…. what?”
“What do you mean? They wait for the boys to open the presents and then the boys give them all big hugs and play with their new presents until it’s time for us to go home.”
“I mean, they wish them a Merry Christmas, right?”
“I don’t recall. I mean, I don’t think they do….anymore.”
“Will you be playing dreidle with the famiglia?”
“Chanukah is over, you know.”
“Any poinsettias in the house? Wreaths on the door? A crucifix in every room?”
“It’s just dinner with the family.”
“On the 24th every year? You know what they say about denial?”
“You know what they say about kolboyniks?”
"What do they say?"
"I don't know. I'm not an annoying know-it-all!"
“You know, you’re not any less Jewish because you celebrate Christmas with her family.”
“I know. I know. But I feel less Jewish without Chinese food and a movie on Erev Christmas.”
“I get that.”
“Thanks for the invitation, anyway. Have a great time.”
“Thanks. And Merry Christmas!”