I am a Jewish girl who loves Christmas.
I don’t think I am particularly unique.
I do not have a tree in my house, nor do we celebrate in any religious way. My child attends a Jewish preschool at a Synagogue. But Christmas is just the best. It’s CHRISTMAS!
I have gotten to experience true Christmas twice in my life:
The first was centered around my sister. On Christmas of 1987, I sat on Santa’s lap at Disneyland and asked for a baby sister. A week shy of one year later and I got my present. My sister was born and we had a baby nurse taking care of her that insisted my parents let us celebrate the holiday. So, one time, I woke up Christmas morning in my own house and crept downstairs to find presents in the fireplace.
That was nice.
Do you know what was not nice? The next year, when my parents refused to continue celebrating Christmas, which was not easy for a five year old to understand. Not that I’m bitter or anything.
My next Christmas was the best Christmas. It was everything that you could dream of when thinking of the enchantment of the holidays. I wrote once before about my Christmas memories when I spent the holidays with my former boyfriend’s family in the Mid Hudson River Valley of New York. Christmas Eve was spent with his entire mom’s family, eating Italian food and then attending mass. I got to return home to a house decked out beyond belief; lights, carolers, Poinsettias, the works. We woke up Christmas morning and all gathered around the tree. It was my boyfriend’s parents, his two brothers and the two of us. I still remember everything, despite the fact that that Christmas was now over ten years ago. I remember every gift I received, how I had my own, most beautiful April Cornell stocking, and how we spent the day feasting on Christmas brunch and napping and playing board games and enjoying family. I write about this so fondly because my boyfriend’s mother and I are still great friends. I am so lucky. It is not just that she is incredibly kind, endlessly warm and the best baker of Christmas cookies ever ever ever; she and I have always shared a special bond. In fact, she just sent me this photo from their Christmas this year, where the stuffed Santa moose I brought to them is still used and I am thought of fondly. I feel very blessed.
But, alas, I have accepted the fact that I married another Member of the Tribe, we are dedicated to our religion and no longer get to celebrate Christmas.
Or so I thought.
Because as I have learned this year, there is not one right way of doing things. And this year, I decided to celebrate. Jesus was not involved. But it was cozy and warm and about family; the one we have created for ourselves.
On Christmas Day, we celebrated with longstanding plans with our dear friends. The four kids wore matching, holiday-themed pajamas and the older kids built and decorated gingerbread houses and, yes, we ordered Chinese Takeout. We exchanged gifts; I gave the 3.5 year old boy a Sofia the First Karaoke machine. I am the best. We had holiday music playing and a fake fire roaring on our flat screen. And all we kept saying was how nice it was to have something so special to do on Christmas; how we want to make it our tradition. So now, I get to celebrate Christmas again. I have Christmas to look forward to.
On Saturday, my group of childhood friends and I had our Pollyanna Cookie Party. Lord bless them, as I started planning this before Thanksgiving and I must have sent at least 50 emails about it. I was enthusiastic, ok?
So, the idea to do a Pollyanna was a fun one, but there was one fairly large problem: How would we choose the names when we all live apart and would not be together until the 27th?
Here is what I came up with:
I wrote down all of our names and put them in a hat (there are 8 of us). I then wrote a list of each person on a separate pad of paper. Then, I had my brother in law draw the names and write down who got whom. My brother in law then texted a photo of the list to my sister, who knows all of my friends. She then sent out secret emails to each of us telling us who our secret person would be. I mean…pretty amazing, right? And the coolest part was that we really kept it secret. My husband and I truly had no one idea whom the other had (and frankly, I was really surprised by his recipient, as I had guessed it was someone else!)
But more than just exchanging gifts and eating cookies (that had sea salt and bacon, thank you very much), we all piled on my living room rug as a family, a group that has stuck together through (many of us through elementary, middle and high school, and) this last year and bonded like never before. We have had countless dinners and dates and we even welcomed a whole new member into our tribe. I became an aunt.
The sentiment that echoed among all of the the guests at the cookie party was the same; we have to do this again next year.
My friends are all very busy; they have important jobs and hectic lives; doctors, lawyers, government workers, bankers, business owners, sales reps, accountants…and a writer, who is just trying to get her little old site off of the ground using all of her might and all of her feathers. But the fact that we could take a few hours to all be together, celebrating nothing but ourselves, was my greatest gift.
So this year wasn’t presents in the fireplace,
nor was it a cozy morning around the tree,
but it was ours.
And I will hold it and cherish it and never let it go.
(Not even to my secret santa.)