This is the post where the Jew tries to explain how she views Christmas...
Skip reading if Christmas is your favourite holiday, you're a caroler, or don't care to hear an outsider talk about your holiday...
Oh, wait. There's the other side of Christmas too. The one that makes me feel like an ever-loving hypocrite as I drive down Connecticut Avenue belting out "O Holy Night." I need to listen to my Christmas music as I drive out of the city because once I'm back in the presence of the kids, it's Dan Zanes and Raffi. It's Shiralala every Friday as we make the challah. It's all about avoiding drawing attention to "that holiday that we don't celebrate."
It's a Christian world, just like it's a fertile world. So I expect the majority to rule and for all stores and street corners to be decked out for the holiday just as I expect that most people will think it's perfectly fine to ask if my husband is bonking me and if we'll be having another child soon. It's not "right" per se; but it's expected.
But this is the other way I see Christmas: The sparkling lights on trees and the red ribbons around every street lamp? It's sort of like showing a Jewish child and entire parking lot full of ice cream trucks and then smiling benignly while you remind them that they can't have a popsicle.
My son's nickname is the MOPT (pronounced Mop-tee) which stands for the Minister of Toilet Paper. Whenever someone annouces that they have to go to the bathroom, he follows them to the toilet and stands waiting at attention to rip off the toilet paper. But since Thanksgiving, when the first Christmas lights went up, he has been renamed the Crazy Sparkle Light Fiend. It's like driving around town with a junkie who sees a dealer on every corner. Our drive home sometimes takes an additional fifteen minutes as we meander down cul-de-sacs to see strings of lights draped over bushes. And then the second you point out a set of lights to him, he acknowledges them by saying, "sparkle lights" and then immediately follows it with "more sparkle lights." Like a freakin' junkie.
And feeding into this problem is that my attempts at separation are feeble at best. Josh can drive home without noticing the lights and he never turns to the all-Christmas-all-the-time radio station. But I love seeing the lights too. And having only been in a house with a Christmas tree a handful of times in my life, I'm attracted to the unknown of the holiday. Josh has dated non-Jewish. He's done the Christmas thing. But I've never gotten to get celebrating Christmas out of my system. So I want to see the lights too. And I want to eat candy canes. And take part in all of the secular commercialism that surrounds the holiday. Without actually celebrating the holiday. Since I'm usually burned out by December 18th. And I'm Jewish. And we don't celebrate Christmas.
If you're Christian, you probably can't relate and ask, "what's the problem with throwing up a few lights this year?" Because Christmas isn't ours. And Chanukkah isn't Christmas. It's this tiny holiday that has one commandment tied to it--light the candles for 8 nights. That's it. No gifts. No festive meal. Americans commercialized Chanukkah in order to give children a focus during the season. So they didn't feel left out. I don't need to celebrate Chanukkah as if it's Christmas. Think about it this way--do you feel left out during Rosh Hashanah and feel like you need to celebrate a holiday too? It sends a strange message to kids--our religion isn't interesting enough or celebratory enough so we need to grab other people's traditions. It detracts from our fun holidays like Purim and Simchat Torah.
The Christian world always looks at this dilemma and says, "what's the harm?" But it's sort of the same attitude that drives your Aunt Margaret to ask you if you're going to have a baby. What's the harm in asking a simple question in the fertile world? If only 12% of the country is infertile, then odds are that when you ask the question, you're hitting one of the 88% who do like to think about their fertility. Newly-minted brides are downright giddy thinking about how they'll start trying soon. They don't mind the question as much because it makes them feel as if they've arrived. They are finally considered an adult and mother material if people are asking them about procreation.
But hit one of those 12% and you'll have annoyed at best and sobbing at worst. Talking about my fertility is probably one of the last things I want to talk about in casual conversation anymore. Talking about my fertility means thinking about blood clotting and Lovenox. Or finding the money for treatments. Or injections. Or wondering if it's physically possible for someone to hold their breath for nine months.
Which is what it's like to be Jewish during the Christmas season. It's annoying at best to have people remind you to have a merry Christmas. And it's isolating at worst to think about how you're out of the loop. I have this image in my head of someone pressing their face against a snowy window while they watch the family inside the warm house decorating the tree when I think about being Jewish in a Christian world. It's easy to be Christian around Rosh Hashanah. It's not everywhere you turn. You probably don't even think about it because radio stations aren't playing High Holiday music (a little Neil Diamond Kol Nidre, anyone?) and every store isn't decked out for the New Year. But it's impossible for Jews not to think about it because it's sort of like someone waving a party invitation in your face. A party where you're not invited. It's not that you want to go, but you certainly don't want to be reminded that you're not part of the celebration.
Sometimes it feels a bit like when I'm trying to run errands and everywhere I turn, I'm faced with a pregnant belly and reminders of my own infertility. Pregnant women walking around blissfully unaware in their carefree pregnancies. Never thinking that the woman standing behind them in line may not want to watch them rub their belly and coo at their unborn child to "stop kicking, Mommy, darling."
But just like pregnant women can't hide their bump when they face my infertility, I don't expect Christians to hide their holiday from me. I certainly am not saying don't celebrate Christmas. But there are ways to celebrate that are private and cozy. And there are ways to celebrate that remind those who are out of the loop how far they are outside of the loop. It's sort of the difference between putting up lights at your house and coming to my house and caroling. Because it's just really really really hard to explain to a child that we get Shabbat every week--with challah and grape juice and candles--when two seconds after we point out what they have in their corner, they go back to asking about those lights. And why we don't celebrate Christmas. It's something that most Christian parents probably don't deal with until Bat Mitzvah time--and then what non-Jewish kids want is the party, not the actual ceremony. And it's easier to explain religion to a middle schooler than it is to a two-year-old.
The analogy between Christmas and infertility doesn't truly match up because I don't necessarily want to be "in" in the grand sense of that word (I just want my music, lights, and a candy cane or two). And if I wanted to be in, I technically could be in by throwing up a tree in my living room and attending midnight Mass. But we're not going to do it because we're Jewish. And we're happy to be Jewish. And I am happy with the holidays that we have and enjoy them tremendously. And I know my interest in Christmas is directly tied to my idea of the IF Christmas. Which--as we all know--isn't like any Real Christmas that anyone has ever celebrated. It's the stuff of movies. It's just my own fantasizing about greener grass in someone else's yard.
When you whittle away all the layers, what remains is that when assumptions are made, people are bound to have their feelings nicked. The majority assumes that all people fall into the majority. Just like it's unfathomable for non-infertiles to understand why you may not be happy and want to celebrate at the baby shower of a pregnant woman, it's sort of unfathomable for Christian people to understand why I may not want to celebrate their holiday. Or be ambushed with Christmas ads and tinsel. Or be reminded to have a merry Christmas every time I make a purchase between Thankgiving and New Year's.
Damn...I think burnout has come early this year.
I'm beginning to sound a lot like a Grinch. A big, infertile, Jewish Grinch.
Candy cane anyone?
(Cringing as I wait for people to throw boughs of holly at me)