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Thursday, November 29, 2007

Christmas--This Jew's Style

There was a movie a few years back called Twin Falls Idaho about a set of twins who worked in show business and survived--albeit poorly--on a diet of circus food: popcorn, corn dogs, and cotton candy. That's sort of how I think about my own relationship with Christmas.

It's a beautiful holiday--a true holy day--that celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ. And I have boiled it down to music, candy, and sparkle lights. It's a diet thin on meaning as well as nutrition.

Christmas is a very difficult time emotionally for Christians going through infertility. The holiday not only centers on a baby and a birth, but families celebrate the holiday revolving the festivities around its children. Unlike a holiday like Rosh Hashanah which is celebrated by adults with children fitting their activities around the established rituals practiced by adults, Christmas and Easter, from what I understand based on reading blogs, listening to friends, and watching Love Actually, is about children. Adults may drink their eggnog and kiss under the mistletoe, but most people celebrate the holiday outside of the church service with the focus being that Santa brings presents for children. It's not that adults don't receive presents as well, but presents for adults are a different phenomenon. It's nice when I receive a gift, but it really is the thought more than the item that touches me. I am an adult and I can work and buy myself things. I'm not a child anymore, dependent on adults (or Santa) to bring the things I want into my life.

Posts started cropping up months ago. The fears of a referral not arriving in time for Christmas, the anxiety about Christmas dinner with a pregnant (and bitchy) SIL, the sadness of having another year pass. And it's hard for me to completely relate because I don't have an equivalent. My holidays aren't celebrated by the mainstream, therefore images and reminders are not constantly being shoved down my throat when I go to the food store or collect my mail. If I choose not to celebrate Pesach one year, I can do so without having to hole myself up in my house. Literally, all I have to do is not walk by the Kosher aisle in the food store or open any mail from my shul. There. Done. Holiday passed over.

I think Christmas is ten times more difficult because it is not only a holiday that revolves around children and by default, the parents of children, but because it is a holiday impossible to escape. You literally can't drive outside without the constant reminders. You can't enter a store or go by your mailbox or speak to another person without one reminder after another. Last year, I spoke about this as the reason why Christmas makes me feel like an outsider. But this year, it is with a deeper understanding of just how difficult it can be and why it takes so long to steel oneself for the onslaught of Christmas reminders when you want so badly the vision of Christmas that has existed in your head for years--the family photo in Santa hats, the emotional midnight Mass holding a sleeping baby, the search for gift hiding places as the children get older. I've been sitting long and hard with all of the posts I'm reading, trying to see the holiday as a 33-year-old Christian woman (perhaps not a long stretch seeing that I already have the 33 down pat) and, perhaps an admittance of my dimness, but the enormity is just beginning to dawn on me.

For me, I never could see the burn of Christmas. My Christmas is music, candy, and sparkle lights--the three things from the season that I find enjoyable. I couldn't really see until I looked harder why everyone couldn't put those other parts of Christmas on hold and enjoy a good piece of toffee or peppermint bark while listening to "Jingle Bells." And I'm sorry. My vision of Christmas, as naive as this sounds, is an infertility-free holiday. I mean, it made sense for years in my Jewish mind. It's the one day of the year they won't schedule procedures at some clinics. Everyone seems to have children when you're looking through Christmas catalogs. As someone who has never celebrated the holiday, I have co-opted it in the last few years to be my infertility-free zone. It is my happy place. My only-good-things-can-happen space. I listen to the music and I really feel like this alternate universe exists where no one is infertile and everyone is eternally happy and filled with good cheer. Naive, right? But if you've never celebrated the holiday before, you could see how one could come up with this vision.

Though my Infertile Christmas is nothing like your Real Christmas. Christmas for an infertile person is like having your face rubbed against a pregnant belly for a full three months. I would imagine it gets pretty difficult to breathe by the second day of having your nose pressed up against a Mimi's Maternity clad bump.

And if you're Christian and grew up with Christmas, I'm fairly certainly that you can't join me in my Christmas as much as I would love to bring you over here while you're hurting. Because you know Real Christmas and it's sort of like celebrating a poor translation with missing pages rather than reading the original text. Cotton candy and popcorn taste great in small quantities, but if you've grown up eating from the four food groups, you'd probably feel like shit after eating only crap for days. My holiday in comparison to what reality can be even if you're not there now is like a corn dog diet. Even I get sick of my Christmas by mid-December.

Ellen at Miss E's Musings is taking back the Christmas. In fact, she is putting the sex back in XXX-mas. She writes in Making Merry: "I used to daydream about what the holidays would be like when I had a house and husband of my own. I would walk in a winter wonderland, meet friends for holiday drinks and hors d'oeuvres, decorate entirely with lush velvets, maybe do a 'Santa Baby' striptease for my husband, make love by the lights of the Christmas tree, enjoy champagne toasts, etc." She's pulling out the dirty Mrs. Claus costume AND she's getting together with friends to watch Christmas movies (but not at the same time). She isn't waiting for kids to enjoy Christmas--she is going to enjoy it. A lot. Right now. She is making "a list of both naughty and nice holiday hjinks." Go over and help her. She will compile the list and become a trading post of all things naughty...and also nice. It's apples for oranges rather than apples for junk food. Okay, you can have a little junk food. But not an entire season of it or you'll turn out all Christmas-delusional like me.


Pamela Jeanne said...

Impressive. You've described the angst of Christmas like an infertile Catholic (me) experiences it. Perfect word: outsider. That's how I feel this year. I can't seem to make myself go through the motions. I haven't set out one decoration and I'm thinking seriously about bypassing the Xmas card route.

Ellen K. said...

Great description and analogy, Mel. Thanks for the post & link.

LOL at the "XXX" in Xmas. There are some more wholesome activities on my list too. : )

Maria said...

So perfect. You've completely summed up how I'm feeling, before I even realized that I was feeling that way. Does that make sense?

I must say that you have really amazing empathy and it touches my heart.

Julia said...

I usually use my outsider status to shield myself from Christmas. Not sure it will work so well this year, what with the whole child is born thing.
Not to mention that with the huge number of children among my friends, every holiday is a children's holiday. Fun-fun.

JJ said...

Very awesome post--I got an email from my mom recently about how what we celebrate as Christmas now was not necessarily joyful: as there is a lot of struggles related to the story of the birth of Christ. And you say it perfectly when you said:
"Christmas for an infertile person is like having your face rubbed against a pregnant belly for a full three months."
Its beautiful to remember the joy, but its also very hard to be without children this time of year for sure...

SarahSews said...

Mel, this was perfect. DH and I were both raised in very Catholic households and Christmas for our families is a special time, but mostly as it relates to children. Last Christmas was the most emotional yet -- we sat in midnight mass sobbing together and passing tissues as the priest talking about beginnings and family and gaw, it was tough. Most churches also find a family with a little one to play baby jesus in the manger. Oh what fun!

Months ago, when all I knew for certain about this Xmas was that my brother's would have 4 children between them, including an infant, I decided that I needed the celebration to be on my turf. So we are hosting this year and are getting ready to deck the halls with sparkly lights and glass balls. I thought it would make my infertile heart happy. And it will.

Grad3 said...

Well said... it's hard to smile with the family when opening presents. All you think about is how you really wanted to feel your baby moving or helping your little one enjoy their first x-mas.

Fertilize Me said...

Extremely Well Put. Thank you for extending the box. You are a truly compassionate human that embraces all. That is a very rare thing these days

Michell said...

I didn't grow up celebrating Christmas because of religious reasons but do celebrate it now and love it. However I haven't (yet at least) felt much of the sadness of having another Christmas pass with me not having a baby. This is my first. I do though often dream about experiencing Christmas, Halloween, Easter etc through the eyes of a child since I never got to do any of it.

Meg said...

Well said. I agree with "fertilize me" on your compassion. This is my 6th holiday season without a child. I am trying not to dwell on it but its certainly in the back of my mind. The past two Chrismas' we had just completed an IVF cycle and well obviously we received a negative both times. This year we smarted up and decided to try our
8th IVF in January....

Ms. Planner said...

You have such amazing empathy and insight. What a great post.

A few years ago (pre-infertility) my husband and I took back Christmas from our families with both sides filled with oodles of kids and presents. We decided that our favorite Christmases while growing up involved trips with few or little presents. So now each Christmas, we politely decline invitations with our families, eschew presents for each other and go skiing instead. It is OUR family tradition. And our future child will grow up learning that the best Christmases contain lots of powder not presents.

B said...


It's true that many many many of us Christmas-celebrators experience the feelings of angst that come with an empty seat (or highchair) at the Christmas table. Thanks for your empathy on that point.

I LOVE your idea of an infertility-free day. It truly is, isn't it? I'll try to keep that perspective in mind, even in the midst of full-blown Christmas craziness.

Thanks, Mel.

loribeth said...

For someone who doesn't celebrate Christmas, you sure nailed the situation perfectly. The whole "Christmas is for the kids" mantra is something that makes me grit my teeth (as I recently posted on my blog) -- I believe that Christmas is, or should be, for everyone who believes in its magic -- but whether or not it's right, the whole season certainly does revolve around children, and the constant reminders can be very, very hard to deal with.

Carole said...

It's so true. Christmas is everywhere...and as your sitting in church on Christmas Eve (or the whole month before) there is so much talk about the miracle of birth...blah blah blah. Even after having my older hurt so much last year to even think about a baby...but it was all there...mashed in my face with Christmas readings.

Totally need some more XXX in my Christmas. :)

Meghan said...

Fantastic post Mel. Your empathy and compassion are amazing. And as always, spot on.

MLO said...

I hate to be the one to bring in facts, but Christmas is NOT a Christian holiday. It is directly related to the Midwinter feasts that all northern hemispheric peoples celebrated. It was co-opted by the Byzantines and Roman See in order to make Christianity more palatable to pagan tastes. (I realize that this makes me sound like a Holy Roller type, but I am not. I just like to keep real Christianity separated from Cultural Christianity.)

Admittedly, I am very jaded to Christmas because I worked retail many years. And, since I refuse to go to a mall during this time - unless it is a practically deserted mall, I rarely encounter this.

I also have the advantage of growing up with people who have always respected that nothing in life is certain - not even having a family.

Now, granted, I am hopped up on some really strong fertility drugs and may be taking this wrong, but one fo my pet peeves is calling a cultural holiday, Christmas, a Christian holiday. (I know, I have an insane need for historical accuracy about some things.)



Sunny said...

So well said. Last year I couldn't celebrate it at all. I did with my family but only for show. No tree or music at my house. Church was hard and I tried not to go. It was just too hard. In fact someone said, Think of the real meaning of Christmas and move on. Well the real meaning of Christmas is about a baby. HURTS!

This year I am in a better place. It still stings. I will celebrate. I will have my tree. There will be music but it will still hurt. I am making cookies tonight, for the dc exchange, and I just can't make myself turn on the Christmas music. I am just not ready yet.

With all that said, GREAT POST!

Malky B. said...

Jewish holidays are difficult as well for couples without children. Simchas Torah is definitely all about the children and dancing with them. Chanukah's also focused on children primarily with family get togethers and presents for the kids. Purim as well - all about kids dressing up. It's hard for all of us no matter what holidays we celebrate.