The No. 1 Perk to Being Jewish: Christmastime
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because, c’mon: How busy can the runup to Christmas really be?
By Rachel Levin
It started earlier than usual this year, for some reason. I think it was the same week we polished off the candy corn. “Let’s get together after the holiday craziness!” my friend yelled from the driver’s seat of her SUV at preschool drop-off. “OK!” I said, smiling back. But really I was totally perplexed. Holiday craziness? It was Nov. 3.
I would’ve thought she was just blowing me off, but we are pretty decent friends, as are our daughters. If she is totally swamped from Nov. 3 through Christmas, I’m inclined to believe her.
Especially because she’s not the only one. Every run-up to the holidays, I hear the same refrain: “Things are totally insane until after the holidays …” “Let’s hang out after the holidays!” “Should we put something on the calendar for after the holidays?”
Uh, sure, my 2015 is wiiiide open. But as a (barely observant) Jew, here’s the thing: So is the rest of 2014.
Is “after the holidays” just some gentile social crutch, akin to “sorry, nap time” for new parents? The question every Jewish person ponders but rarely poses is this: What the hell happens before the holidays? What are all of you Christmas revelers really doing? Why, exactly, are you so busy? I picture lengthy to-do lists and massive Toys R Us runs. Family photo shoots and festive pilgrimages to tree farms. Wrapping gifts and shipping gifts, hanging ornaments and untangling lights, choosing between snowflake or silver bell stamps, The Nutcracker or The Velveteen Rabbit.
When it comes to family obligations around the holidays, Jewish people don’t really have any.
My Boston friend Eliza Fortenbaugh — who is relatively relaxed but still hectic around the holidays — says it’s all that, and more. There are neighborhood cookie swaps and multiple Advent calendars. Weekend jaunts to NYC to see Matilda and kids’ piano recitals and school concerts and winter solstice parties.
“Wait until your kids are older; then it takes over,” warned another friend when I told her I’m just not as busy as everyone else seems to be. Maybe. But I think I’d actually have to wait until I’m no longer Jewish.
It must be said that I do have work and responsibilities and friends: real-life friends as well as a respectable 500 or so on Facebook. I’ve got a few holiday parties on the docket. Office parties … cocktail parties … fancy suburban soirées with baked ham and white rolls and baskets of homemade peppermint bark.
Oh, sure, there’s Hanukkah. But Hanukkah really isn’t a big deal for anyone except maybe the Whole Foods staffers who have to prop up the displays of blue-and-white candles and menorahs (and often mistaken matzoh). Gifts tend to be more token than big-ticket, at least in my family. I used to hate getting socks for Hanukkah while all my Protestant/Catholic/Episcopalian friends would come back from vacation wearing fuzzy-soft new Benetton sweaters. (And yet, last year I literally gave my daughter socks. Really cute socks, though; she needed them!)
When it comes to family obligations around the holidays, Jewish people don’t really have any. We can spend the holidays with family, but if we decide Hawaii sounds like more fun, there are no hard feelings.
And sure, I’ve definitely got some work to do — everyone assumes Jews can work around Christmas because they have nothing else to do. And you know what? It’s true! So, I mean, I’m kind of busy. But really, I’m no busier in December than I am in March. If anything, after Thanksgiving things slow down in our house. Everything comes to an almost eerie, quiet, overwhelmingly relaxing halt.
It’s the No. 1 perk to being Jewish: We don’t have to partake in the pre-Christmas chaos. We’re not busy busy-ing ourselves with all the self-perpetuating hoopla that The Holidays require.
We tear open cards featuring photos of our friends’ perfectly coiffed families. Is it rude, or simply understood, that we never reciprocate?
Instead we binge-watch Homeland while everyone else swarms the malls. We bypass the lines at the post office because we have no packages to mail. Occasionally we get caught up in shopping because the stores are just so chock-full of cool stuff. (But shhh, we’re usually just buying stuff for ourselves.) We eagerly tear open holiday cards featuring photos of our friends’ perfectly coiffed families while wondering whether it’s rude, or simply understood, that we never reciprocate.
And when Dec. 25 finally — finally! — rolls around, it feels as if the world has come to an end. In a good way. The streets are deserted, the shops shuttered. Yeah, we feel a little left out while our friends flip pancakes and un-stuff stockings. But we happily cocoon in our couches with nothing to do but watch Yogi’s First Christmas. We blissfully ski empty slopes. Or frolic in our grandparents’ pools in Florida. But no matter where we are, we go out for Chinese food and then to the movies. (No, not a cliché).
And in the days that follow, we slowly reunite with our friends. Friends who were so frantic! So busy! But who are now, once again, back in step with us. Wearing beautiful, brand-new sweaters.