What DOES a Jew do on Christmas Eve? There have been years after my conversion when I have been so ensconced in the Jewish world that I didn’t even remember that December 24 and December 25 had any significance to anyone, much less to myself at one time and my family.
But this year, my sister B. has moved back from Ohio with her husband and my other sister, A. and I were really concerned that they would be lonely for Christmas. Every year, after all the Hanukkah fanfare is over, I can tell that my other sister A. is also kind of lonely on Christmas. Growing up, Christmas was a time for family, large turkey dinners ala Thanksgiving, and presents. Now it’s just a regular day for me but not really because on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, it’s pretty hard to find something to do, much less someone to hang out with. Even my friends who aren’t Christian are doing something with family on Christmas.
So, we decided that Christmas Eve we are all going to go see Avatar 3D: The IMAX EXPERIENCE!!! (since we have a family tradition of seeing movies on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Thanksgiving). Afterwards, we’ll go for Chinese food (since that’s an American Jewish tradition, Chinese food on Christmas!).
The next day is Christmas, which falls on Shabbos this year, and we considered getting together for a meal but my sister A. warned my sister B. that we wouldn’t be doing anything Christmas-like at my house–no carols, no turkey, no dairy mashed potatoes.
Apparently, the fact that we wouldn’t have Christmas carols wasn’t a problem, but the dairy mashed potatoes were. This year we all got together for Thanksgiving and my sister B. and her husband were upset that they couldn’t have their traditional macaroni and cheese and dairy mashed potatoes with the turkey. Apparently this is a pretty big deal to them. So, now instead of spending Shabbos with us as she usually does, my sister A. will be going over to my sister’s house to celebrate Christmas though she normally spends Shabbos with us.
Lucky for us, our family is pretty small. It’s been a long, long time since we got together with extended family on Christmas. I don’t even call my extended family on Christmas because when I did one year, my grandmother just sounded more depressed. She asked, “What are you doing today?” I said, “Remember, we don’t celebrate Christmas. We’ll probably go for a movie.” Poor Grandma nearly dropped the phone.
But this year, with my sister and her husband back in town, I really felt like an interfaith family. Because the moment I converted, my family became an interfaith family. That I’m no longer celebrating Christmas changes the family dynamic. Everyone sends me Hanukkah cards now, presents in Hanukkah wrapping paper (in fact, my sisters and I all refer to presents given at this time of year as “Hanukkah presents,” so there are no longer Christmas presents in our family).
The first year I was in the conversion process I was really uncomfortable with Christmas. I went cold turkey and my family understood. My sisters just came along for Hanukkah events. Every year after that I spent December in Los Angeles with my husband’s family. This tradition began after our wedding over Hanukkah 2006 mostly overshadowed Christmas and we left New York for sheva brachot in Los Angeles. Well, not completely overshadowed, my Jewish friends and my sisters could be seen singing Christmas carols in the hotel lobby before the wedding.
But now in solidarity, my sisters complain whenever anyone wishes them a “Merry Christmas!” My sister A. now responds to every “Merry Christmas” with a “Happy Hanukkah!” because as she says, “My family’s Jewish!” Yes, indeed, her family, part of it, is Jewish now but not just Jewish…which is why she keeps a menorah at my house and a Christmas tree at my other sister’s house.