Spawn of

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Have Yourself a Confusing Jewish Christmas

Before Laura starts her actual brant, she wants to just say that it took her a ridiculously long time to upload a bunch of pictures to her Facebook page.  Laura generally likes to consider herself tech-savvy, though she suspects that people who refers to themselves proudly as tech-savvy probably aren't and are just giant loser-goofballs instead. That said, she couldn't believe that it took her almost 2 hours --who is she kidding?  it was more like 3 -- from getting the photos off her camera and onto her iBook and then figuring out how to get the photos in iPhoto to be organized in the right way. Can she also just take a minute to say how much she hates the new iPhoto AND the new iMovie which, to someone as clearly non-tech-savvy as Laura, totally suck compared to the old iPhoto and iMovie that were really really easy for Laura to use.  But those old versions are on her old iBook, you know, the one that was the replacement for the one that died four times and that died itself, eventually, too -- a later post on this will follow someday -- about Apple's "Customer Service" policies and behavior (hint:  the quotation marks around "customer service" should tell you that Apple has shitty customer service and even worse "deskside manner" while administering that shitty customer service...and don't fucking (461) get her started on those alleged idiot-Geniuses...).  Anyway, Laura's kind of "teched-out" right now having spent most of Christmas morning trying to share one stupid album of Christmas photos.  She thinks it finally worked -- for her Facebook friends, there are maybe 14 photos to look at -- not much to show for all her labor and all the money she owes Ben for saying the EFF-word throughout the whole ordeal.  For non-Facebook friends, well, these 2 here will have to suffice.

So last night was Christmas Eve. And today was Christmas.  Laura thinks those things are worth stating, despite the fact that they're completely obvious, because for Jews like her Christmas is always a little bit confusing.  There are so many facets to it, so many decisions, so much labor and artistry and list-making involved. Compared to Hanukkah or Channukkah or Chanukkah or however you spell it, it's really overwhelming, which is sort of funny and ironic because it's usually Jews who complicate things and confuse things with thousands of different issues and problems and shpilkus-inducing questions.  Non-Jews reading this might not understand why Laura, a Jew married to a non-Jew and thus celebrating Christmas, is so confused, and Jews who aren't married to non-Jews and thus not celebrating Christmas, might not understand her confusion, either -- What's so hard about Christmas?  You get a tree, some lights, buy and wrap presents and then keep your mouth shut when Santa gets all the credit.  

But this isn't the way Laura sees it. Hanukkah or Channukah or Chanukkah or however you spell it -- now that's easy.  You get a menorrah or a mennorah or a mennorrah or however you spell it, stick some candles in, get a pack of matches, make sure all the smoke detectors have fresh batteries in case God forbid your sleeve or hair catch on fire during the nightly lighting, get 8 presents, heat up some pre-made latkes, and there, you're off to the races.  And when it comes to what Jews do on Christmas, it couldn't be easier:

The Two Rules for Jews on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day

1) Go to the movies
2) Eat Chinese food

Now compare this to The Agonizing Confusion Non-Jews Feel When Celebrating Christmas:

1)  Timing of the Tree-Buying
This is one of the least clear and most confusing of all Christmas issues for Laura: When you're supposed to get the tree.  Do you get it right after Thanksgiving, like, the actual day after Thanksgiving, for maximum tree-cost to tree-enjoyment ratio? Or do you wait to get the tree until early December in order to preserve the freshness of the tree so that all the fucking (462) needles don't start falling off the tree three weeks before Christmas? Tree-watering comes into play here in this question, too, but Laura will get to that later.

2)  Type of Tree
One of the oldest questions known to man:  Real tree or fake tree?  Do you join the millions and millions of tree-killers who rip live trees out of the ground for their own personal holiday enjoyment?  Or do you skip the selfish tree-killing and opt instead for a fake tree, joining the millions and millions of Walmart and Target and Kohls and Costco shoppers who shlep home a giant multi-part "tree" that you have to put together at home and plug in?  

3)  Lights
Yet another of the oldest questions known to man:  White lights or colored lights. This is one of the most fraught questions having to do with Christmas since it was always Laura's experience and the experience of other's, she's certain, that fancy rich people used white lights while non-rich cheesy people used colored lights. Laura's not sure if this is actually really true, but she's positive she read something about this once and it was definitely an article written by a non-Jew so don't go blaming her.  

4)  Outdoor Lights and Decorations
This question is sort of related to the above question:  that is, it was always Laura's impression that fancy rich people didn't turn their outdoor property into movie sets of the North Pole or Bethlehem and that non-rich cheesy people did.  Again, Laura apologizes if her impressions are wrong -- and in fact, she actually knows that her impressions are not entirely correct because right here in her very neighborhood there is a family who is very very rich and who has tarted up their house like a freakin' circus.  But still, Laura's never sure if they should be decorating the outside of their house, if even just a little.  They never have, but maybe they should next year...

5)  Trimming the Tree
Back to the endless confusion about the tree.  When do you decorate it?  The day after Thanksgiving?  Get the tree, put it up, throw the shit on it and get it over with all at once?  Or are you supposed to decorate it on Christmas Eve the way they do in movies or in Finland or Norway or somewhere else blond?  This question also encompasses the lighting-issue -- white or colored -- and includes the whole sub-topic of ornaments:  that is, what kind of ornaments do you get?  Theme-ornaments?  Matching colored ornaments?  Edible ornaments?  Like, whatever happened to stringing popcorn on the tree or hanging candy canes that no one ever eats?  And what about tinsel???  Laura and Brendan just had a long conversation about this very topic -- they were trying to explain to Ben what tinsel was and then they realized that no one uses tinsel anymore.  But why?  What happened to tinsel?  Was it found, like everything else in the world, to be a choking hazard to children under three (not to make light of choking hazards to children)?

6) Tree Maintenance
Big question:  Do you water the tree regularly after sticking it in it's nearly-impossible to maneuver tree stand?  And if so, how often?  And how much? Brendan didn't seem to have any clue about this issue, but Ben kept telling Laura to water it, so water the tree she did every few days, filling up a glass and crawling around under the tree to make sure the water made it into the tree stand and not all over the expensive sisel rug.  Which leads to another thread -- which is, how do you water the tree without getting a shitload of fucking (463) pine needles in your hair?  Laura could not figure out how this was supposed to work -- crawling around, not spilling the water, providing ample water without overwatering the tree so that the water wouldn't overflow from the tree stand and ruin the sisel rug, all without getting half the tree in her hair -- but whatever the correct process and procedure is, she obviously didn't know about it because by about a week before Christmas the beautiful perfect tree that had been so healthy and happy looking suddenly just drooped and sagged and, for lack of a better way to describe it, gave up.  Trying to water it at this point doesn't do any good, as Laura found out -- frantically crawling around some more and not caring any longer about the stupid water on the rug -- but it was too late.  The tree was gone.  Which led Ben to plead that next year "they" get better about watering the tree.  No problem, Ben -- as soon as Mommy finds a "Christmas for Non-Jews" Continuing Ed Class somewhere...

7) Number of Gifts
Extremely confusing.  Overwhelmingly confusing.  How many fucking presents are you supposed to get people?  Two?  Three?  Twenty?  Fifty? And what about the stockings?  Couldn't you go broke filling those stockings up with tons of shit?  And if you do stuff those stockings with tons of shit, are you supposed to wrap that shit? Or does the shit in the stocking just get shoved in there without being wrapped? More about wrapping later, but truly, this nebulousness and open-endedness about quantity is really a big huge bummer.  Seriously.  Laura would like someone someday to tell her how many presents to buy because the whole question is just impossible to solve.

8) Santa and the Issue of Lying
One of the most basic of issues for people in general and Jews in particular:  what the hell do you do about this Santa business?  Clearly you lie, okay, Laura gets that.  But for how long?  And with how much intensity?  With a kind of ironic-wink? Or as if your life depended on it?  And if you go ahead with the lying, when do you stop?  When your kid asks you directly, point-blank, when they're over 5, if Santa exists?  Or do you wait until their friends make fun of them for being a gullible dork for believing in Santa when they're 10 or 11 or 20?  I mean, Laura's all for the happy lies that make people happy -- in fact, she's all for lots of different kinds of minor harmless lies -- it's just that she's not sure about procedure and process here.

9)  Santa and The Issue of Credit
Admittedly, this feels like a very Jewish question to Laura:  if you lie successfully to your kid(s) about Santa bringing all the presents, doesn't that mean that you don't get any credit for all the shopping and shlepping and wrapping and paying you've done?  This doesn't seem at all fair!  I mean, it just feels wrong to Laura!  Unless, as she said at the beginning of this category, this is a Jewish thing -- being unwilling to give up the narcissistic element of credit for all the fabulous gifts being opened.  In which case, what is it about non-Jews that they don't mind giving up the credit?  Doesn't it bother them?  Or is that what is meant by the Christian "Spirit of Christmas" business Laura has always heard so much about?

10) Santa and the Issue of Wrapping
A minor strand of this multi-part Santa question, but Laura was flummoxed by the problems she was having with Ben regarding the wrapping of presents.  You see, Laura had always assumed that you wrap presents and put them under the tree as you go -- that is, you buy some presents, wrap them, stick them under the tree, watch as your child gets more and more excited about all the stuff accumulating there, and repeat -- but apparently, this is all wrong!  Who knew!!  Apparently, and Laura clearly didn't get the memo on this, you're supposed to buy the presents, hide them all, then wrap them ALL on Christmas Eve after your kid(s) have gone to bed, thereby preserving the myth (lie) that Santa came and brought and did and wrapped and masterminded and gave and bestowed and shared and provided everything and that you had nothing to do with it.  Ohhhhhhhhhhhh.  So THAT'S what you do.

11) Christmas Eve Feast or No Feast
Laura just assumed that everyone has a Who-Ville type feast on Christmas Eve too, not just on Christmas Day, but apparently, yet again, she's wrong. Sorry for being so Jewish!! Laura never got the memo on this one either since Brendan says that every family has different traditions and that in his family there was no big feast on Christmas Eve.  Laura's not sure if he's telling the truth or if he's just making it up so he gets out of having to cook on Christmas Eve, but she figures this is just another one of those non-Jewish mysteries she'll never fully understand. Maybe it's because Jews a) always feast b) always feast the night BEFORE a holiday as well as on the holiday itself.  Or maybe it's because most Christmas movies she's watched always have a big cozy Christmas Eve dinner.  Even more confusing is what you're supposed to make for the Christmas feast:  Roast Beast, like the Grinch carves, or Christmas Goose?  Or Ham?  Or Turkey?  Or Tofurky? Whatever. Laura just sucked down her Campbell's Creamy Tomato Soup at Hand during last night's feast-less Christmas Even and kept her mouth shut.
12)  Church
This one feels ridiculous for Laura to even mention since obviously Christmas has nothing to do with going to church!  But still -- Laura's confused:  Are you supposed to go to church on or during Christmas or is going to church on or during Christmas just for losers?  Laura asks this at the risk of her question sounding disrespectful -- that's absolutely not her intention -- because she emailed a non-Jewish friend recently about finding a midnight mass service to take Ben to and the friend couldn't believe Laura was asking her that:  Church?  she said.  Midnight mass? she said.  Me????  Obviously Laura had asked the wrong non-Jew.  Sorrrrrrrrrry!!!! But still, she's unclear about who goes and who doesn't and when you go if you do go.

Laura thinks she's gotten all her questions in here -- and she's seriously hoping that people leave lots of clarifying and elucidating and illuminating and confusion-ending comments so that next Christmas will be a lot easier for her.  In the meantime, she wants to wish everyone who's not Jewish who's reading this a Merry Christmas and everyone who's Jewish who's reading this Vague and Non-Religious Holiday Greetings.  Assuming, of course, that's what you're supposed to do on Christmas...


janet said...

*Note: The answer to these questions are coming from a girl with two non-religious parents, and one of them is German...and so she spent nearly 10 Christmases in Germany*

1 & 2) Never in the history of my life have we had a "real" tree--or at least that is my understanding. We have a very "real" looking "fake" tree which makes it's appearance the first weekend of Advent.

(What's ADVENT? That's another question I have now placed in your mind)

3 & 4) Always white lights. I remember "colored" lights as a child a couple times, but we love the look of WHITE lights shining. Also we usually have an "outdoor" wreath covered in WHITE lights or "fake" white candles in all the windows.

5) For the love all things Holy, the German parent takes care of the tree. I can send you a picture--everything has to be PERFECT and this is done when the tree is originally "put up."

6) Being a "fake" tree--this is cut out COMPLETELY!

7) Giftage usually varies. We don't have millions of 'em, less than 10 is a good number. There may be ONE "big" gift, but the rest is practical...(think socks, underwear, etc.)

8, 9, 10) If Santa was to visit (obviously, when I was a child) he came the night of the 24th (when we were snug in our beds) and these presents were NOT wrapped. He didn't have "time" to stay and wrap them. Think one or two "big" gifts.

The night of the 24th is our "big" gift exchange "to do." Throughout the month, as gifts were purchased, they were wrapped and placed under the tree. These were from family/parents...Santa only brought a couple of things anyway.

Now we have no 25th celebration. It's used to visit friends.

11) We always have a big German feast on Christmas Eve. Not so much on the 25th.

12) Being from a non-religious family--we never went to church on the 24th or 25th.

The relatives in Germany ALWAYS go on the 24th...normally around 6pm (after dinner, but before presents).

I personally (since around 1997) attend a "Midnight Mass" at an Episcopal church. And by "Midnight Mass" I mean, it gets out around midnight.

Normally Lutherans, Episcopalians, Methodists and (of course) Catholics have these services.


Anonymous said...

This made me laugh. Oh your questions and the spelling issues are right on! However you spell it, Hanukah is simpler, easier, & not as exciting as Christmas. Did you envy all the hustle and bustle that everyone else seemed to be engaged in before you became a part of it? I do, though my husband (from a mixed family) doesn't at all.

kpikephoto said...

So many questions for a jewish girl?? In my house, I'm responsible for making the latkes and figuring out whether it's one gift on each day or all at once. Since Christmas is my partner's holiday, she has to get the tree, water it, clean up the needles and put the ornaments away when the tree comes down. My suggestion is to leave all the tree-santa-ornament issues to your sweetie and be happy to just figure out the best spelling for HANNUKAH! Happy Holidays, Laura!! I love te photos...

jess novak said...

real trees smell nice but they're messy/annoying and kind of a dirty/gross thing to have in your (hopefully) clean living room. fake trees purchased from large christmas depot stores with lights already on them, for the win. we put it up when we get around to it; it's not important.

my mom's brother has either christmas eve or chrismas day at his house; it alternates every year. we use the off day to spend time with other family members and/or friends. there is always something going on. usually, at this large family gathering at mom's brother's house, we exchange gifts via previously picked names from a hat and we eat buffet style-- usually turkey sandiwches with gravy, cheesey potatoes, and a salad. on the off night, we might have a more formal kind of situation.. like this year we had pork and canadles (a german tradition) at mom's sister's house, with just ten of us eating.

i've always gotten a bunch of smaller gifts like clothes, all leading up to usually one big gift-- this year the GPS.

when i was a kid, i was under the impression that santa brought ALL the gifts (unless otherwise specified) and wrapped them himself at our house in the middle of the night on christmas eve. kind of creepy.

i can remember one occasion when i was around 7 or 8 that i found wrapped presents in my parents' closet with tags on them from santa to me. luckily, my dad was a quick thinker and, when i questioned him, he said that there was just too much stuff to fit in his sleigh so he delivered some of them a few days ahead of time.

it's really not that hard to make christmas special. when we didn't have any money, i never knew it. i loved everything i got because it was from "santa" and that validated the fact that i was special and a good girl. i remember being completely devastated when i found out santa didn't exist. christmas really isn't that exciting anymore.

the exchange with the family is always capped at $20 so no one had to feel one-upped or whatever.

we usually don't go to church but we did this year to see my cousin sing. last year, the huge family gathering was on christmas eve and a few of us went to midnight mass all pie-eyed and stupid.

good times.

Laura Zigman said...

I LOVED these comments. Extremely helpful! Seriously! And I love knowing the specifics of how you celebrate with your families, Janet and Jessica. oxoxoxox