I grew up highly suspicious of Christian holiday traditions. My first Christmas bash changed everything
For a Jew, I’ve been getting a lot of email from Christian Mingle lately. Of course, I’m all, “spam folder!” But at the same time, I’m all, “Moi?” Because as far back as I can remember, Christianity has been a glittering swimming pool through a chain-link fence. It started thirty-some-odd years ago at the mall, when I urinated on the Easter Bunny’s lap and he registered my name on the black list. As I got older, I noticed that my Christian friends did fun things without me. In the winter, they decorated trees in their living rooms. In the summertime, they vacationed in cottages. For dinner, they ate Cornish game hens. They had blue eyes, a prerequisite for attracting romantic partners. By the time I was a teenager, I knew what I wanted to be: a blue-eyed, steel-bladdered blonde who perched on Santa’s knee wearing a slutty dress and tinsel.
Fast-forward into adulthood. I can’t say all my dreams had come true, but I can say I was twenty-nine and dating an aspiring performer who lived in his grandmother’s basement. And although he declared himself an atheist (loudly and angrily, as is the culture of loud, angry atheists), he was an Italian guy from Brooklyn whose mother kept his Baptism photos in an album.
Atheist? Please. I was dating a Christian. One who invited me home for Christmas.
I had never celebrated Christmas before. I was usually working some restaurant job, and I would take the Christmas Eve and Christmas Day shifts that no one else wanted. In my youth, my mother made us do volunteer work on Christmas. Then, unimaginatively, we’d scarf Chinese food. One Christmas, my family and I watched Schindler’s List and I got so bored I picked all my cuticles off, leaving me to wonder years later if I was a sociopath, until I concluded that no, Steven Spielberg movies just encourage one to affect emotion to avoid being thought a sociopath.
But this year would be different. This year, my boyfriend would grope me under the mistletoe.
Except that like many people on the brink of reaching their goals, I got cold feet. What was I getting myself into? Could I really engage in goyishe traditions with a house full of semi-strangers? What if my boyfriend and his family donned Christmas pajamas and reindeer slippers? What if, on Christmas morning, we all had to spring out of bed and race downstairs to the tree, snarling like teething puppies, wildly tearing wrapping paper from boxes?
“I don’t think this Christmas thing is my speed,” I told my boyfriend.
“But you were so excited,” he reminded me, packing a bowl. (Atheists, or at least this guy, smoked a lot of dope.)
“But I’m a vegetarian,” I reminded him. “What if there’s ham?”
“Of course there will be ham.”
“I think I’m busy Christmas Eve,” I said.
“Fine,” he said, and he climbed up out of his grandmother’s basement, blinked a few times in the winter sunlight, and because his parents now lived in Staten Island, set sail alone from Whitehall Terminal.
I hadn’t really thought he’d go without me.
All night, as I lay on my lofted bed, gazing forlornly out the window at my Jewish reflection, I writhed with regret. Why was I so self-destructive? Why did I put on my shoes too soon every time I got a pedicure? Why did I frequently permit my boyfriend’s grandmother/roommate to call me a slut in Italian? And why did I once, right after dicing habanero peppers, touch my vagina? I thought about how when I was a kid, my parents let my siblings and me have every Berenstain Bears book except The Berenstain Bears Meet Santa Bear, how that deprivation had plagued me for decades, and how I’d finally been presented with the chance to reverse it, to nourish my inner child as they say, and what had I done with my evening? Had I thrown on a Santa hat and realized my dreams? No. I’d crossed the street to the bodega for Cheetos and watched a drunk guy whip out his dick inside a pay phone hood and piss on the sidewalk.
Finally after years of being forbidden the Bearenstein Bears Meet Santa Bear….
The time had come for change.
The next morning, armed with mass-produced presents from China, such as Frosty the Snowman potholders and socks with toe pouches, I voyaged to Staten Island for my first Christmas, sitting beside yet another drunk guy who kept ringing an invisible doorbell and saying “Bzzz.”
Jews, I’ll tell you this: Christmas is very much a Christian Mingle. My first Christmas wasn’t romantic per se, but there were Christians everywhere, mingling. The Christians were my kind of Christians, eating antipasto and drinking Jack Daniel’s. I ate so much eggplant parmesan, I passed out on the living room couch. Then I woke up and guzzled merlot. Then I ate red and white M&Ms, and then I ate most of a jar of mixed nuts from my stocking. Then I drank more wine. No one had a manic episode and changed into snowflake pajamas. No one force-fed me ham.
All my life, when considering the Jewish festivals—the one where we get drunk, the one where we eat in a hut, the other one where we get drunk—I always believed we had the corner on holidays. Turns out we don’t. All the Christmas hype is justified.
With that said, I’m fairly certain there’s no such thing as the War on Christmas, unless you’re Bill O’Reilly or the guy who once made a living installing Nativity scenes in public schools. But if shit ever got real? I’d join the resistance.
Diana Spechler is the author of the novels “Who by Fire” and “Skinny,” and of articles in The New York Times, GQ, The Wall Street Journal, New York Magazine, Esquire, Slate, and elsewhere. She teaches writing in New York City and for Stanford University's Online Writer's Studio. Learn more at www.dianaspechler.com. More Diana Spechler.
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