a gay black woman's discovery of her jewish self

The Case for Christmas

Posted on: November 14, 2010

Yesterday Mirs and I had an intense and impassioned discussion about Christmas.  I’m not sure how the topic was brought up while we enjoyed brunch after hours of spending money to help improve NYC’s economy in SoHo (shopping).  We sat down at a cute brunch location on Elizabeth street and ordered food.  By the time the calamari (I know, not Kosher) was set before us to share we were deep in discussion and I could tell that we were trying with difficulty to both understand the other while trying to defend our point without causing pain.  I caused pain.  I “belittled her entire Jewish experience” which made me feel about as small as the period at the end of this sentence.  In my fervor to express my desires and expectations for the creation of a Jewish home I belittled my Jewish girlfriend’s Judaism.

The case was Christmas and how, if at all, it would be celebrated in our home.  5771/2010 is the first year that I will not be celebrating Christmas.  I actually don’t even know the date this year and I’ve offered myself to work on Christmas Eve and the day following.  I’ve made those offers for a few reasons, one being that as the newest member of my management team I have not acquired any vacation time that would warrant me leaving NYC for Ohio for even a few days.  The other reason is that Christmas isn’t mine any more.  I’ve had 30 years of Christmas in my life.  30 years of family time, presents, memories, laughter and disappointment.  If I’m being honest after high school the Christmas that I’d grown to love had started to fade rapidly. 

As a child, Christmas was the best day of the year.  Santa Davis would always outdo the previous year.  One Christmas morning in particular the entire half of the living room in our Victorian Mansion was filled with presents.  I remember one quite vividly because I got the Julie doll I’d been coveting (she talked and read stories)  my sister got her Teddy Ruxpin talking bear.  There were piles of Barbie Dolls, Legos, a Nintendo, clothes, we both got new bikes, roller skates, ice skates it was overwhelming even to my child’s mind.  When our extended family showed up for dinner a few hours later we compared notes about our loot and as my cousins looked at the ridiculous pile of games, toys, and clothes not able to fit under our tree, let alone a corner of a room I felt guilty. 

When our family’s finances took a nose-dive it wasn’t mentioned to my sister and I, so as to not spoil our childhood.  We moved out of the home my parents were able to repurchase last summer to a much smaller home and our Christmases got smaller.  The way I saw it, a sixth grader didn’t need as many toys as I’d gotten previously but when doing the tally at school after break I was the one who was envious of my peer’s presents.   I found myself lying to them telling them more presents than I actually received.  By high school we exchanged presents on a very small scale and my sister and I would confide in each other that my parents had gotten cheap, that Christmas was a waste, we barely woke up on Christmas morning any more.

As a 31-year-old having talked to my mother in depth about what happened to our family financially during that time of my life I’m over whelmed with a feeling of selfishness and guilt.  My sister and I were very spoiled children and the silver spoon shoved up our asses were tarnished by an inability to appreciate anything and take everything we’d had for granted.  Still, it does pain me on some level to know that I won’t be able to celebrate Christmas on that level again.  Yet, I have friends to this day, that after Christmas want to know what I’d gotten and then run a tally of what they’d received.  They’d get new Kindle, an Ipod, clothing, shoes…can’t we buy these as adults?  The meaning of Christmas is lost on so many adults to this day.  I am one of those adults.

I have given up Christmas, as it is no longer my holiday, wholly and without regret.  I will, of course, celebrate with my parents and my nephews will definitely be getting some Christmas presents (okay lots of Christmas presents) from their aunt Erika.  It’s unfair to expect my family to make new traditions because of my decision to convert to Judaism.  I will not turn my nose on them and will gladly send them holiday cheer.  It will be neutral, though and I may send them a Hanukkah book with an inscription about who their aunt/daughter is if I can find one that pictures Jews of various ethnicities, rather than just blonde haired ones.  I will do that not to push my conversion onto them, but to better help them understand who I am.  I’m sending my parents a copy of Anita Diament’s book “Choosing Judaism” as well as Ernest H. Adam’s book “From Ghetto to Ghetto” so that they can understand what I’m doing and where I’m coming from, along with a link to my blog so they can chart my progress and understand better.

Back to yesterday, I said to Mirs, who’s always celebrated Christmas because her grandmother on her mother’s side is Baptist that we would not do so.  She told me that on Christmas morning her Jewish grandfather gave each of his grandchildren a crisp $100 bill.  I shook my head that it would not be in our home.  As a woman who grew up Christian, Christmas is about the birth of Christ.  To that, she shook her head.  She argued that Christmas was about consumerism and spending time with family.  I told her that we could spend time with family on Christmas, we’d all be off work, afterall, but that there wouldn’t be an exchange of presents on any level.  I told her that if we did not celebrate every single holiday on the Jewish calendar with all of the joy, celebration, and history that they remind us of that we definitely would not celebrate Christmas in a Christian way.  I told her that attending temple only for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and leaving the others out just to turn around and exchange presents on Christmas made little our Jewish identity.  That was the knife in the side.  I turned it by saying that I would not be that kind of Jew.

I looked across the table to the woman that I love, the woman I will marry under a chuppah, the woman who I will bear children with, the woman I will live my Jewish life with and I could see that I’d hurt her deeply.  In my new Jew craze haze I forgot that what I want and expect and need from my Jewish religion is not what she needs, wants, or expects from her Jewish identity.  Then she dropped a bomb on me, she’s an Atheist.  I smiled with relief and joy-Hallaluhah! 

Do you think I’m crazy that I’m overjoyed that my Jewish girlfriend has admitted that she’s an Atheist?  I don’t.  When we left the restaurant we were holding hands and the uncomfortable but much needed conversation about the Case for Christmas was cleared.  While she does not believe in God as I do, she very much feels an affinity, love, respect, and personal connection and obligation to her Judaism.  Mirs is a born Jew and I am a Jew by Choice.  Learning all aspects of what it is to become a Jew is not the same as growing up as a Jew, especially a Jew in Texas.  She wants to raise Jewish children, she wants them to attend Hebrew school, she wants to celebrate the entire Jewish year, she wants to attend and celebrate Shabbat every single Friday with our children.  For that, I’ll give her dinner with family on Christmas.  No Tree.  No presents.  No Santa.  And we’re doing mitzvah on Christmas,  tikkun olam, specifically before hand by volunteering our time to a soup kitchen.  Which is how I will be spending my Christmas this year, as a proud Jew.

3 Responses to "The Case for Christmas"

It’s great that you two can agree on this issue. Does you family want to know more about Judaism?

They don’t, really…but I’d like them at my conversion ceremony. It’s important to me. I feel badly because I know that I’m changing the face of my family forever. After I convert, officially, I’m making my family a Jewish family. It’s hard. My mom said when Mirs and I were home a few months ago that she was just happy that I believed in God again…Being a Jew is something they can grasp, I think ( I hope). Jesus was a Jew, after all ;)

[...] gotten the time off work to be with them.  As much as I argued for my cause with Mirs that fateful afternoon in SoHo, and as much as I still defend my stance, I’m starting to understand what she meant.  [...]

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