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Have Yourself A Jewish Little Christmas

By Judy Carter

(to the tune of “Havainu Sholem Aleichem”)

There was never an official diagnosis, but I knew my seasonal, winter depression was a case of serious holiday envy caused by being Jewish at Christmas. For me there would be no outings to the mall to shop for presents, no family gathered around the piano singing “Silent Night,” no popcorn-decorated tree in the living room. Oh sure, we had Chanukah. It’s billed as “the festival of light” but it’s really Christmas-light. “Dreidel” isn’t even in MS spellcheck. You won’t find a latkeh with Judah Maccabee’s face on E-bay.

My family tried to put on a festive face. We’d stick a tarnished menorah in the window, our way of saying “us too” in the neighborhood’s winter wonderland of sleighs, reindeers and elves, each house giving off more light than a shuttle launch. We had those blue and white streamers attached to banisters and we spun plastic dreidels, but what I was lusting for was Santa, the first unavailable man in my life. I yearned to sit in his oversized lap and whisper what I wanted. Unlike my mother, he wouldn’t have scoffed, “You don’t need a training bra!”  He would have, I knew, found me adorable and  “ho ho ho’ed” at my jokes, making sure I got not only the training bra, but a cocker spaniel puppy as a bonus.

If I was caught moping, I’d be reminded, “We have our own holiday.”  Uncle Norman never tired of telling us about the victory of the Jews over the Hellenistic Syrians in the battle of the Maccabees – hardly your warm-hearted, Hallmark moment. Christmas and Chanukah are apples and oranges. The story of Jesus born in a manger to a virgin is a guaranteed ratings win over a forgotten tribe, even with the long-lasting oil miracle thrown in as a B-story. If there’s a miracle, it’s that anyone converts to Judaism when it means giving up chocolate Easter bunnies and eating bitter herbs!  Christian holidays have been “Disneyfied,” escalating in proportion and visibility. Christmas has the longest shelf life of any holiday, which is why my holiday depression extended to spring, when the last of the Christmas decorations would finally wilt from the heat.

You’d think eight days of gift giving might make up for something, but not when your family is “practical”. They didn’t want to “spoil” us. On the first day of Chanukah, I’d get one glove. On the second day, I’d get the other one. And we lived in LA, where nobody wore gloves.   By day three we were out of brisket and the fun of trying to shove candles into slots filled with last year’s wax had worn off.   I wanted to be part of the ritual of holiday shopping, but the only presents I needed were for were the newspaper delivery guy and my hairdresser, people whose last names I didn’t know. Everyone would be saying, “Merry Christmas” and I, who thought of myself as quick-witted, would be stumped for a response. This was no piece of honey cake.

Never mind how many scientific theories or vaccines our people have come up with, in December, we’re not a main event. Try looking for Chanukah wrapping paper in the Rite-Aid in North Dakota. Even in Manhattan, where Hispanics speak fluent Yiddish, a supermarket had put out matzo for Chanukah. And don’t think I was the only Christmas wannabe; Jewish superstar Barbra Streisand made a Christmas album. That’s right, our Yentl!  You don’t get Eminen singing “Chillin’ in the Gefillen.”

I’m not sure when things were recast for me, maybe when I heard “Put on your yalmuka. Here comes Chanukah”. As unlikely a guru as Adam Sandler got me out of my funk, getting me to see there is, in fact, a bright side to celebrating the holiday of lights.   I had time off and didn’t have to go to church. Christmas Eve I’d gotten into a first-run movie without dialing Fandango. Their holidays get more press, but that’s all they get; we get theirs and ours. And if we want to take a day off, we can make up a holiday. “I can’t come in tomorrow because it’s the first day of “Cha…anything”. I started counting the perks.

Here are ten reasons why at Christmas we should be happy we’re Jewish:

  • We’ll never end up in an emergency room because we fell off a roof putting up reindeer.

  • We’re not traveling during black-out periods to see family. Because of the quirky timing of Chanukah, we can actually use frequent flyer miles.

  • There’s none of that lying to our kids about Santa Claus or pretending the toys are made by elves, not by children in China.

  • We’re not pressured to be happy, which is why it’s not such a Jewish thing to commit suicide during Christmas.

  • Nobody will ever knit us a red wool sweater with reindeer on it.

  • We don’t have to climb a ladder and hang tinsel on a tree with most of it ending up clinging to our clothes.

  • We’re not spending most of January standing on long lines, without receipts yet, to return a fondue set.

  • We can send cards that mean something. A New Years or Passover card won’t get lost in a huge stack of Christmas cards.

  • And if this were the only perk, it would be enough. We get jelly doughnuts for dessert, not a Christmas fruitcake with dried maraschino cherries on top.

Read other articles and learn more about Judy Carter.

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