I knew that we would have to explain it to our twins one
day, I just didn’t think that day would come so soon.
Earlier this week, I
was playing on the couch with my 3-year-old son. We were reading books, and
he was snuggled on my lap in our usual cozy position, his long legs
outstretched over mine, his head so close to my nose that I could smell Johnson’s baby shampoo. When the book ended, he
turned and looked at me with a sly little smile, like he knew he was going to
get a reaction. He said the one word I’d been hoping he wouldn’t know the
meaning of until he was at least in junior high. Maybe college.
“Christmas,” my son whispered, the word dancing on his
tongue like a Bing Crosby carol.
I could see it clearly – visions of sugar plums dancing
in his head. Visions that I would soon crush with the one piece of information
that would draw the line between us
and them. That we don’t
celebrate Christmas – that it’s not our holiday. That we are Jews.
“Where did you hear that word?” I asked playfully, tickling
him on his protruding toddler belly. My guy giggled and smiled back at me and
didn’t say anything else – until a few minutes later.
Growing up in a mostly Irish/Italian neighborhood on Long
Island, I understood from an early age that the wreaths and tinsel-covered
trees were just not our thing. We spent Christmas Day at the Wantagh Jewish
Center Jubilee (or Jew-bilee, as we referred to it). Any fascination we might
have had for Santa or the plastic baby Jesuses on our neighbors’ lawns was
deflected by a make-your-own-sundae event. Of course, no amount of
sprinkles could keep us from noticing that, compared to Christmas, Hanukkah
kind of sucked holiday rum balls.
But I knew that, in a year or two, I’d have to try to impress upon him and his sister that it’s OK to not do what everyone else is doing.
Of course my first instinct was to try and get my little guy
excited for Hanukkah. But the weird thing is, he actually looks, well, Christmasy. For starters he’s tall and blonde. He rocks flannel pjs like a mini Abercrombie &
Fitch model and bounds down the stairs like nobody’s business. (My
daughter, on the other hand, looks like a little Jew-ess, just like her
mother.) Telling my guy that there’d be no Christmas would pretty much be the
equivalent of telling Tiny Tim to go fuck himself.
Still, I knew I had to lay it out there for him.
“Baby, we don’t celebrate Christmas.”
I held my breath, waiting for his reaction. But my son just
looked at me and smiled and asked me to read him another story. It was enough
of an explanation for now. But I knew that, in a year or two, I’d have to try to
impress upon him and his sister that it’s OK to not do what everyone else is
doing. That even though he’ll never wake up to presents under a fir tree, we can still have our own traditions. On Hanukkah, we’ll light the candles
together, make latkes and spin the dreidel. (In other words, play with fire,
eat oily food and gamble — hell yeah!) And then, on December 25th, we’ll go to Red Hot for dumplings and
Moo Shu Pork. I would never stuff stockings for the twins, but I will always
ensure they’ll be the first kids in class to see the new Quentin Tarantino
Suddenly, I knew what I needed to do. Putting away our
storybooks, I sat my son down and told him the story of the Maccabees, of the
small amount of oil that lasted for eight nights. I spoke of the struggle of
our ancestors and about the former lead singer of Van Halen.
And, as my son and David Lee Roth reached across generations
to light a menorah, I suddenly understood the true meaning of Christmas.