The Pros And Cons Of Skipping Christmas

toby josh west wing christmas

As I’m sure I’ve mentioned, Christmas was not in my repertoire growing up. I went from Jewish preschool to Jewish Day School and even to Jewish camp: my world was one in which I never saw The Nutcracker, but no one else I knew did either.

It wasn’t until I married into a family with its own Christmas tradition that I first experienced a tree close-up, or a midnight mass, or saw a stocking meant for me hanging fat and happy over a fireplace. The funny thing is, of course, that Ben’s family is also Jewish. His dad just does Christmas anyway, kind of as a Russian thing and kind of as an American one. Especially when he was married to his second wife, an Italian-American with Martha Stewart tendencies, Christmas was a pageant in which we were expected to participate. So, taken aback but willing to be a good sport, I did.

The Italian-American has ceded her role to a Russian-American, and slowly but perceptibly Christmas has faded in importance. Last year the most memorable part of the celebration was accompanying my father-in-law as he attempted to Dumpster dive for a tree.

This year, word has come down that we’re skipping the holiday altogether. Instead, we’ll meet up for family dinner in a restaurant at some point during December. There will be no gift exchange at all.

It’s like, after years of being immersed in the American Christmas experience, I’ve been un-baptised, spat back out. I don’t entirely know how to feel. I don’t mind not getting presents. I hadn’t picked anything out that I wanted, so I hadn’t built up any expectations. Skipping Christmas means having to spend less money and less time being stressed. I should be happy.

But I’ve identified a small, sturdy kernel of disappointment inside me, or at least ambivalence, and I’m examining it, trying to figure out what it’s made of. For the past decade, I’ve had to incorporate Christmas into my life: the shopping, the angsting, the dinner, the presents, the family drama, the watching of It’s A Wonderful Life. (Yes, until last year, I hadn’t seen that either.) I’ve even gone to Christmas Eve services at three or four different churches so that I could get various iterations of the full experience.

Despite being surrounded almost entirely by Russian Jews, I felt, well, American, plugged into the mainstream in a way I never was during my outsider-y childhood. I didn’t like it, exactly. But I got used to it. Now that it’s gone, I feel a bit like I should arrange some kind of Friendsgiving equivalent. Get my hands on some holiday methadone to help manage the comedown back to what’s traditional for my people: Chinese food and a movie.

So, wanna come over for Friendsmas? We can hang socks on the TV screen and drink too much (or you can), tell holiday horror stories and do a gift exchange of bizarro presents we’ve gotten in previous years and never used. It’ll be a mitzvah.

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