I must confess. I'm Jewish and I love Christmas.
But this has not always been so. When I was little the festive season caused me great angst. It felt like butterflies in my tummy. As soon as the stores had cleared their Halloween wares, merchants would stock shelves with boughs of holly, jolly Santas and jingle bells. By December first, TV ads, home decorations and mall music took on Yuletide themes. But none of it spoke to me.
Being a Jewish girl in a Christmas world
I lived in Montreal and attended Protestant school. I didn't understand why my friends' faces would become all aglow when they talked about Christmas. And what was this secret "wish list" they had written and re-written, wearing down their best crayons? Instead of playing skipping at recess my girlfriends formed little huddles and tried to outdo each other on the height of their tree or the size of Grandma's turkey. The best I could do was to spin a colourful dreidel or two and share my foil-wrapped chocolate Chanukah "gelt." My holiday rituals did not hold a menorah to theirs.
I told my parents how I felt and they empathized -- they had grown up here, too. In a bold move, one Christmas Eve, I hung a woollen sock from my doorknob. I awoke to find candy canes, tiny toys and trinkets inside.
Embracing the holidays
In grade five, as a school choir member, I sang out loudly seasonal hymns and carols and was thrilled when I was selected to perform the solo for the Christmas pageant finale -- the exquisite "O Holy Night." I looked down at the audience and saw my family, including my grandmother, clapping loudly. I interpreted this as a green light to fully embrace Christmas.
That same year I was invited to my friend Mary's house to help decorate their tree. They let me unwrap some of the fragile ornaments that had been stored away in tissue paper. My favourite was one from the year my friend was born. It said, "Baby's First Christmas." Then she taught me the correct way to hang tinsel -- not in clumps but carefully, one strand at a time.
Soon, I began to notice the way strangers greeted each other on the street. If it wasn't "happy holidays," said aloud, it was the tipping of a hat, a smile or a nod. I started to look forward to December. No more butterflies.
At 15, I met my first boyfriend, Claude. His warm, French-Canadian family welcomed me, including me in all of their holiday festivities. I attended Midnight Mass at the Notre-Dame Basilica on Christmas Eve and afterwards indulged in their traditional reveillon -- a gastronomic feast.
New family traditions
Many years later I married Manny, another Montreal Jew. Although we don't observe the Jewish holidays, religiously, we do enjoy family get-togethers. Our son, Zach, receives eight little Chanukah gifts from his grandparents and occasionally brings a dreidel to school.
One December day, when Zach was about six, my husband took him to the mall. He came home all excited, "Mom, I saw Santa Claus," he chirped. "Was it the real Santa?" I asked. "Nah, just a guy in a suit," he answered, with a sly grin. Then he clarified, saying, "Mom, you know, the Santa, at the mall, is not real -- but the elves are real."
I saw no need for debate. Clearly, a fascination with the magic of Christmas is in his genes.