Today is the final day of Chanukah while throughout the land, holiday spirits are peaking. This wildly enthusiastic holiday excitement is something I’ve heard about my whole life, but never fully experienced.
I’m Jewish. Christmas is a holiday which I don’t totally understand. I know for some Jewish families, the High Holidays — Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur — as well as the festival of Passover are very big deals. Households are cleaned, there’s lots of cooking and families gather for traditional meals and ritual celebrations. In many homes, gifts are exchanged too.
I have a very small family, so for us, those holidays were nothing more than a small dinner party with a theme.
Even with my observant friends, Jewish holidays just don’t rise to the level of obsession and frenzy that Christmas does for my gentile friends. We don’t have to buy gifts for every friend and every family member. We don’t spend huge amounts of time buying and putting up decorations in every room in the house We don’t have anything like the Xmas tree, lovingly chosen and decorated, to act as the centerpiece of the holiday.
My experience of the Christmas season is through my Christian friends and family members (my second husband is a Protestant-ish). Most of them complain for weeks about their exhaustion and stress from endless shopping, decorating, wrapping gifts, planning family gatherings, sending out cards, going to parties and often cooking for large numbers of people.
That’s on top of the out-of-town family who are usually coming to visit over the holidays. That can be wonderful, but it involves another layer of work, planning and often additional stress.
I’m told that the actual Christmas eve and day festivities make all the blood, sweat and tears worthwhile. The few that I’ve experienced seem rather anti-climactic after the rush everyone gets from opening presents. However, for families who may only be together just this once during the year, it must be a very special and cherished time.
Looking at Christmas from the outside, it feels like putting on a play. Lots of time and energy is spent putting the show together. Then there’s the euphoria of performing in front of the audience. After everything is cleaned up and put away, there’s a warm afterglow.
Being Jewish, I miss out on a big, two-month-long cultural phenomenon. Everywhere I go there are Christmas decorations, Christmas foods and Christmas music. It’s all enjoyable, but it doesn’t do for me what it must do for people who really get into the holidays. I wish I could experience the orgy of merriment and excitement that the holiday spirit imparts. It looks like a lot of fun.
But I’ll have to settle for looking in with my nose pressed against the window. At least I don’t need a long spa vacation after the holidays are over.