I know! It’s only April and Easter is just around the corner, and Passover begins tonight but, in my defense, there are only 264 days before Christmas! This is not really about the holiday per se; it is really about the fact that this winter celebration has always been somewhat awkward for me, especially when I was growing up. I was born in Montreal, Québec, and for the first eight years of my life we lived in a predominantly French speaking part of the city. More precisely, I lived on 3080 Rue Bélanger which, if you don’t parler (speak) French would be pronounced “Bel Anger!” When I was very young this fact did not really impact me that much, but between the ages of, let’s say, six and eight, about the time one becomes aware of somewhat more than the basics, you know, eating, sleeping, that other thing, and being ridiculously cute, I knew something was off! This is about the same time as your world is expanding to include a few school and or playground chums who, as is often the case, introduce you to some different shit! Now, I did attend an English school, but it was like a tiny English island in an ocean of French! It was then that I realized that somehow, we were different than everyone around us; we looked somewhat the same, but we didn’t speak the language, at least I couldn’t, my Father could, basically, and my mother a little less so. My baby brother, well he was still mastering the first language! To be fair, my English school friends were also somewhat different, but that difference seemed to only surface at certain times of the year.
Now, I am quite certain many children go through this experience, especially if you grow up in a large city, but it was more than that for me, because the difference became even more apparent as I grew up, especially on Christmas Day. Why? Because at my friends’ houses on that day, there was a tree all lit up, underneath of which were an abundance of neatly wrapped presents, with the names of the future recipients neatly printed: Joyeaux Noël (Merry Christmas), Francine, Grandmere (Granny)! There was also talk about Pére Noël (Santa Claus), elfes (elves), les douze nuits de Noël (the 12 nights of Christmas), and other holiday specific rituals. And then there was talk about the next day, le lendemain de Noël (Boxing Day) (not a thing here in the US), and then there was turkey! The same thing was going on in my English friends’ homes, except in parentheses!
In my house there might have been a tree, possibly with some lights, but let’s be honest, Hannukah trees (they’re really called bushes!) compared to Christmas trees? That’s like comparing apples and spark plugs! There was talk in my house too, but it was centered around the eight nights of Hannukah (don’t get me wrong, celebrating for eight nights instead of one, did have some appeal to an eight year-old), there was the lighting of candles for those eight nights with the recital of some prayer by someone, usually me, in a language that didn’t exactly roll off my tongue in those days, as I lit one main candle, and then another, one each night from right to left, which just felt so wrong, but you don’t have much say in these things when you’re eight! And there was no turkey, not even close, although the latkes, potato pancakes fried in oil and served with sour cream or applesauce, did make up for that somewhat! The other thing that made this day even weirder for me was that Christmas Day was always on the same day, year, after year, after year, which is normal when you’re celebrating someone’s birthday. But Hannukah… no such luck! For example, the dates for the Festival of Lights, as it’s sometimes called, for last year, this year, and next year were, are, will be Dec.18-26, Dec.7-15, and Dec.25-Jan.2! How the hell is an eight-year-old supposed to process that crap?
We also seemed to “celebrate” Boxing Day, for the same reason, or so I thought, which is where I got the idea in my head that we did indeed have some things in common! But, to add to my eight-year-old brain’s confusion, there were also presents neatly wrapped, but they were all addressed to my Dad, because it was his birthday. Yup, my dad and the baby Jesus! The gifts were all purchased by my mom, though, and delivered by her, not some guy in a red suit with a long white beard, in a sled traveling through the sky, and being pulled by a pack of reindeer with these ridiculous names! Hey, they’re pretty ridiculous in English; you should hear them in French! Yeah, I probably understood the difference between a person’s birthday and another culture’s religious tradition centered around a celebration of the birth of Christ, I mean I was eight years old, and it was the 50s, and we were on top of things really early in our development way back then! So yeah, it screwed me up for a good few years, but like most things at that age, you just kind of move on to the next conundrum waiting in line!
I am happy to report that I have gotten over this childhood trauma. I even succumbed to my wife’s request to have a “holiday” tree in our loft, although I drew the line at an actual Christmas type tree, and instead we decorate a tall plant with some lights and ornaments. I have to admit it does brighten the place up a little and feels festive even though we are not exchanging any gifts. And it does remind me of my dad!
Los Angeles 2023
4 thoughts on “Merry Christmas! Ho, Ho, Hmm… (S)”
It’s great to get that perspective. I will list this under things we gentiles don’t understand about what the Jewish in this case children don’t understand about Christmas err commercial practices! Happy Passover.
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Trust me, there is a great deal we jews don’t understand! Commercial is right. As far as religion goes…don’t get me started!
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Interesting take on the December festivals. How do you rationalize us people eating cardboard like crackers for another 8-day holiday at Easter time? At least for those of us who still follow the Passover traditions.
Happy Passover my friend of 63 years.
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I don’t. If I ate that “cardboard” today I’d be constipated for a month! Same to you my friend.