Seven years ago I’ve moved into a society where you either celebrate Christmas or you don’t. If you belong to the first group then it’s OK to wish you a Merry Christmas. If you don’t, and sometimes even if you do, they’ll opt for the safer all-inclusive Happy Holidays. And there you have it, plain and simple – two greetings for two groups.
Although I love being part of Canadian society and rarely ever feel like the outsider I was seven years ago anymore, this time of year tends to reignite my sense of dissociation. For me ‘tis the season when mommy cluelessness meets immigrant confusion and the two feed off of each other and make some dialogues with Four Year Old incredibly awkward for me, because here’s the thing – I don’t belong to either one of the above-mentioned groups. You see, if you respond to the question “do you celebrate Christmas?” with “I celebrate Hanukkah” then the logical assumption would be that you belong to a long line of non-celebrators of Christmas who have the whole non-celebrating thing worked out. You can’t stump them with questions like “does Santa not come to visit me because I’ve been naughty?” The traditional non-celebrators would simply turn to a mental filing cabinet and pull out the “things that zaide and bubby told me when I asked about Santa” folder instead of hitting the “oy vey” panic button.
Despite the fact that I celebrate Hanukkah, my personal biography won’t fit into the mould imagined by my well-wishing genuinely curious local neighbours, friends and random acquaintances. I do not have a zaide or a bubby. I have a babooshkaand babookshka didn’t slave over the stove to bake latkes on Hanukkah, she probably made a delicious borscht then sat down to chain smoke and have a shot of Vodka instead, while my mom produced the greatest most delicious Latkes to ever be produced anywhere on earth.
My Jewish family moved to Israel from Russia where Christmas was celebrated not as a religious but as a national holiday. Growing up in Israel I always had a tree at home next to the Hanukkah Menorah. The tree did not cancel out my Jewish upbringing, it added a layer of family provenance to my under-construction identity. In our house today we have only a Menorah. But this post is not about that. It’s not about how do we raise our children to accept our faith in an environment that is mostly non-Jewish. It is also not about how we should avoid making assumptions and realize that everyone has their own fingerprint-unique story, even when it comes to things as seemingly cut and dry as celebrating religious holidays. It’s about that overlap area where being a mom feels like treading the same unexplored terrain trodden by the immigrant.
- Mommy, will Santa put me on the naughty list?
Hmmm. Never stepped on this land before. Not even in my thoughts.
What DO I tell Four Year Old about being put on Santa’s list when anything I come up with just seems so harsh? This is where I could really use good ol’ solid non-celebrating traditions. Some elderly wisdom.
As I contemplate these parenting conundrums raised by a holiday I only celebrate vicariously, I am realizing this. I will feel less dissociate come next Christmas. This Christmas my personal and family biographies blended with the city’s and that of our neighbours. We’ve all woken up to crystal trees on Sunday morning and felt compelled to gather outside and wonder and laugh. We’ve all lifted up our gaze and planted our heads a little deeper into our shoulders when the branches creaked, cracked and fell.
We all felt sorry for the trees for their broken-ness. And we all shared a collective first.
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