I spent the first eight years of my life in Brooklyn. It was kind of an Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret kind of thing, where “What religion are you” was a Very Big Issue (does anyone remember that there was more to that book than periods and “I must, I must, I must increase my bust? There was).
Since my mother’s side was Jewish, therefore, so was I. At least according to my private-school friends, to whom this was important. Me, notsomuch. Neither of my parents really practiced any religion, and as I’ve mentioned before, they were and still are proponents of any holiday that encourages eating (gifts were a priority I added later.) So in those early days we celebrated both Christmas and Hanukkah. Well, in the mostly secular sense: I got presents for both, and we had a Christmas tree and a menorah. It was one of those 70s-era electric menorahs with the big, orange bulbs in it. Conveniently, the lights we had on our Christmas tree were those big, 70s-era bulbs that were the exact same size as the menorah bulbs. So if a bulb in the menorah blew, we’d just replace it with one of the tree bulbs. And if we didn’t happen to have an orange bulb, no biggie. So at different times, our menorah might have had blue, red, green, and sometimes even flashing lights in it. Très reverential.
Fast forward to 1979, the year we moved to Florida. Not South Florida, where Jews are required to go to die, but Kissimmee. A town in which we got Rodeo Day off from school. One of the first things my mother told me was that we shouldn’t really talk about … you know, that Jewish thing. ‘K. Whatever.
But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve found myself wondering for the first time since those early grade school years exactly who I was. Dating Jewish boys was either a cause or effect of this – haven’t quite figured out which. But I found myself re-embracing my Jewish heritage. I think it’s a result of wanting to be something. Y’know?
So I started celebrating Christmas and Hanukkah again. And when I say that, I mean that I embrace them, once again, in a purely secular manner. I am ALL ABOUT lights, souvenir Star Trek ornaments and giant inflatable Santa Clauses (not that I have that last one – yet). I am also a fan of my menorah, which I bought at Home Goods because it was funky and cool looking. And it takes candles, not bulbs. And I light them too – when I remember.
And of course, I eat. Because all Jewish holidays break down to the same concept: They tried to kill us, we survived, let’s eat. Even the previously mentioned Yom Kippur ends in a giant Chinese restaurant feast.
But perhaps the greatest holiday compromise I’ve discovered is Jimmy Buffett. As most people who spend at least five minutes around me know, I love Jimmy. No, I more than love him. I worship him. He is my hero, the person I’ve always wanted to be when I grow up. He’s my personal messiah.
And conveniently enough, he was born on December 25. So when I celebrate the birth of the messiah on December 25 – yeah, I’m being totally blasphemous.
So what do I believe? I believe turkey is delicious and ham is yucky but just because it doesn’t taste good, not because it’s evil. I believe in potato latkes, candy canes and margaritas. I believe that Christmas lights are pretty, and it doesn’t matter the thought process or beliefs of the person who put them up. I believe that Santa is a really sweet idea, and I believe that getting presents for eight days straight kicks ass. I believe in holy days of worship culminating in moo goo gai pan. And I believe that I’m entitled to believe whatever I want, no matter how convoluted or ridiculous.
Happy Christmukkah and Merry Jimmy Buffett’s Birthday, everyone.