Dear Dr. Dreidel, must I deal with my existential cognitive dissonance about Santa forever? Oh, Santa. Baby. How many years have I been writing about our tortured love?
In 2009 I shamelessly pled for you, staying together, once again, until finally breaking up in 2012. In 2013 we acted like friends with benefits. In 2014 we pretended everything from Thanksgiving to Hanukah to Christmas was one big bacchanal for us.
In 2015 we went to therapy. Didn’t we deal with our issues? Remember?
In 2016, ensconced at the home of our non-Jewish son-in-law and daughter, we reveled in all things Christmas.
Doc Dreidel, Santa Baby—what’s up for 2017????
Oh, Santa, sweetheart—you’ve tortured me since childhood. You took the place of my BFF Kathy Murphy (hissing at me when I was 9 years old, “You’ll never get into Heaven, no matter what you do.”
Year in, year out, there I was again, knocking on the pearly gates. (Because that’s what Christmas can look like when you’re child’s nose is pressed up against those gleaming Macy’s windows. Heaven on earth.)
There was the year you had enough, Dr. Dreidel. You told me I’d been whining about my unrequited love for too long. “It’s not him; it’s you,” you said.. “Enough. Get over it. You want him so bad? Go after him.”
So, I wriggled back into your fuzzy red arms, Santa baby. But really, were you there for me anymore than Redford was truly there for Streisand?
I know, baby. There are many (maybe most) Jewish people who grow up warm and secure in their faith, those for whom the eight days of Hanukah don’t have to compete with Christmas: Jewish nurses and firefighters who take Christmas Eve shifts to ensure that their Christian brethren are home for the holidays. These are the lucky Jews with long standing traditions of Chinese food and a movie on Christmas.
But darlin’, I’ve never been one of them.
There were no Hanukkah (I can’t even figure out how to spell it right) traditions in my house, nothing to fall back on, so I longed for that Rockefeller Center sparkle. My sister and I even hung stockings one year. (What were we thinking? That the keys to the kingdom lay in our old limp socks?) Mom was out on a date; we stayed up as late as possible, until, exhausted, we went to bed giddy with the prospect of what would be spilling out the tops of those socks.
Mom must have thought we’d once again left our dirty clothes around the house, because when we woke, those damn socks were in the hamper.
As a teen, I went out with a similarly disposed Jewish friend and bought a pathetic Charlie Brown tree on Christmas Eve and smuggled it up to her room, decorating it with dangly earrings we’d bought with our baby sitting money.
Her mother was not happy.
Other years I spent a Christmas with my best friend’s family, trying to be as adorably Christian as possible, praying they’d invite me back.
Finally, I left home and gave you up, big guy, for a few blessed too-hip-for-holidays years.
Then I became a mother. Christmas reared its head. I was determined that my children would have a big old piece of the American pie. Why shouldn’t you love us, Santa? We lived with a non-Jewish couple in a rambling Victorian House and I fell into Christmas as though I were Jesus’ sister.
Religion played no role for any of us: it was simply an orgy of food, presents, lights, good will, and Christmas stockings so full we needed overflow bags. You were there, Santa baby. (Though there was always a fly in my Christmas pie. Friends, who hadn’t stepped in a church since they were baptized, exclaimed as though I were crashing their personal kingdom: “you celebrate Christmas????”) But I went all out.
The kids got older. Christmas became firmly entrenched, including building our own family heirlooms straight from the Crate & Barrel collection. Still, I felt as though I were crashing Jesus’ birthday party, never dressed in quite the right way.
I admitted that my Barbra Streisand “The Way We Were” feeling with you was accurate, Santa. You were my goy-boy Robert Redford who I’d never truly possess. You’d hang out with me, for years even, but you’d never really make a commitment.
I’d never get your ring.
The kids got even older. I shrunk Christmas. I got a little standoffish with you. A miniature rosemary tree replaced the light-crusted evergreen. Orgy of presents stayed, but I’d name them Chanukah presents.
But it wasn’t enough, Santa baby. I just couldn’t quit you. I didn’t have the will to spend the entire day at the movies. Chinese food is never enough after years of licking peppermint sticks.
I got those old Santa Blues. I put that weird aluminum tree up again—the one I tell my husband is hung with Stars of David. (Does he sense you hiding in the corner?)
One year, we reached Valhalla. Christmas and Chanakuh came the same weekend. We spent the time—our family, long-ago immigrants of Rumania, Germany, Russia, England, Denmark, Italy and Poland—with brisket, the kugel, Christmas stockings, and the menorah, rolling it all into one ecumenical round of eating and lights.
We put up the Crate and Barrel tree. I kept the faith with confused pagan windows honoring King David, Raggedy Ann, menorahs and orchids.
And in the corner? My personal Secret Santa.
This year, at Thanksgiving, I promised my family that I’d pull back this year. Not so many presents! Easy on the glitter!
My son-in-law looked at me and smiled. “You know, you can give us as many presents as you want. We don’t mind.”
Nobody disagreed. I realized that I’d been in a war with an enemy of one. And I lived in her body. I thought about what meant the most to me, whether celebrating Chanukah or Christmas or Boxing Day. I dove deep, thinking what I’d longed for and what I wanted to give my family.
Number one: Peace. Peace on Earth. That was the message I wanted this year, if only for a day. Being the dedicated outward-messaged, consumer that I am, I hunted for doves for decoration. To remind me. My husband hung them. (Thank you, honey.)
Number two: Joyous generous presents. Lottsa them. Yes. I admit it. I am making up for my past with my present. I work hard at supporting ethical organizations, local stores and artists, etc, but still, whatever their provenance, I’m wrapping a ton of presents. And, as my son-in-law said, nobody minds. (You’re welcome, economy!)
Number Three: Working ever harder for inclusiveness. Because saying Happy Holidays and not Merry Christmas or Happy Chanukah or any other exclusive set of words, unless you know how that person sees the world, does make a world of difference. Because if we celebrate as one, even knowing each family shapes the holiday differently in their home, we’re publicly rejoicing a season of togetherness and peace on earth.