My First Christmas… as a Jew

Merry Christmas to all those who are celebrating, including my much missed family!

Spending this Christmas in Israel was something I looked forward to since last Christmas. Last Christmas went really well, but I knew that this one would be even harder as a Jew. I had already distanced myself from the holiday but of course, celebrated with family. I knew this Christmas would put everyone on edge. My family already pays special attention to what I eat and don’t eat, wear and don’t wear and pray and don’t pray. The truth is, no matter how hard I try, as I distance myself from Christmas and other Christian experiences I distance myself from my family. I knew a Christmas away from family would be sad, but I knew it would be also be less stressful and comforting to be surrounded by so many other Jews in Israel.

Now that it is Christmas, I just don’t know if being away is as great as I thought it would be. I wish I was watching my nephews open there presents. I wish I was eating dinner with my family. I actually wish there were lights up on houses and Christmas trees in windows. It just doesn’t feel like Christmas and after having Christmas be the biggest day of the year for all of my life, it is sad.

Even though I most certainly miss Christmas and my family celebrating Christmas, I decided I needed to do something special in my own way. I have never had a “traditional” American Jewish December 25th. My December 25th is going to consist of a Chinese dinner and a random movie. I am excited for the new¬†experience¬†and celebrating what in my mind is a very Jewish, American social custom.

This is part of what going down “another path” means, and even though it is tough, I am even more committed to it now than I was before.

A Wonderful 5th Day of Chanukah and Christmas.

Merry Christmas to all who are celebrating! And, still, Happy Chanukah to all who are celebrating!

December 24th and 25th have been wonderful. I have spent time with my 75 closest relatives over the past two days. The highlight was getting to see my adorable 1 year old nephew. Not everything related to Christmas went exactly as planned, but when do things related to family ever go as planned?

Last Thursday, December 22, my cousin had a beautiful baby boy a few weeks earlier than planned. The call that she was in labor came as a suprise and I quickly packed a bag and headed out of town. I am so thankful that both baby and mommy are doing well. The rush and excitement threw me off my planned course. I hadn’t packed enough clothes. I was going to miss Shabbat at my shul. I didn’t get a chance to bake cookies for my family. Either way, the weekend ended up being a good time spent with family. I didn’t go to shul, but I prayed services in the silence of my room in the evening and morning.

This was my first December 25th where I would completely identify as an outsider and not in anyway claim the holiday. Last Christmas, besides giving you my heart (reference to Wham song), I did not identify as a “believer” but none the less did not identify as an outsider. I think it was and still is very hard to distance myself from a tradition that is so part of my culture and family. Many of my cousins would agree saying that they largely don’t believe Roman Catholic doctorine or practice Catholicism, but they still (strongly) identify as Catholic. In the way that Catholicism has always functioned as more than just a religion for my family and Mexican culture parallels Judaism as more than just a religious belief.

This year, my parents respected my request for no gifts for the most part. It is a tradition for my mother to buy the whole family Christmas pajamas and I did receive winter themed pajamas but no green and red and not santas, elfs, or Christmas trees…only snow flakes and snow men.

Another great thing about this year’s Christmas was I had a new perspective on things. One of the greatest feelings was sitting to eat dinner, breakfast and lunch with my family. Eating as a family, especially all our meals, happens very rarely in my family. To have those moments of no cell phones, no t.v. and no computers was very meaningful and made me think of beautiful Shabbat dinners where family and friends are gathered together for the great company. I do not have family to gather with every Friday and Saturday for Shabbat meals, but having those moments on Christmas Eve and Day was just as meaningful to me.

I am moving away for graduate school in a few months and I don’t if I would be able to come visit my family for the “holidays.” My dad works shift work and usually is not off for any holidays. My sister is a doctor, so she often has to work holidays. Also, her husband and her alternate which side of the family they spend Christmas with each year. This not only means that this was the first Christmas where I can remember my immediate family all being together, but it is also probably the last for at least a while. The fact that we were all able to spend this time together was amazing, a true blessing, and I would not have missed it for the world. It is days like December 24th and 25th of 2011 when the family is together in shalom that the love, energy and presence of the Divine is strong enough to transcend time altogether. It was not the days themselves that made the moments holy; it was the moments themselves that made the days, for me, holy.