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Being Jewish on Christmas

Being Jewish on Christmas

Amidst all the talk about eggnog, I realized the special blessing of Shabbat.


People talk about strange things at five in the morning.  Maybe it’s because of the eerie light of the fading moon. Or maybe it’s the pre-coffee, brain fog.  To get to spinning class this early, most of us are up by 4:30am. We climb on our bikes while the sky is still black and star studded, and we vent to each other as we warm up. Hilary has an awful boss who is driving her crazy. Katherine’s son is failing in school. Patty’s husband has just lost his job. Ann’s mother is in the hospital. Kim’s car broke down again. We complain. We console. We cycle as the first light of day climbs through the trees.  

But this week everyone is speaking about Christmas. First there is the tree discussion. Where to buy it. How they bring it home. Who decorates it, and who doesn’t bother anymore. Then the shopping conversation begins and seems to go on forever. The list of people to buy presents for. What to buy. How to wrap it. When to hit the stores. And then there is the cooking discussion about dishes that I’ve never even seen.  Recipes for ham and shrimp cocktails and the sauces to go with them. When they serve eggnog. If they serve eggnog.  When they drink eggnog. If they drink eggnog.  How to cut the calories in eggnog.

And then the family dynamics topic arises. How Uncle Jeffrey always ruins the holiday. Why the sister’s new boyfriend doesn’t want to come and why the mother thinks this is a red flag for their relationship. How the husband can’t stand guests and always sits in front of the television while she has to deal with all the coats and greetings herself.

I am nodding in sympathy throughout most of these conversations until Heidi glances at me.

“Are you already finished this year, now that Thanksgiving and Hannukah have passed?” she asks me.

“I’m all done,” I answer. The other women look like they want to throw their water bottles at me. No standing in long lines in crowded stores. No buying the wrong presents for the wrong people with a maxed out credit card. No ham or eggnog or pine tree needles all over my living room floor.

“Hey, stop glaring at her. Don’t forget she has five kids,” Linda pipes up for me. Everyone laughs. Half the class has no children, and a few others have a maximum of two kids. But five? This makes me officially the craziest cycler in our group even if I don’t have to buy all of them presents during the worst week to shop in America.

And then I explain how anyway, I make Shabbos each week. As the instructor tells us to raise the resistance on our bikes to a steep hill, I go through my weekly to do list for Friday. How we all dress in our finest clothing. How the table is set with China and silver. How there are fresh flowers in a vase and shining candles. How we say blessings and sing songs and speak about our week.

They don’t believe me. Every week? You do that every week?

And as we switch our dials back down to a flat road, Lizzie yells out, “You’re like making Christmas every week!”

I laugh, but I don’t tell them what I’m really thinking. Making Shabbos is a lot of work. But it’s a different kind of work than the stressed out, make-this-all-go away kind. Getting ready for Shabbos fills me with peace the same way that the Sabbath itself fills me with peace. I love the smell of our kitchen on Friday mornings when all the food is in the oven. I love preparing my kids’ beautiful outfits and setting out our fanciest dishes. I think about the reflection of my Shabbos candles in the window; how they light up the darkness with their tiny flames. How they shine in my children’s eyes as I bless them. How they bring the joy and wonder of all of Creation into our home.

I love creating space for a day with no to-do list.  It’s like getting off the bike, stepping back and making a place within myself to just be. But I can’t talk because we’re now in sprinting mode. Barely able to breathe. Pedaling furiously towards dawn. Afterwards, we head out of the gym with our towels around our necks and our hearts somehow lighter.

“Happy Holidays!” I call out as I head to my car.

“Have a good Sabbath!” Katherine yells back. And I think about how blessed I am. To have the light of Shabbos. To have the light of peace. To have the light of family. To have this precious cycling for the soul. Wrapped up just for me in the layers of Creation. As the sun sets this week on Friday afternoon, I cover my eyes and bless the infinite flames. And say thank You for making me a Jew today.  

December 22, 2013

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Visitor Comments: 31

(30) tatyana, December 27, 2013 8:00 PM

Baruch Hashem we areJewish!

As a recent and extremely happy Shomer Shabbos I can relate to the article completely. My life before and NOW are 2 different lives. I feel sorry for those who never experienced the beauty and, let's face it, the benefits of Shabbos.No running to the stores, no phones, no car! My long life friends feel sorry for me, I feel sorry for them. And G-d bless America for giving this opportunity, to learn and to be who we are.

Thanks for writing.

(29) ESTHER HARRIOTT, December 26, 2013 3:16 PM

I am comforted to know there are others like myself, i am not alone. my family does not see SHABBAT as i do, the joy of lighing my candles, singing beautiful songs to welcome SHABBAT and the presence of the MOST_HIGH. thank you for sharing. I am happy i dont do christmas. I am grateful for what i experience every SHABBAT. there's nothing like preparing for SHABBAT. Shalom

(28) Miryam, December 26, 2013 1:25 PM

Gentiles Feel Sorry for Me...

My non-Jewish friends and co-workers show a weird mixture of pity and disdain toward me because

I do not celebrate Xmas. They invite to their himes to "see the tree", and have dinner, watch them open their gifts. It is all I can do to avoid feeling bombarded by the holiday that is not my holiday, and has no meaning for me. Although I wish them the best for their season, they still percieve me as a pitiable scrooge. They make Channukah jokes, and bid me to "make the most of it anyway." What can I say to that? As I watch Jews in mixed-marriages celebrate Xmas with their non-Jewish spouses, see their bewildered, lost facial expression, my comkittment to Judaism is strengthened. Great article! Thank you!

(27) Brian, December 26, 2013 11:12 AM

Xmas really is like Shabbos...

When I have tried to explain Shabbos to goyim, and what it's supposed to reflect, I often relate it to the feeling of Xmas. There's the same stress - and there is a clear stress, especially in the Winter when it gets dark earlier - and the same excitement and anticipation. Except for lacking gifts and commerciality - gladly - the idea is the same: appreciation and privilege of life, and the convergence of interests and family into a unit. Guests and kids have a sense of importance and there is a tradition all feel part of. Somehow, the very fact that it's ever week helps us avoid that yearly 'culmination' thing that makes Xmas so calamitous if not anti-climactic for many Christian families, in that it can rarely live up to it's billing. Where Shabbos comes again next week, if we bickered about something this week, and for that, amongst so many other things, I am very appreciative...

(26) Sharona Malka, December 26, 2013 4:03 AM

plenty of our own

I agree, we Jews should definitely look at what we have instead of others. Shabbos/Shabbat is a beautiful day to rest and recharge both our body and soul, and connect to others and G-d.

The gentile holidays are all around us and it looks enticing to many, While many secular individuals just do it as a cultural thing with no mention of the guy, still he is the reason why Christians celebrate it. So while a secular individual might have a tree because it's nice, we need to realize what the holiday represents (about the guy). Therefore we shouldn't do something that says we believe it, even when someone doesn't believe and just wants to celebrate.

We have plenty to celebrate of our own holidays like Shabbat and the holiday Purim and Sukkot and others

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