Christmas For Guilty Jewish Girls

Rebellion via glitter and mall music.

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My first Christmas tree was 2 1/2 feet tall. A puny, comical morsel of seasonal decor assembled with shame and fear that I’d be visited by three ghosts of Hanukkahs past. The cat could knock it over with her tail.

I was raised Jewish, quite Jewish, really. Conservative, sleepaway camp, Bat Mitzvah, read/write/speak Hebrew kind of Jewish. My grandparents kept Kosher, my favorite family memories are Shabbat dinners at their house. I knew what we were, and what we were not. What we did, and what we did not do. One of the things we did not do was Christmas.

Some groundwork: I am now Atheist, quite Atheist really. But I still love my culture, I still respect the religion, and I still believe Challah, Latkas, and Barbra Streisand are our legacy to society. But my entire life, I have really, really liked Christmas. I just didn’t admit it until I was 30.

The whole thing glitters for crying out loud! Sparkles and twinkly lights and dancing toys and giant socks full of candy and scratch off lottery cards and I always knew, “no, Shani, you can’t have any of that, it’s wrong for you to like any of that, you’re Jewish.” And thus a deep, dark guilt grew inside her like an Obscurial. She liked it, but she wasn’t supposed to.

Guilt is powered by what-ifs, unknowns, and might-bes. If you do this, then this bad thing will happen. My religion built me with countless “supposed tos” and “not supposed tos,” pertaining to Jesus and his birthday or otherwise. I essentially lived life doing things or denying myself things primarily out of guilt, rather than out of genuine motivation or affinity. Apparently they decided to boil over in the form of mulled wine. Fast forward to the end of the tape: Nothing bad will happen if you have a goddamn Christmas tree.

Let’s hear it for achieving adulthood, shall we? Sure, sex is great, but have you ever tried letting go of guilt? Have you ever tried letting go of your fears of what people might think of you? It’s the sweetest, freest taste in the world. It tastes a lot like Christmas.

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My current Christmas tree is 6 feet tall, white, and covered in lights and snowflakes. It glows in the corner of my room like the world’s most fabulous floor lamp. It makes me happy every time I see it, and I barely use other lighting sources in my home. I have not been struck by lightening, possessed, or haunted yet. As far as I know, nobody has attempted to smite me.

Hey Shani, is it just a tree we’re talking about here? It doesn’t seem like fake foliage is much to fuss about.

Actually no, it’s way more than a Christmas tree. I experiment with all sorts of activities and recipes and fun shit typically associated with Christmas. I’ve learned how to make mincemeat pies. I haven’t yet learned why they’re called mincemeat pies. On Christmas Eve, I usually cook something fancy for myself and watch Love Actually and wear a ridiculously comfortable pajama set that I’ve purchased for myself. I don’t buy the cat presents, I don’t like the message that sends and anyway she’s perfectly content to play with a crumpled up Trader Joe’s receipt.

And the films! A Muppet Christmas Carol and How The Grinch Stole Christmas and Home Alone and When Harry Met Sally (it counts). From late November through early January my home is alight with the sounds, scents, and sparkles of the holiday season. Meeting friends out at themed bars and drinking treats in mugs that look like reindeer while seasonal music people love to say they hate while secretly love plays in the background—this is how I prefer to spend my December, thank you.

What I’ve learned of adulthood is that it’s a lot of letting go. I let go of all my “supposed tos” and “not supposed tos” one at a time, testing the ghosts of old guilt trips and finding them largely uninterested in little old me. Nothing bad will happen if I decorate my apartment, or cook a recipe, or ask Alexa to play Bing Crosby’s greatest holiday hits.

The truth is that there’s nothing wrong with being raised Jewish and loving Christmas. Christmas trees and menorahs get along just fine. Your pets will demolish decorations regardless of whether or not they’re blue and silver, or red and green. Dreidel gelt and mini candy canes spend at the same conversion rate. And guilty feelings, the sadness of being left out, and regret for fun not had are all easily forgotten and replaced with a string or two of twinkling lights.

NPR once called me a humor essayist, let’s go with that. Host of A Single Serving Podcast. shanisilver[at]gmail

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