My Kind of Christmas Special

There is an enormous inflatable Santa on our next-door neighbors’ front lawn, angled perfectly so as to greet us with his hokey grin whenever we turn up our driveway. For someone famous for jolliness, he certainly inspires quite a bit of sarcasm within my Jewish family. My father jokes that we should steal it or deflate it in the middle of the night. My mother thinks we should counterattack with a giant inflatable menorah. I actually kind of like it. I didn’t always, though. I didn’t always like Christmas, either. In fact, I hated it. What was the root of all this resentment? I’ve given this a lot of thought. As someone who was (and probably still is) “stuff”-oriented, I hated Christmas not because of any spiritual issue with its story, but because I was jealous of all the shiny new toys that came along with it. And yet my inner Freud thinks there is more to it than that. Let me explain. I was raised on Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel and, come winter, their respective Christmas specials (always so much more enticing than the Hanukkah specials). Those specials are what I came to know as Christmas, complete with miracles, magic and enough holiday spirit to make you vomit. And I think it was this spirit, cheesy as it was, that I coveted. My family’s not big on holiday fanfare. We rarely make big plans for Thanksgiving, and honestly, I could come to the table at home in sweatpants and no one would mind. We rarely go to parties on New Year’s Eve; instead, we sit at home, toast with seltzer water (which, by the way, we drink every other day of the year), and go to bed. We don’t make a fuss out of anniversaries or birthdays. That is simply not our way. Yet this time of year has historically been a great source of stress for me. As a more-neurotic-than-average human being, I always got very anxious around holidays, birthdays and the like. I wanted elaborate festivities, sheer joy and unrelenting spirit. I wanted miracles. I wanted my life to be a Disney special, dammit. But holidays came and went, celebrated with less than Disney-level enthusiasm, and my frustration grew, aimed not at the holidays themselves but at my gloomy, cheerless family. Christmas—or at least what I knew to be Christmas—was everything I wanted in holidays and never seemed to find. But perhaps, in my feisty determination to bring holiday spirit home, I those aspects of our celebrations that, in their own unconventional ways, had become tradition. Come Hanukkah, for instance, we’ll drag out the old menorah (or is it hannukiah?) and argue about which prayers are sung in which order on which night. My mother, following her brief stint in the temple choir, will attempt to harmonize the abovementioned prayers. We’ll lose count of which night we’re on (eight is an awful lot to keep track of) and we’ll probably end two nights early by accident. My mother might make several batches of latkes one night and freeze them for later; they will then undoubtedly be forgotten because none of us really likes latkes all that much. We absolutely will not play dreidel because dreidel really isn’t very fun. This is how it always happens. And there is something to be valued in “always.” Like my family’s Hanukkah, there is nothing spectacular about the way we spend Christmas day. There’s no tree, no lights, no gingerbread. We go to the movies (past selections have included Mouse Hunt and Jingle All the Way) and then to a Chinese restaurant for dinner, where we see a good two-thirds of Andover’s Jewish population. ABC Family wouldn’t make a Christmas special about movies and Chinese food, but here’s what I have to say to ABC Family: Joy, spirit, cheer and all those other corny intangibles hide in some pretty weird places. Maybe you find yours in stockings and wreaths, or maybe you have a real spiritual connection to the Christmas story—I’d respect you either way. But I think that I’m living proof that anyone, including a Jew, can have a “perfect” Christmas. Erica Segall is a four-year Senior from Andover, Mass. and the Director of Writing & Copy of The Phillipian.