I Wish You a Jewish Christmas and a Happy New Year

Jewish Christmas. It’s a hashtag on Twitter. @JewishTweets and @JewishConnectiv both asked people about their movie/Chinese food plans. We, of course, had those plans, as we have for years. I can’t even remember when we first did this; certainly I didn’t get it from my parents. In the 1950s-60s Chinese food was still exotic enough that I don’t think I even had some until I was a teen. My mom did buy canned Chung King stuff, though. We also almost never went to the movies when I was little, only drive-ins in the summer.

For many years, when the kids were little, we spent every Christmas vacation in Florida visiting grandparents. There were the weeks when our days completely revolved around the pool and we had such a good time with other young parents and kids similarly visiting their families. Then there were weeks when we bundled up in our winter coats and went to Sea World. Several times the fake waterfall outside my in-laws condo development froze. Even south Florida can get cold in December. But without really knowing that we were on the cutting edge of something that would become A HASHTAG!, we would take the kids to the movies Christmas day because there was nothing else to do, and then we’d eat Chinese food for dinner because no other restaurants were open. The kids loved driving by all the houses with Christmas lights. That was one thing about south Florida: Christmas was obvious in a way it wasn’t necessarily in New York City.

These days my now-adult kids say they never felt deprived around Christmas time. They say the accepted completely that Christmas was a holiday we didn’t celebrate. The year my son was six, his friend Willy confided that he was getting suspicious about Santa Claus because Santa had used the same wrapping paper as his parents. “I think that’s proof,” I overheard my son tell his best friend.

Me, on the other hand, I had horrible Christmas envy. Growing up, the only other Jewish family besides my uncle’s (who lived next to us) in the neighborhood was the rabbi of our synagogue. The Jews in Worcester lived in and around the streets that had once been part of “The Ellis Estate.” We lived on a 1/3 acre that had been part of the “Salisbury Estate.” My parents tended to do things differently. When they finally retired, they went to Sanibel Island and then wondered where all the Jews were.

So there I was on Waconah Road, looking out on Christmas decorations on every house. Friends’ parents invited me to tree-trimming parties, which my parents let me do (though my mom would not let me go to the WASPy “Cotillion” classes when they began). I even went to midnight mass with friends. One of my nicest memories is waking up on a Christmas morning when it had snowed a foot during the night, and all the neighbors, including my father, uncle and brother, were outside to shovel the street so people could get to church. So even though I what I really wanted was a Christmas Tree and a stocking hung up on living room fireplace, what I have carried into my adult life is a good value: help your neighbors, no matter what their religion.

New Years Eve also seemed to pass me by when I was a child. One year we went to a fancy party thrown by my best friend’s parents. Kitty wore a sleeveless green velvet dress with a drop waist that her father had purchased in Paris. I wore a wool skirt. (No wonder I’m always afraid of being dressed incorrectly.) Yeah, my college, post-college New Year’s Eves were filled with drunken revels. But once I was married — the Florida thing. Professors have Christmas vacation. We’d go out to dinner, but we were certainly in bed by midnight. So in the years when friends started their New Years Eve rituals, we were in Florida. A few years back, when there was no longer any reason to hit the tropics, we found we had nothing to do.

Several times Howard and I went outside before midnight and walked to the boat pond gazebo right off Central Park West to see the New York Road Runners Club Midnight Run and fireworks. That was great fun. But then it got crowded; it became a “thing,” like the blowing up of the balloons before the Thanksgiving Parade. Last year we went into Great Barrington to hear the Berkshire Bach Ensemble play Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos. This year we’re going again–with our daughter’s boyfriend’s parents. Then it will be back to their house for dinner (the concert ends about 7:30) for Veuve Clicquot. I expect we’ll be home by midnight. But we will have had a wonderful time.

People make a big deal of the holiday season. Considering how short and dark these days are, it’s a good idea. I loved how Hanukkah came so late this year. It gave the candle lighting more joy–menorahs in the window! (The last night, with all those candles going, we set off the fire alarm. Oh well.)

The holiday customs we inherit, those we make ourselves–it’s interesting, especially considering that baby boomers are the largest population cohort ever. You can leave your comments below. I’d love to know:

  • What holiday traditions have you inherited and still keep up.
  • What holiday traditions you have make up.
  • Whether you think holiday customs are important or have anything to do with who we are.

To everyone out there: Wishing you the best holiday season. See you on the flip side.

Oh, and here’s a picture from our Hanukkah party. And I’ll give you my latke recipe. This year I made the best latkes ever. Then again, it’s not a recipe I practice a lot. So

8 baking potatoes

2 large onions

1/2 cup flour

4 eggs

salt, pepper

I use one large potato for every person, and adjust the recipe accordingly. Peel and grate the potatoes. I do this in the food processor, although I know latkes taste better when grated by hand. Mix everything together in a large bowl (not metal) so that it’s one big mess. Drain off the extra liquid. There will be more and more of that as the mixture sits. Also, grated potatoes left out in the air turn kind of orange. That doesn’t matter. I use a cast iron skillet with about 4 tbls of oil for each batch. I take out enough grated potato so it’s the size of a small hamburg and press it pretty flat. Each batch has about six pancakes. The flame is medium high because they need to cook through but be really crisp. If necessary turn over more than once. Keep adding oil. Remember: Hanukkah is all about the oil. I then drain them on paper towel that’s on a  baking sheet in the warmer drawer. This way everyone can eat at the same time. Serve the latkes with applesauce and/or sour cream. As I make them only once a year, the latkes are the feature of the dinner, and the sides include whitefish salad, marinated vegetables, etc. Most people use them as a side dish with some other “traditional” main dish, like roast brisket.

Always remember you can tweet me @wordwhacker