Eytan Bayme is the author of High Holiday Porn: A Memoir. With some Jewish reflections on the Christmas season to share, Eytan will be guest blogging for the Jewish Book Council all week as part of the Visiting Scribe series.
As an American Jew in England, the holiday season is like a tension in my neck that’s finally released. No Chinese restaurants or movie theaters are open on Christmas Day, no one thinks to wish you anything besides Merry Christmas, and even mentioning Happy Holidays can garner looks of confusion and suspicion. There’s nothing to do but embrace the holiday spirit, as advertisers back in the States have been trying to convince me for years.
A friend at synagogue explained to me that on Christmas, British Jews can be lumped into one of three categories: those who do nothing, those who put up a Christmas tree (though perhaps not in their front window), and those who spend the day with their families because the office is closed and there’s nothing else to do and, hell, why not roast up a goose or two since we’re all under the same roof.
This year marked my third Christmas in Europe, spent with my wife’s family at their vacation home in Langeudoc, France. That first year, like an Orthodox teen nibbling on the edge of a Big Mac just to see what the fuss was about, I played Charlie Brown’s Christmas album over and over again, getting bolder with the volume nob each time. I learned the lyrics to Dr. Suess’s “You’re a Mean One,” (composed by a Jew, by the way). And by the end, I tried leading my in laws in a rendition of The First Noel, which they found a bit too religious for their taste.
Last year, we went to a holiday party at a friend’s house in Sussex. We were greeted at the door by a life size Santa (Father Christmas, as he’s called here) who sang and danced in place when you got too close to him. There were three of these robot Santas throughout the house. In an upstairs bedroom our host was preparing for his granddaughters’ arrival in a few days; four single beds were made up with furry white and red sheets. The floor was covered, ankle deep, in synthetic snow. I wished I could stick around for the magic.
As I write this on December 23rd, looking out on the Pyrenees Mountains, awaiting the rest of my wife’s family, I’m looking forward to cooking them the six-pound chicken I bought at the charcuterie. It wasn’t shechted according to tradition, but the butcher ritualized it in his own way by defeathering and lopping its head off as I watched. I'll massage garlic and then lemon into its meat and surround it with potatoes rubbed with goose fat (“roasties”), carrots and more garlic. The Queen will speak on Christmas day, but we won’t watch. It’s like Thanksgiving in American without the football. Last year we had a tree. It was closer to a bush that my father-in-law hacked down in the woods beside the creek in back of the house. We propped it up in a bucket filled with stones and covered it in tinsel and family pictures and whatever else we could find around the house. Who knows if we’ll have one this year, but if we do, I’ve cleared an area beneath the stairs for it.
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