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. 

Eytan Bayme is a grad­u­ate of McGill Uni­ver­si­ty and a for­mer stage actor. Orig­i­nal­ly from New York City, he lives with his wife in Lon­don. High Hol­i­day Porn is his first book.

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