Growing up in a Jewish family on Long Island, we celebrated the usual major Jewish holidays of the year -- Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, Hanukkah, and Passover.
We also celebrated Christmas.
Not in the way that Christians do -- there was no Christmas tree in our home, no attendance at Church on Christmas morning, no excited anticipation waiting for Santa Claus to arrive down the chimney. But celebrate Christmas, we did.
On Long Island there was a long standing tradition for the local Jews, something I looked forward to every year. On Christmas day, we would gather together with many of the other Jews in town at the local Chinese restaurant, which did a brisk business. It was the only time of the year when we could look around the restaurant and feel like the majority,
because except for the occasional Oriental face, most of the faces we gazed upon were decidedly Jewish.
After consuming our meal, we would head to the other big activity of the day -- the movie theater. Every year on Christmas day, the movie theater would open as usual, attracting large crowds of Jews who would pour through the turnstile for their afternoon's entertainment. Since going to
the movies as a family was not something we ordinarily did, I looked forward to Christmas day movies probably almost as much as some of our Christian neighbors looked forward to presents underneath the tree.
One Christmas day stands out in my memory.
I was seventeen and in the throes of adolescent rebellion. I was stuck at the hip to the current love of my life, a blond haired blue eyed hunk named Ken MacDonald. He was without question, not Jewish. Much to my parent's dismay, I'm sure, none of my boyfriends were even remotely Jewish.
On this particular Christmas, I announced to my family that I would NOT be partaking in the usual family celebration of Christmas. I had better things to do with my time -- I would be joining my boyfriend Ken with his family for their Christmas holiday. Now, understand, this was not just like I was saying to my folks, "I won't be home tonight." We had
celebrated Christmas together as a family since I was born.
Out the door I marched, to spend the day with Ken and his family. I wouldn't be surprised if my mom or dad had a tear in their eye as I went, but they stayed silent. I planted myself on Ken's couch and watched the Christmas festivities all around me -- the opening of the presents, the festive meal, and so on. And... I was miserable.
All I could think about is what my family was doing at that moment, and how much I missed being with them. This feeling surprised me at that tender age, when I scarcely wanted to be with family at all. What could compare to spending the day with the boy I was gaga over?
Suddenly, sitting right on Ken's sofa, I broke out in tears. I babbled something incoherent to Ken about realizing that I really needed to be with my family on that special day. I'm sure he really didn't understand. I'm not sure that I did . I swallowed my pride and called my parents, meekly asking if it was too late for me to accompany them on their
Christmas day venture. Of course they were delighted to hear from me and immediately included me in their day.
I don't remember the movie we saw that night, or the Chinese meal I'm sure we enjoyed. But now, twenty-four years later, I still remember the feeling of knowing that I belonged with my family on this very special holiday.
Written by Azriela Jaffe
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