How One Jewish Writer Learned to Love Christmas (Kinda)

But don't take her anywhere near Peacock Lane.

By Rebecca Clarren November 20, 2018 Published in the December 2018 issue of Portland Monthly

Image: Jack Dylan

My husband and I fell in love in December. Under the mistletoe, I confessed: If you want a future with me, understand, I don’t do Christmas. I’ll have a Christmas tree when pigs fly.

I am a Jew. When I was growing up in Seattle, my family typically spent Christmas Day cross-country skiing. It was quiet, often lonely. To not celebrate America’s most beloved holiday isn’t comfortable. But that was the point.

Core to my family’s brand of Jewish identity is empathy, seeing yourself in the disenfranchised. As straight white liberals in the Pacific Northwest, Christmas was practically the only time my family was at odds with the mainstream, that we were different. Any future kids of mine, I figured, would need to understand what it means to be Jewish—part of a tribe that isn’t like everyone else—by not celebrating Christmas.

But as soon as our first child was old enough to crawl, it became clear that my Buddhist husband, the one who never goes to church, really likes Christmas. He likes presents and something he calls “the magic of Santa.” And he loves himself a Christmas tree.

He pointed out his embrace of the many Jewish traditions we celebrate. He reminded me that in good marriages, one person doesn’t get to lead the sleigh all the time. And he gently suggested that perhaps our children could form a Jewish identity by feeling special, not different. My inner-Grinch began to shrink as rapidly as the melting glaciers.

We still don’t sit on Santa’s lap or visit Peacock Lane (the words “Singing Christmas Tree” will never cross my children’s lips), but every year we drive up to a tree farm on Skyline. We trudge through the mud with our bow saw, searching for the very best fir. I minimize the ritual with talk about bringing the winter inside, but in truth, I love when the smell of evergreen sap fills the living room. I love the weird ornaments the kids make out of yarn and paper clips. I love the rainbow lights glowing on their faces. And at the very top of our tree? A wood-and-wire flying pig.

Journalist Rebecca Clarren will not be spotted in Portland wearing a Santa hat. Her debut novel, Kickdown, published in September, was short-listed for the PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction.
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