There's a reason I don't have a Christmas Tree

Posted: Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Stop. Take a whiff of the air around you. Go on. Get two or three. If people start looking at you like there's a wolf pelt on your head, just tell them the Empire told you to do it. No one will think you're crazy then.

Smell that? Kind of a cinnamon mixed with wood smoke mixed with defrosted dog fur? Yeah, that's Christmas. But while Christmas may be in the air, here on the ground some of us are already celebrating our own seasonal excuse to bake cookies and buy Kindles. This year, in a phenomenon scientists term "holiday inversion," Hanukkah actually comes first.

In fact, tonight marks the sixth of eight total nights of Hanukkah. Traditionally, this is when socks and underwear come to an end, and Jews start getting to the good stuff, like home theater systems and camouflage-pattern travel guitars (hint, hint).

At my house, we'll be cooking customary Hanukkah potato pancakes, or latkes. Although I've been watching a lot of Top Chef recently, and it's making me into one of those annoying arm-chair gourmands, so I think I might fry the latkes in bacon fat. Don't tell my rabbi.

Yes, I celebrate Hanukkah. Enthusiastically, some say. But let me go on record: the "War on Christmas" is not my war (nor do I support a troop surge in Afghanistan.) Likewise, I don't advocate socialized holidays - with or without a public option. I'm not saying "Kill Santa." Even though he's several hundred years old and morbidly obese, I wouldn't dream of convening a death panel.

In other words, I like Christmas. I do. I've got no problem saying "Merry Christmas," and I certainly don't get sand in my yarmulke when someone says it to me. Honestly, who has the time or energy to take issue with people wishing merriment - any kind of merriment - as opposed to the verbal feces we usually fling at each other?

Of course, it's hard not to love a holiday that spells two solid months of eggnog. Can you believe before we moved to Alaska, neither I nor my wife -who's also a member of the tribe, and I don't mean Tlingit-Haida - had ever tasted eggnog before? Man, that's some good stuff. It's like melted ice cream that sometimes gets you wasted.

And then, of course, there's the gift-giving. Now, modern Hanukkah does entail gifts (cough, cough, camo-pattern travel guitar, cough). But that's because this is America, land of the free, home of the Whopper.

For those unfamiliar with Judaism, let me hip you (as only a Jew can): Hanukkah has almost zero religious importance, nowhere on the order of say, the birthday of a messiah. Biblically-speaking, the holiday commemorates a small band of ancient Hebrews who, after defeating the Romans, lit one day's worth of oil that miraculously lasted eight. Incidentally, this no longer seems all that miraculous, given today's hybrid technology.

Where in there does it say anything about presents? If you ask me, the main reason Jews give each other Hanukkah gifts is so they don't have to give each other Christmas gifts and still not look like cheapskates. That would be way too stereotypical.

And so, 'tis the season for impulse-buying. Seriously, I've given my wife more cartoon-character pajamas than there are days in our laundry cycle (and it's a long cycle). I also got her a Snuggie - you know, one of those sleeved blankets, because un-sleeved blankets are so complicated? Fred Meyer put those on display in September, and I'm surprised I held out as long as I did. Maybe if they carried the Slanket brand instead I would've cracked sooner. But we're a Snuggie family now; there's no turning back.

Anyway, while I agree that Christmas makes a great case for truly being the most wonderful time of year, it's not my holiday, plain and simple.

And that, for all who've asked me recently, is why I don't have a Christmas Tree.

Even if I don't call it a Christmas Tree, that's still what it is. I mean, I wouldn't expect a non-Jewish family - not matter how progressive or multi-cultural - to put a giant menorah in their living room, whether or not it had a different name, like whatever the equivalent of "Hanukkah Bush" would be. "Christmas Candelabra?" E-mail me if you come up with anything better.

I did, however, string some Christmas lights around our deck railing. But that was for ambiance, and to help me see the grill better. This past weekend I totally scorched some Hanukkah ribeyes, which was kind of like getting a lump of coal in your stocking, only we had to eat it. And we'd almost run out of ketchup. Miraculously though, the ketchup lasted longer than expected. Maybe not eight nights, but long enough to mask the charred ruins of some salmon I destroyed the following night. Now that was a miracle.

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