December 23, 2010

Christmas.... From The Outside

So, as many of you know, I am experiencing Christmas from the outside. As opposed to most of you, who are experiencing Christmas from the inside. NOT that I'm implying that you're in jail, which is a different 'inside' to the one I'm referring to (er... not that there's anything wrong with being in jail (er... actually, there is)).

No, I'm talking about being Jewish at Christmas time, which is an interesting experience, given that most people in Australia are not.

Being Jewish at Christmas time is like waving everyone off to a huge annual party that you're not invited to. You've never been invited to this party, and really have no great interest in going, as you have your own annual party just a couple of weeks earlier*. Still, you do feel slightly wistful when you think about all the goodie bags everyone else is going to get, and wonder vaguely what a real Christmas turkey tastes like.

For those who don't know, Jews don't 'do' Christmas. Jews believe in the existence of Jesus, but do not recognise him as the son of God. So we do not celebrate Christmas, just as people outside the British colonies do not celebrate the Queen's birthday. It is just not relevant to us.

However, in this country, the irrelevance is irrelevant. Because here in Australia, Christmas is EVERYWHERE, and it does feel a little disenfranchising to be so obviously removed from the dominant culture (or, to use a slightly less technical term, it makes you feel kind of left out). This isn't such a big deal for me - I mean, most of my friends are Jewish and none of us celebrate Christmas - however it can be odd for the kids.

All three of my kids are bombarded with Christmas images in the media and in the shops. They are forever being asked what Santa is bringing them, and if they're excited about Christmas. My big kids are old enough to understand, and just smile politely, or say 'we don't celebrate Christmas'. Three year old Boo, on the other hand, has completely bought into the propaganda, asking frequently when Christmas is coming (er, soon) and if Santa is coming down the chimney (er, no). And she simply doesn't understand why we don't do Christmas when iCarly and the Simpsons and Spongebob Squarepants and Shrek and every other significant character in her life (okay, fictional character, but she doesn't quite differentiate at this stage) does.

Still, there are definite advantages to not celebrating Christmas. For a start, I don't have to buy presents for everyone I know, which I can only imagine is excruciatingly difficult and time-consuming and expensive, fraught with the potential for error and hurt feelings. Of course, I don't get presents either, but that's a pay off I can live with (except when I buy Chrissy presents for my non-Jewish friends as a mark of respect, and, as a mark of respect, they don't buy presents for me. In this situation, I'd rather disrespect.).

Furthermore, I imagine that it must be tremendously difficult for many of you to have the wonderful Christmas day that is expected, particularly for those of you from broken or blended families, or who have suffered the death of a loved one. As someone who has lost a family member, I'm kind of glad not to have another formal reminder of her absence.

So what do I actually do on Christmas day? Well, everyone is on holidays so it's a great time to get together with the people I love. When I was young, I used to go to Bondi Beach with a huge group of my Jewish friends, and hang out in the sun with the British backpackers while the rest of the country was inside eating ham. These days, I go to my parents' house on the coast with my husband and kids, and we have a barbeque lunch. There's no tree and there's no presents, but we do buy Christmas crackers because it's fun for the kids. And, whilst there's no turkey or ham or bizarro white desserts, my mum makes a brilliant fruitcake, which we devour with custard, simply because it's yum.

And there's my Christmas on the outside. So a very happy belated Chanukah to all my fellow outsiders (and a generic Season's Greetings to those of other (or no) faiths).

And to all of you celebrating Christmas from the inside, I hope your day is everything you wish for it to be, and you get all the presents you'd want for yourself (with maybe a couple of extras thrown in that you hadn't thought of).

Merry Christmas guys.

Love, Kerri

*Chanukah, the festival of lights, which admittedly isn't as big as Christmas, but also starts with a 'Ch'

42 comments:

  1. Fascinating post! When I've been chatting with you on Twitter in the past few days I've been assuming you were as caught up in the Christmas madness as the rest of us- but of course, you're free! You're FREE! That must be kind of libearting... we're semi-opting out of Christmas this year due to our circumstances (spending it with friends, not family, and Santa is only bringing cash b/c I have already packed the boxes to go back to Melb) and I've got to say I'm LOVING it. Not missing the family expectations, the shopping crowds or the credit card hammering at all.
    Maybe the chosen people are onto something. But before I convert, you have to change your mind about bacon.

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  2. Having a Jewish online friend for a number of years now has taught me a lot about Judaism and it's traditions. Absolutely fascinating for me, as someone who has led a fairly sheltered life when it comes to experiencing others' religions and customs.

    Thanks for the post!
    x

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  3. Great post Kerri.

    A few years back I interviewed a Jewish friend for a piece in Sunny Days. The research allowed me to learn a little more about Judaism and its beautiful, family and community focused traditions and customs. As a fairly new agnostic I currently look at what religious practices achieve and symbolise. Love,family and friends are the best universal themes no matter which way we define or celebrate them IMO.

    Happy holidays to you and yours. Can't wait for your fabulous 2011. xxx

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  4. I find this terribly interesting as someone who has been raised with Christmas but has never (in the past, at least) particularly enjoyed it. Now, as an agonstic-type-atheist-sort-of person, I feel almost cheap enjoying it to this day because I don't necessarily believe what created it. But really, it all boils down to family and friends for me. And the Christmas tree? Well, I just think it looks good.

    I hope you have a fabulous holiday nonetheless Kerri xxoo

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  5. As an atheist (of the 'post-Christian' cultural variety) Christmas isn't a big deal for me - but it is an important holiday for my family and I'm happy to celebrate the year that has passed - as long as we avoid the consumeristic (is that a word!?) excess.

    It has always fascinated me how other families celebrate (or don't) at this time of year! Was it hard raising kids in this 'Christmas obsessed' society? Or was it pretty easy for them to understand the differences between their cultural/religious practices and others?

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  6. Thanks Kerri, it's so refreshing to read about this experience. It wasn't easy for those of us who were state schooled- in primary years we were taught carols while fielding endless queries into what Santa would(n't) be bringing us! There's no denying that 'left out' feeling in the big warm-and-fuzzy-fest and my nearly 4yo is already asking the tricky questions about the bearded guy.
    As kids we adored the Xmas TV marathons as consolation. But now, as an adult who has no need to run around like a headless chook with a friction-burnt VISA card, I can *finally* see the upside!
    Our current annual Xmas day tradition is lining up with some Jewish friends for a bbq at the park alongside the Indian folk :)
    Season's greetings everyone, for whatever it is that you do, or don't celebrate. xxx

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  7. Hon, it sounds to me like you have the perfect Christmas Day going on - pretty much what we do, but without the extra stress and the strained credit card balance. (Altho, to be honest, we don't go nuts at Christmas with the spending like some people do.)

    I admit it - I love this time of year. My Mum always made a big deal of it, and being a Catholic, it's my fave time of year in Church. Very uplifting and I love belting out a good carol or two. (In a very non-Mariah Carey kinda way - but who cares?)

    So, rather than wish you a Merry Christmas, I'll just say here's to a great 2011 and much love and best wishes all year round to you and your family.

    PS - Looking forward to your book coming out next year. Woot! I'll consider that a late Christmas pressie to myself. ;)

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  8. Great post Kerri. As a mark of respect I will not wish you a Merry Christmas - but I'm sending Peace and Joy vibes your way. x

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  9. Your December 25 sounds like the kind of day that I crave. We are actually trying to have just that on Saturday - just our family - good food, a decent bottle of champers, and a Nanna Nap in the afternoon. It's a time to actually stop and breathe after the craziness of 2010. Thanks for sharing what this time of year is like from "the outside".

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  10. Loved this post .. I didn't know that about you. I've just spent two hours hunched over in a pool of sweat, wrapping presents for my entire extended family. Am now crippled.

    Happy holidays love - hangin' to see you again one day!

    XO

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  11. Kerri, I'm not Jewish, so I've asked my good friend fender4eva who's even older than I am, to wish you and all your readers, Seasons Greetings. Love, Santa xxx Ps. Ho ho ho....

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  12. Great post :-)

    Although, I have to say, I think that you don't have to believe in the message behind Xmas to enjoy it. Or does one have to believe in Christ as the son of god, as such, and are we being fraudulent if we don't? Hmmm.

    Many of my Jewish friends celebrate (or perhaps the correct phrase is "go along with") Christmas, in the commercial, "let's have Santa for the kids, and then have a nice lunch together", sense - not in the whole belief/worship sense.

    For myself, I am of Catholic background (but with some Jewish ancestry, interestingly...) but am now a complete non-believer. I enjoy the whole Xmas thing and celebrate it as a family-coming-together occasion.

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  13. To answer some questions:
    amy_eb, yes, it's initally hard to explain to your kids why the world is celebrating Xmas and you're not, but once they get past 4 or 5 they totally accept it. They've never done it, so it's just not an issue for them. They also get little presents on Chanukah a couple of weeks earlier (traditionally you're supposed to give money & lollies but most people extend to small gifts) so even the lack of presents isn't a problem.

    And 41 Baby Project - Everyone has to do what's right for them, but I wouldn't do Xmas at all, being Jewish. I don't think you necessarily have to believe in god to celebrate Xmas, but I do feel being born Christian is a pre-requisite. As I said, it's like celebrating the Queen's birthday if you live in the U.S. You just wouldn't. I know many Jews do a secular version of Xmas, but no Christians do a secular version of Passover, or Chanukah, so, you know.....!

    xxxx

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  14. Just re-reading my earlier comment, I can see I should have said 'those of us Jewish kids who were state schooled...'. Doesn't make quite as much sense as it should have otherwise...ah well. Another champers! :)

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  15. Kind of like when my husband's Greek neighbours ply us with food & red eggs at Greek Easter, my children love it as they'll eat anything & the 'mother' loves it as she waited a really long time to have grandchildren, she was more than happy to play pretend with our 4 blondies for the day. It's just interesting to learn about different customs & personally if gourmet food is being handed out, no one loses!!
    FYI we don't even believe in Jesus & we celebrate Christmas because it's family fun & my parents refuse to listen to my antiChrist ways. Who cares, it's just fun to eat, laugh & be, together in Summer!! Love Posie

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  16. So fascinating, Kerri! I have, for a long time, had total religion jealousy of Judaism even though I am not religous!

    Matzah ball soup and BAGELS! And all of the totally cool words they use. Do you use cool jewish words, Kerri? Or have I been totally duped by television?

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  17. Erin: You mean words like 'broigas' (being cranky), 'mishegas' (nonsense, ridiculous fuss), 'meshugena' (crazy), 'yehoopitz' (far far away), 'shlep' (travel)........

    Yes. Yes I do!

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  18. After still feeling the effects of last nights Christmas party, I'm about to give it all and join a Nunnery.

    Wait, that work.

    Thanks Kerri, I wanted to know all that stuff but didn't want to seem ignorant or rude by asking. I know you wouldn't have minded, but this is great. xx


    Have a great day eating fruit cake.

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  19. Thanks Kerri, it's so refreshing to read about this experience. It wasn't easy for those of us who were state schooled- in primary years we were taught carols while fielding endless queries into what Santa would(n't) be bringing us! There's no denying that 'left out' feeling in the big warm-and-fuzzy-fest and my nearly 4yo is already asking the tricky questions about the bearded guy.
    As kids we adored the Xmas TV marathons as consolation. But now, as an adult who has no need to run around like a headless chook with a friction-burnt VISA card, I can *finally* see the upside!
    Our current annual Xmas day tradition is lining up with some Jewish friends for a bbq at the park alongside the Indian folk :)
    Season's greetings everyone, for whatever it is that you do, or don't celebrate. xxx

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  20. An interesting read. While my family heritage is actually Jewish, it was on the male side and therefore not passed down to us (I believe that's how it works?). We celebrate Christmas but I've often wondered what it would be like to follow a different faith at this time of year. 

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  21. Happy Public Holiday Season to you Kerri!

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  22. I'm over it. I wanna join your team!

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  23. For the record, real Christmas turkey looks (and tastes) very similar to regular roast turkey. It does have a texture and effect similar to popping candy, though...

    That said, Christmas pudding is pretty much the best thing ever on the face of the planet.

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  24. Christmas is a fun time of year to get together with family and friends. I find it hard to reconcile the gift exchange, Santa and the other paraphernalia with the religious side of it. 
    I have a house full of family (around 25) on Xmas Day and Boxing Day so it's quite exhausting and I'm usually just relieved when it's over.

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  25. Hi Kerri
    Being Jewish too, my little girl explains that santa knows not to stop at our house as he sees the #mezzuzah on the front door!
    Melanie

    #What is a Mezuzah?A
    mezuzah is a sacred parchment inscribed by hand with two portions of Torah. It
    is stored in a protective case and hung on the doorposts of Jewish homes.

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  26. Another who doesn't celebrate Christmas!  You're so right in your description. And it really, really is EVERYwhere. My kids (well, Alexander. Sammy, even though he's 4, he has no concept of what we're talking about {ASD for both boys}) and just explain it to people.

    And then get the whole "Oh, you poor thing" and he's like "Why?" He gets presents and special days randomly, all throughout the year, with no excuse but that we love him. Ditto to parties, huge family gatherings etc.

    I love that Christmas time we're not stressing over gifts either (though we sure as hell can take advantage of the sales,lol) and that Joel has time off and we're all together.

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  27. My biggest problem at Christmas time for the past few years has been convincing my very, very literal ASD boy NOT to break it to the other kids that Santa isn't real!  He doesn't mean any harm, he just is big on knowledge is power, when you learn something you share it,lol. Have had to explain to him that it's really not his place to explain about Santa/Easter Bunny/ et al.

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  28. This is the first year my kids haven't believed in Santa. The relief of not having to lie & pretend & hide stuff & shop on the sly is so large it must be almost as good as being Jewish :)

    Great blog! xx

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  29. as a checkoutchick Kerri - some times I'm not aware what religion my loved customers are - so what do I say? I hate " Happy Holidays"its American - or it is to me to P.C! I happily wish happy Chanuakah if I'm aware of it,I am sorry that Boo is confused tho!x

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  30. Eish... (South Africanism.) I started typing a whole megillah (Yiddishism) and just dont have the energy! Be happy! Thats all. I am a Yid. I LOVE being a Yid! But oh how I do love xmas!!!! ANY excuse for a party! Yes it gets a lil confusing with kids... But you tell me, What doesn't get confusing when you have kids and you dont live in a shtetl? You gotta be confient in who you are and what you believe in - and your kids... Well, they mirror you. Know who you are and embrace everything! We celebrate Chanukah, then we celebrate Christmakah. And we LOVE the December holidays! (Even in the Northern Hemisphere where we only have 2 icy cold -vomit- weeks!) Oiy! How I miss the Southern Hemisphere!!!! Just embrace the world you live in - it's warm!

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  31. Yes, I do embrace the Southern Hemisphere! But no, I won't be celebrating Xmas!

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  32. I would never get offended if someone wished me Merry Xmas. Any warm wish is a warm wish, as far as I'm concerned x

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  33. I know exactly what you mean. Too funny! x

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  34. That's nice. I love that explanation.

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  35. Oh I'm SURE it's utterly exhausting!

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  36. You know, having tasted pudding, I think I may agree...

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  37. Correct, Judaism is passed down on the mother's side. But come visit any time!

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