Even though I don’t celebrate it, Christmas may well be my favorite day of the year. Actually, it may be my favorite because I don’t celebrate.
In the absence of any rituals or extended family obligations, and yet with a full day off work, my husband Joe, daughters and I have been free to create our own tradition.
For the past few years, that’s been “Tradition” with a capital T: after going out for a Chinese lunch with other Jews (usually my sister and her brood), we come home to watch a DVD of “Fiddler on the Roof.”
At first I thought I was the only person clever enough to make the most Jew-y musical ever part of our “Chinese and a movie” custom. However, I’ve recently learned from Alisa Solomon’s fascinating new book, “Wonder of Wonders,” that “Fiddler” screenings are a common staple of Jewish institutional programming on Christmas.
When we started watching “Fiddler” a few years ago, I hadn’t seen it since childhood and expected it to be over-the-top kitsch. I’ve actually been impressed with how moving and clever the film is and how, each year we notice and appreciate some new line or detail, and each year it prompts slightly different, but always interesting, conversations with our kids about Jewish history and intermarriage. Every year, I cry pretty much nonstop from the moment Hodel boards the Siberia-bound train right through the march out of Anatevka, with extra tissues needed for the scene in which Tevye turns his back on Chava.
While some Jews may secretly wish to join in the yuletide joy on the 25th – and many who are intermarried, the children of the intermarried or have close friends who are Christian actually do – I like having the day off work, yet not celebrating Christmas.
I got my fill of Christmas as a child, since my stepfather was an atheist of Protestant descent. Meanwhile, Joe, a lapsed Catholic who has been philo-Semitic since childhood, feels no special nostalgia for the day. We used to travel to my mother-in-law’s house in New Hampshire each year for Christmas (one year she gave us a menorah for a gift), but since her death in 2007, we’ve preferred to relax at home, rather than deal with the hassles of a winter solstice road trip.
This year, we’re double-booked with Jewish friends for the day: meeting one family in Chinatown, then hosting neighbors for our gala “Fiddler” screening. To life!