Happy Holidays … And a Better New Year!

I don’t know how many really do or don’t, but I was never a Jewish child that wished he could celebrate Christmas. Wasn’t jealous, or envious, or whatever. (I’m not as an adult either.) I’ve always understood that I live in a country where Christian is the dominant culture. Personally, I like all the Christmas music in stores at this time of year! And I certainly don’t mind if people wish me a Merry Christmas. But I’m Jewish. Given how multi-cultural our continent has become, I generally go with Happy Holidays myself. (Or Happy Birthday, since December 25 is when my brother David was born.)

Hanukkah is a fine little holiday. I certainly enjoyed the presents I got when I was a kid. I still enjoy the gifts I get now. But Hanukkah is not “Jewish Christmas.” It’s a minor holiday in the Jewish year that just happens to be at the same time as Christmas so it gets the attention. (I do believe that  gift-giving has long been a part of Hanukkah, but I’m sure that it’s gone over-the-top in modern times in an effort to keep up with Christmas. Not that I’m really complaining.)

Hanukkah
Presents for the family Hanukkah party at my mother’s house, 1998.

All this being said, I’ve always enjoyed the many Jewish traditions at Christmas. Movies on Christmas Eve! Chinese food! And, for our family during most of my growing-up years, skiing on Christmas Day on slopes that were practically empty and without lift lines!

When Barbara and I very quickly reached the point where we knew that marriage was in our future, she told me she would like to convert. There was never any pressure from me or my family; it was something she wanted to do. The only thing my parents would have asked was that she respect our family traditions. Apparently there’s a relative in my extended family whose non-Jewish wife once shouted, “three cheers for the Baby Jesus!” at a family Hanukkah party. It didn’t go over well! (One added bonus of Barbara becoming Jewish was that there were few decisions for Josh and Amanda about the holidays: Christmas with their father and his family, Hanukkah with their mother and me and my family. The same with Easter and Passover.)

The first Christmas Barbara and I spent together was in 1992. I cooked steaks, peas and mashed potatoes on Christmas Eve. On Christmas Day, we watched Gone With the Wind on television. Not really anyone’s idea of tradition, but certainly something I’ll always remember. The next year, we saw Schindler’s List on December 24 … but it turned out to be the only year we ever saw a movie together on Christmas Eve.

Barbara’s mother very quickly came to love the Jewish traditions of my family. Like Barbara, her mother was an only child and they both enjoyed being part of a large, warm family. Alice would join us for Seders, High Holidays and Hanukkah parties, but she never gave up her Christmases. Why should she?

In 1994, Alice invited Barbara and me to her apartment for Christmas Eve and then back for dinner on Christmas Day. (My parents came too.) Barbara’s father died in November of 1995, and there was no way we’d leave Alice alone for Christmas after that. Christmas Eve at her apartment followed by dinner on Christmas Day in one of Toronto’s finer hotels became our new tradition. After my father died, my mother sometimes joined us. It was always very nice … but Barbara and I did miss the movies!

Xmas
Christmas dinner at the Royal York Hotel, 1999.

After moving to Owen Sound in 2006 (Alice moved up here about 18 months later), we were all invited to Christmas with friends a time or two, but as Alice’s health declined, Barbara and I began making Christmas dinner for her at our house. Even after she passed away in 2012, we continued to make a small Christmas dinner for ourselves. We didn’t exchange gifts, but I always made Barbara a Christmas stocking. It usually consisted of some chocolates, an orange, and a special-edition magazine. Not much, but she looked forward to it each year. I did too. It’s definitely going to be strange this year without that.

So, Happy Holidays everyone and may 2019 be a better year for us all. I’ve been very touched over the last little while by the reception these personal stories have received. I don’t know how often I’ll keep it up going forward. My feeling is, I won’t write much about sports – unless someone is paying me to do it! – but I will continue to write, so you never know what you might see in these pages.

17 thoughts on “Happy Holidays … And a Better New Year!

  1. I felt very nostalgic reading this this morning. I remember the wonderful family skiing on Christmas Day with no crowds that we went to from the cottage and then spend the rest of the holidays up there. I remember the Hannukah parties at home with so many gifts that I always felt that Christian homes could not have as many gifts as we had. I remember you telling me that you watched Gone With The Wind on Christmas Day the first year you and Barbara were together. And I remember the beautiful dinners I went to with you and Barbara and Alice after Steve died.
    So with you in Owen Sound and me in Toronto, I timidly asked you if you had any plans for Christmas this year. You said not to worry, you would have something to do so I felt a bit better. But the first year alone for all of these things is the hardest. I am so proud of you and how you are coping. (including these stories).
    And as you said, may 2019 be a better year for all of us.
    Love,
    Mom

  2. As another Jewish child who now partakes of the lights, colours, parties, and music of Christmas, I really enjoyed your story.
    Wishing you a Happy New Year as you continue to weave your changed life together – one with Barbara as an important ‘golden thread’, but also with new and important elements.

  3. Eric,
    While there is no doubt as to my connection with Christmas as a Christian, I appreciated the fact that, though you are Jewish, you are not offended by the traditional greetings that this time of year. That shows we can agree to disagree.
    I was interested to notice that there are presents at Hannakah.
    I do feel for you as you miss Barbara always…., there is something above the general holiday atmosphere that makes it harder. Family is big!
    My best to you during this season,
    Glen

    1. Thank you, Glen.
      I think the tradition of Hanukkah had been to play games and give gifts of a few coins to children. I’m sure (though I don’t really know) that the over-the-top gift-giving that has become normal is a concession to Christmas.
      I’m not even sure that “agree to disagree” is the correct phrase for this, but I know what you mean. It does seem that the time where people would acknowledge their differences of opinion without a knee-jerk, “I’m right, so you must be wrong” response is sadly in the past.

  4. Oh that was great Eric. Lovely read. Many many Happy new years to you as well and I hope you enjoy all your holidays!
    Tomorrow is the Winter Solstice. I can hardly wait!!

  5. I will always remember Barbara saying to me: If Jews are the chosen people, who am I? Then, after she met Eric, she too became Jewish. I admired her for that decision though I always felt that our base in Judaism was different: mine was a bittersweet legacy from my Holocaust survivor parents; hers was an interest in the religion and the liturgy — and her new partner. To my surprise, she learned the words and trope of Jewish prayer and her voice became part of her Owen Sound synagogue’s holiday services. (I can hardly get through the Kaddish without making mistakes.) Whatever interested Barbara, became her passion. And was carried through with passion and commitment.

  6. In our household we didn’t realize that we had traditions until the children would say “But we ALWAYS….!” Now there are new rituals with our grandchildren. Train track seems to be a part of every Christmas for at least two, if not three, generations.

  7. As always, a very touching read! Eric, I wish you only good things in the coming year. I think about you often. And Barbara as well. Sending lots of hugs.

  8. Eric, thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings with us as you continue to experience your leave taking. Best wishes for a happier 2019.

  9. Somewhere I saw a quote attributed to Samuel Beckett and it’s become my mantra: I can’t go on. I will go on.

    Keep writing about Barbara. It’s who you are and probably the best thing you can do to get through this coming year. Wishing you comfort in 2019.

  10. What a lovely post about times gone by. I never knew Barbara had converted; she was so ‘naturally’ Jewish & so kind & sweet. I can imagine how hard this holiday was for you Eric. I hope you survived intact….let’s be honest, this is a whole new ‘ballgame’ & someone hid the rule book.
    I started celebrating Christmas with my Stepfamily back when I was 11….it was nice but it was not really ‘my thing’. Nothing against Christmas it just felt awkward…..And considering how many marriages I had all to Non-Jews well I celebrated a lot. And I always explained Chanukkah was not a Jewish Christmas, lol…
    I was really quite happy with Chanukkah & my Dec. 24th Birthday….
    After Kevin died in 2003 I swore off Xmas but Jon came along & made things better until 2006. I stopped celebrating….however I DO buy a gift or 2 for my closest friends…more so celebrating THEM as opposed to Xmas.
    This year was very difficult as Purrince Siddhartha Henry is not with me. Granted he was not a spouse; he was however a HUGE part of my life & existence. I got thru Dec. 25th by going to the farm & I DID visit his grave & left him a toy. And I played with his little Brother Tyerrone for over 2 hours.
    Little by little I am going thru my grief process….BellaDharma has helped in that I HAVE her & she IS my responsibility. But spouses are not ‘replaceable’ like our 4 leggeds…so treasure your memories (I know you do) & know Barbara loved you with all her heart.
    Sincerely, Sherri-Ellen T-D.

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