Holiday Reservations

My wife and I, respectively, have fairly ethnic sounding last names: One of them very Italian and the other (mine) sounding oh-so Jewish. Every year, around the holidays, there is always at least one person that asks, “what will you be doing for the holidays?” Meaning: Are you dragging a giant tree into your living room and waiting for that benevolent midnight marauder to make his way down your chimney with loads of consumer goods, or are you going to consume oily potato pancakes, light a few candles and dance the Horah?

Now, I rarely have a satisfying answer to this one, since I have never been all that excited by the holiday hullabaloo and pretty much a secular humanist most of my life, and my wife, while more of a traditionalist than myself, loves the iconography of Christmas, but negates the religious overtones and the rabid consumerism. However, once you bring a child into the mix, decisions/compromises (what have you) must be made.

The question of what and how to celebrate is a complicated issue, as some families contain mixed faiths, lapsed faiths, or no discernible faith at all. Some families/individuals elect to embrace more than one tradition, in an effort to give their children alternating or complementary perspectives on the seasonal festivities. However, with the wealth of a pluralistic holiday experience often comes muddling and confusion and, for many purist and critics, the idea that introducing more than one holiday tradition into the mix insures that no tradition of any sort will gain any traction. And of course, many families, out of personal aversion, lack of religious belief, or just holiday fatigue, choose to opt out of the whole package and simply spend time together doing whatever it is that makes them feel familial.

I have no real sagely advice on the matter, as (truth be told) I have not settled upon a comfortable balance of tradition vs. pragmatism. But at a time when we are all sharing in a great deal of dismay and uncertainty, it is safe to say that defusing the tensions and reducing our differences (within the family and the larger community) will help us to accomplish something more significant than any holiday tradition could provide: Our ability to connect and live in relative peace. Life tends to be far less complicated when we focus on our commonality and not our disparities.

With that said, I am curious what everyone out there is doing for the holidays? Feel free to chime in, unload, impart wisdom, and share your ideas and experiences.

Best wishes.

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, N.Y. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.


Elaine A.
Elaine Al Meqdad5 years ago

U say make sure what ever your plans are, get them in as early as possible!

Victoria A.
Vanessa A9 years ago

Now that we are in an age where most people have had enough exposure to question 'things', I've always found it hard to get enthusiastic about anything set up by society, religion, etc.

But, I do remeber having so much fun and joy at Christmas as a kid, and although now I neither believe in Santa Claus nor most of the bible; so I wanted to think of something my kids could still enjoy and have memories of.

The answer: every year we celebrate a different holiday, and go balls-out. (when the kids were babies we just made sure to surround them with good smells and whatever else we could to make them happy). We have fun together picking and researching a celebration from a different country/culture...we look at it (simplified, of course) it came to be, end of harvest or whatever, and do all of the fun things and sometimes a couple of the serious things if the resources are avaialble (local ethnic group community celebrations, etc.)

While I feel a bit bad they won't have consistent memories such as I did (the turkey feast, the tree); I think we could have done a lot worse!

Mystie R.
Mystie R9 years ago

... if it's simply a time to improve the general attitude of society, where people are more willing to help others and accept differences, then it’s definitely worth making the effort. If it means old friends catching up; if it brings families together who have been ‘too busy working’, if it revives family relationships, and we can touch home base once again, then, religious or not, I do think it’s worth ‘doing’ Christmas.

Mystie R.
Mystie R9 years ago

continued: sorry if the first part was repeated.
..., untangling the lights, sorting through last years decorations, throwing out the tattered ones, deciding how to make it look a little fresher this year etc.

However, these days I’ve become more philosophical about this time of year and I accept it as I accept others belief systems like Ramadan, Hanukah, and especially the fun of Halloween (which is barely recognised here ‘Down Under’, but I’m working on it). If we’re open to truly accepting all beliefs then we can enjoy this time of year as simply a reason to be a little more cheerful and kinder to others. I think that’s where we find the true ‘spirit of Christmas’ (or should I say ‘Holiday Spirit’?).

I find that after most of the shopping is done and most of the cards, which usually turn into letters, are in the mail, I do find myself humming an old Christmas carol on the odd occasion. And I do like to hear the first familiar carols in the cool of the shopping centres (remember it’s Summer down here) on the quieter days. When we get past the initial buying panic, people seem to settle into a more pleasant demeanour in general; we are often a little more cheerful than at other times of the year. Perhaps a little more good will is manifested somehow.

So even if it’s simply a time for giving (not just material things but also love, support, patience and understanding), to improve the general attitude of soc

Mystie R.
Mystie R9 years ago

Analysing Christmas: Why do we ‘do’ Christmas anyway? We’re a rather confused lot, the human species. The West is made up of predominantly educated, secular countries now so what’s it really all about? Does anyone ever stop to think why we still follow the rituals and what they really mean? I mean above and beyond our individual religious or non religious beliefs.
No one likes shopping for others, battling the crowds and queuing for miles at the checkouts. No one likes parting with their money, trying to think of what to buy for the men of the family (which can be difficult), having to plan special meals, driving to Aunt Martha’s on Christmas day, getting trapped in conversations with notoriously long talkers, and all the other obligatory energy-draining events involved. So why do we inflict it upon ourselves at all? Many of us just go along with the whole thing without needing to know what it actually is or where it even originated. When you think about it, come December we suddenly rush out and buy presents for all and sundry because we’re told to, it’s a rather strange thing to do really. When I grew out of the whole religious thing of my parents era, I began to resent the expectations placed upon us by commercial advertising and those who never think outside the square long enough to question it.
I tired of doing the same old things I’ve done for so many years, you know, dragging out the tree, climbing on a chair to get the boxes

Beth Bianchi
Beth Bianchi9 years ago

I too am a Jew married to a Christian. This is the least of our problems, we celebrate both. We usually have a 5 - 6 foot tree in the middle of our living room and my four menorahs lit. Actually, last night we had our annual tree trimming party, where my parents and my sister and her family attended. The kids decorated the tree happily (my side is Jewish) and ate all the yummy baked goods I prepared and then played Guitar Hero and fun was had by all. Our annual Chaunukah party will be tomorrow at my brother's house, where my father lights the candles and sings the traditional songs. We eat latkas and stuffed cabbage and then watch the kids open gifts.

Tona Morales-calkins

Great article, Eric! I am a Jew married to a Christian. We have grandchildren together. We celebrate both Christmas and Chanukah. In fact, last night, at the Christmas Eve celebration, my grandkids helped light the Chanukah candles and played dreidel with me while their other grandma put dinner on the table.
The rest of the family ate ham, and I ate all the rest of the dinner. I said the Motzi with grandkids chiming in, and then waited respectfully through the Christian prayer, which the grandkids said. They see Judaism and Christianity as two different facets of the same thing. It all relates to God. And both traditions are lots of fun for them.
As for presents, I make them for the grandkids rather than buying. The kids enjoy the time together making fudge, banana bread, and latkes; or playing dreidel and singing songs. To me, that's the bottom line of all our celebrations - time together doing things we enjoy as a family.


GP Stone
GP Stone9 years ago

LOL .. here in Montana where I'm the "token Jew" :) Store clerks look at you like you have 3 heads when you ask for channukah candles? regardless when I was a young 'un in hebrew school, (growing up in a predominantly christian neighborhood).. it's ultimately different roads to the same G-d. So we're lighting channukah candles and we say merry xmas... Riding horses later..