“What, you don’t have Christmas?”
My attacker’s fierce gaze softened and I swear I saw his eyes moisten.
This was Gaven, the school bully. When I was at high school in London, back in the 1960s, I was the defender of the weak kids. I was a soccer player, and had the muscles and the ethics to stand up for the victims. This was to be the first and only time I saw anything resembling empathy from this thug. The truth is, I had never up to that moment thought not having Christmas was anything to be bothered about.
In my experience, any religious observance is more fun if you are not actually religious. It means you can do the fun stuff without the boring religious stuff. In the case of Christmas, this means avoiding the stress of a family get-together, with its tensions simmering below the table and its dirty linen stuffed away in the closet. Maybe I got that wrong (as I never actually experienced a Christmas dinner) but I always imagined that Christmas Day was like the Seder Night at Pesach (Passover) but without all the rules or the singing.
There was a period when a family member became religious, and out of respect to his choice, our household became Shomer Shabbat (observant of the sabbath). It is forbidden to cook or do household chores on the Sabbath, so I would have all the food prepared before dusk on Friday evening, and then had the rest of Saturday free. The Chulent (Sabbath stew), placed in a low oven before the onset of the day-of-rest, would keep the familly sustained over Sabbath, whilst I could spend a relaxing day watching TV or on the internet (activities banned if I were to actually be observing the holy day).
Likewise Christmas day; without Church services or family visitors, I could actually enjoy it. The best bit was watching TV from the morning. In Britain in the 1960s, the two black and white TV channels were broadcast only in the evening, and so having TV in the morning was a BIG thing. As we were not celebrating, this could be done without the hindrance of boring uncles or annoying cousins. I did have sibblings to deal with, but as there were only two channels, the arguments about which to watch were usually resolved without too much bloodshed.
I did meet Gaven years later, as an adult, and he actually appologized for his chilhood thuggery. I reminded him of the Christmas incident and he told me, eyes moistening again, that he loved Christmas because when his relatives came over his Dad would stop hitting him. I guess that’s one reason to be merry.
So to all my readers and friends, I hope your Christmas is merry for all the best reasons. Even though I’m Jewish, I don’t mind you wishing me Merry Christmas as well, because I’m planning to have fun not observing it.
And if you were wondering how to say Happy Christmas in Hebrew, it is “Hag HaMolad Sameah. ”