Two facts before we start: 1. I love Christmas. Unabashedly. 2. I’m Jewish.
So how does a little Jewish girl fall in love with a holiday that she isn’t actually supposed to celebrate? Zelda and I both have a somewhat unique point of view on the winter holidays, having been raised (mostly) Jewish, in the South, with one parent who wasn’t (although if you want to get technical, my mom does have “papers” and she’s damn proud of it). My personal holiday customs stem less from religion (while I’m all for goodwill towards humans, shul/church-going has never been part of my holiday agenda) and more from my adolescent love of “The O.C.” and Seth Cohen. See Seth, like me, had a deep love for his interfaith roots, and thus invented the super holiday, Christmukkah (It’s in the zeitgeist!), which serves as my Yuletide inspiration (okay, so maybe it’s a little bit Festivus as well).
From the week of Thanksgiving until New Year’s Eve, there are certain things that need to happen in order for my holidays to feel complete. It starts with Friendsgiving, which in college was a free-for-all dining hall food fest and is now an excuse to get together, cook, and laugh until we cry. Then of course there’s Thanksgiving itself, spent with alternating sides of my family, with good cheer and good food all around, and at least one viewing of It’s a Wonderful Life. Until recently, December unfurled as a steady flow of papers, tests, tea, and time in the library wasting away with my fellow students, surviving on anything that could be made with boiled water (Cup Noodles, tea, instant mac and cheese). My post-grad life has been much the same, though the tests and papers have been replaced by job applications and extra shifts (tourist season, man). However, there is still lots of tea.
Now normally this all culminates in my favorite holiday tradition: The Shorten Family Christmas Eve Party. However this year, for the first time, I will be staying in New York for Christmas. The Momma is making the trek to the Big Apple instead, and thus I will miss the traditional feast of salmon, meatballs, cream puffs, and the all important pigs in a blanket (Just me? This isn’t on everyone’s Christmas table?). But part of being an adult is making new traditions and adapting old ones. So while I will probably spend Christmas Eve waiting tables, or perhaps on the couch with a mug of tea and A Muppet Christmas Carol, it doesn’t mean I have to throw all my traditions out the window. So I’ve made a list, and checked it twice, for how to adapt my Kentucky-born traditions to my Brooklyn-based Christmas.
Deck the Halls – Ever since I can remember, my mother has had our halls professionally decked out for Christmas (which is apparently odd, according to the people I have told). It wasn’t the season until Libby came over; pulled the bags of garland, ribbon, decorative ropes, and lights from the attic; and made our entryway its own little wintry wonderland. Mom always saved the tree for us though, pulling out handmade ornaments I didn’t remember making (“The downside to be being an only child? You know all the scary handmade ornaments are yours“.). My gingerbread baubles, Microsoft paint booklets, and playdough snowmen seem particularly dinky next to my grandmother’s childhood creations: amazing ornaments made out of eggshells, so delicate and beautiful next to my five-year-old plaster handprint. But then again my grandmother has always been an elegant and classy Southern lady while I have always been a bit clunky and awkward, so I suppose it only makes sense.
My Brooklyn apartment has much less hall to deck, but we work with what we’ve got. My roommate Claire is particularly festive, so we spent the last few months of 2013 changing our colored decor from Halloween, to Thanksgiving, to Christmukkah. We took the the red and green streamers down after New Year’s, but the paper snowflakes that we’d taped to the walls and hung from the ceiling remained all year. We maintained that they were still appropriate well into March (Happy Polar Vortex, everyone?), but by April they were clear evidence of our laziness. By July they’d become a anachronistic quirk (the closest our apartment got to air conditioning), and when September rolled around we decided it was too much trouble to take them down just to put them back up after Thanksgiving. So they stayed, and thusly, my hall has been decked since last Christmas.
Film Fest – The month between Thanksgiving and Christmas also marks an important change in my entertainment choices. Holiday movies are my favorite: From the terrible ABC Family Original romantic comedies to classics like White Christmas, I can’t get enough. There are five essential films that grace my television screen every year (possibly more than once), without which it doesn’t quite feel like the season of joy and laughter and dancing reindeer. Firstly, the aforementioned It’s a Wonderful Life and A Muppet Christmas Carol. The former is my Jewish father’s favorite holiday movie, and thus also one of mine. The latter is the only film adaptation of A Christmas Carol that I care about; Gonzo as Charles Dickens is my favorite, plus Michael Caine makes everything more delightful.
After those two, White Christmas is a must—Crosby and Clooney are two of my favorite holiday houseguests—and to feed my Christmukkah soul there’s Eight Crazy Nights. Say what you will about Adam Sandler, but this decidedly PG-13 subversion of the animated musical trope is my favorite, plus the soundtrack is as catchy as anything Alan Menken could dream up. The thematic entertainment usually concludes on Christmas Eve with the Christmas Classics Marathon on ABC Family, but above all else it must include The Year Without A Santa Claus, my all-time favorite Christmas Special (I even own the DVD). It’s not the holidays in my house without Heat Miser and Snow Miser.
Giving – Zelda is more of a gifter than I am (she’s responsible for the bulk of the items on our Gift Guide), but I genuinely enjoy the traditional gift-giving aspect of the holidays. My college friends and I have an annual “Secret Santa, which we call NDWGE (Non-Denominational Winter Gift Exchange). Zelda, myself, and our high school friends always host a little exchange as well. My dad’s family does one night of Chanukah with multiple gifts instead of eight with one each. And my mom and I have a tradition of opening one gift on Christmas Eve and the rest in the morning. Regardless of what the gifts are, it’s the fact that you gave a gift that counts, that you care about the person enough to think of something special just for them.
One of my favorite holiday giving traditions, however, is the Project For Awesome. You’ve heard us talk YouTube here before: John and Hank Green are the ones responsible for getting us into the world of online creators (and introducing us to amazing people like Grace, Hannah, and Mamrie). In 2007 they took their new followers, dubbed Nerdfighters (DFTBA), and started the Project for Awesome. Every year in the middle of December, P4A encourages YouTubers to create videos promoting a charity of their choice, and then the community spends two days live streaming, commenting, tweeting, and trending videos that are all about decreasing the level of suck in the world, while also donating money (in exchange for awesome perks), that is then distributed among charities chosen by a community vote. Combined with an Indiegogo campaign in recent years, P4A has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for various charities. BIG NEWS for those reading this on 12/12/14: IT’S TODAY! So head over to projectforawesome.com now to learn more and to get involved.
So even though my holiday will be spent in my cold Brooklyn apartment (electric heat is expensive, y’all), it will be no less cheery and warm. My first holiday away from home can still be as traditional as I want it to be, with my own adult twist. Plus, all my roommates will be gone, so I can totally walk around naked. Happy holidays, everyone.