Five Tips from a Jew on Surviving Christmas When You’re Not Feeling it
Something weird has happened to me over the years.
I’ve come to learn that not everyone enjoys the holiday season, even the people who were raised celebrating Christmas. Growing up in what was the only Jewish household on our block for a time, to my mind, Christmas was a peppermint-scented, non-stop rave of unobstructed cookie access, singing around the piano, mugs of cocoa and reindeer alighting on rooftops. Nothing against our trusty little menorah but it couldn’t hold a candle (ha!) to a tree replete with ornaments and flashing lights, and though my grandmother’s latkes were always divine, she was kind enough to make them year-round. Nothing from the Hanukkah column really could put much of a dent in the lavish display of Christmas. I mean, chestnuts roasted over an open fire? I’ve tried them and they’re not that good but how adorable can you get? Oh, how my soul longed for Christmas.
As a child on the outside looking in, I clearly idealized the Christmas experience but as an adult, I now know that visions of sugarplums aren’t necessarily dancing in all the goyim heads this time of year. There are family fissures and tensions that come up during the season; there are lots of people who feel pressured to spend more money than they’d like to or even than they have. There are also people who just feel guilty for not embodying the ho-ho-ho Christmas spirit better and others who struggle with deepened feelings of loss, pain, depression and loneliness this time of year. (If you are singing around the piano with a mug of cocoa in your hand, however, don’t feel bad about it: the more joy in the world, the better for all of us.)
Raised adjacent to but without Christmas, I think I have some hacks gleaned from my fellow Jews for managing the weeks ahead if you’re not quite feeling it’s the most wonderful time of the year yourself. Take heed, disenchanted one! Jews have brought bagels, Mel Brooks, psychoanalysis and ballpoint pens to the world: you can trust me as your guide to hacking Christmas.
1. Eat Carbs, Especially in the Form of Chinese Food
Yes, it’s a cliché but it’s true: Jews love Chinese food but it is especially appreciated on Christmas, when most other restaurants are closed. When all the Christmas revelers are realizing that they never really did like eggnog all that much (honestly, it’s gross) and trying to figure out if there’s a way to exchange an orange argyle scarf without Aunt Beatrice noticing, we Jews can be found mainlining carbs, glorious carbs at the local Chinese restaurant. Perhaps there’s a lesson here for non-Jews. Did you slip on the ice? That calls for Buddha’s Delight. Did you draw Secret Santa for the most annoying person in the office? Szechuan string beans! Feeling alone in an increasingly hostile world that doesn’t understand your sensitive, artistic, anguished soul? Orange tofu, extra rice. Lots and lots of rice. Chinese food nourishes the Jewish soul and maybe it’ll do the same for you. In any case, it’s worth a try. I know it’s not healthy to use food to manage emotional upheaval but everything goes out the window when you’re stressed.
2. See a Movie
There’s nothing quite like the near-empty movie theaters of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, when you can exchange knowing glances with your fellow spectators and know that just by your proximity, you are members of a certain club, the club of non-participation. We know the joys of stretching out, of using the seat next to us for coats, of even talking during a movie. Could you give your spirit a little respite by going out and seeing a movie during the bustling holiday season? Playing hooky and seeing a weekday matinee so you can enjoy a film without all the people and annoying things that come with people (loud eaters, attempted stealth texters, etc.) could be really nourishing. Seeing a movie is a little escapist self-care, and a darkened theater is an excellent antidote to the clamor of Christmas that rages on outside its doors.
3. Engage in Some Healthy Kvetching
I’m no psychologist but I think that a little complaining may actually be good for us. Well, at least it can feel good to me. Maybe it’s part of the Jewish culture, I don’t know, but it was certainly part of my family’s culture. As opposed to faking a happy mood when you’re not feeling it, it is my sense that dabbling in the fine art of venting can help us feel heard and understood, and, as such, help us to feel less alone in the world and with a deeper sense of community. Not to mention that many of my kvetch fests have resulted in troubleshooting some solutions for the very problems I’m complaining about. Choose your kvetch session participants wisely — exclude anyone with a track record of being sanctimonious or judgmental and anyone who’s going to try to shame you for not being perfectly cheerful — and remember that a little grousing can go a long way. Notice when you are teetering over into self-indulgence land and losing your perspective. Then it is time to move on.
4. Find Peace with Being Different
I don’t know if there’s anything that will make you more resilient and adaptive to life’s curveballs than realizing that there is no great joy in fitting in and also that forcing yourself to do so comes with a heavy price to your inner-peace. As much as I longed for the sparkly tree with the presents underneath and the safe, reassuring comfort I associated with Christmas as a child, today, I am very grateful that I was raised with an outsider’s perspective. If you’re feeling bad because the Christmas spirit has somehow passed you by, appreciate that it may help you be a more compassionate and nuanced person to have that outsider’s perspective. It makes us less anxious about fitting in (eventually!) and more comfortable in our own skin. Cultivating this outsider perspective year-round? Well, as my grandmother would say, there are worse things.
5. Just Be Normal
What? How could I follow the previous point with this one? Well, by “normal,” I mean, how you would normally be if not for the formidable shadow of Christmas looming over you. Yes, some Jews may have Hanukkah festivities this time of year but it’s a pretty chill scene compared to the time and energy demands of Christmas. Not that you need it, but I give you permission to relax your expectations of what you think you should be doing and just. Be. Normal. What if Christmas weren’t such a big deal? What if you this was just some random winter day with no particular pressures? How would you feel? What if you could continue doing the things you normally love — yoga, for example — and avoiding the things you normally dislike — shopping, for example? Do you absolutely have to be stressed? Maybe some of that chaos around Christmas brings you joy. There’s no shame in that. Just take it from a non-participant: as much as you can continue your normal pleasures and say no to the things that burden you, the better you’ll be for it and the more enjoyable your Christmas.
So there you have it. Now go get some Chinese food.