Apparently, my four-year-old daughter confided to her pre-school teacher that, “we’re not Christmasans.”
Hearing this, I was not only amused—I was also a little proud. Sometimes it’s obvious what our children understand. (For instance: when, after seeing Bambi, I overheard Eva playing with toy animals. A small giraffe called out a high-pitched, “Mama! Mama! Where are you Mama?!” A larger alligator responded in a deep-voice, “Your mother can’t be with you anymore.”
Other times it’s less clear. Eva knows we don’t celebrate Christmas, because we don’t hang up Christmas lights much as she would like us to. (We do, however, have a brilliant little pair of joke-glasses that, when worn, turn Christmas lights into tiny Star of Davids.) We also sometimes, but not always, celebrate Shabbat, and even attend synagogue once a month. Or at least: we mean to attend synagogue once a month.
When I was a child we almost never went to synagogue. But then: growing up in Brooklyn, at least half the kids I knew were Jewish. At a certain point I would have understood that Jews were a small minority, but that never colored my daily experience. When at age 20 I decided to spend a year studying in Scotland, one of my justifications was that I needed to get away from so many Jews. Familiarity breeds contempt, and that sort of thing.
But we’re raising Eva, and her younger sister Tillie, in Victoria, British Columbia. Victoria is a small city on the Southern tip of Vancouver Island. People describe it as beautiful, charming, breath-taking. All that is true. My mother calls it “the Land of the Goyim,” which is also true. If I take my girls to the playground this time of year, I can guarantee that all the mommy-talk will center on Christmas plans. And while we have wonderful friends here and have fallen in love with the area, boarding a plane to New York City from Toronto last year I surprised myself by thinking, as I looked up the aisle, wow, people on this plane look like me.
I hadn’t even known I was missing that.
Recently I received a wonderful note from Vanessa Hart, the actress who is voicing the audio-book. She wanted to know how to pronounce the Hebrew & Yiddish words in the novel. If you’d asked me I probably would have said there was only a handful of Jewish-isms in the novel, but Vanessa sent me a long list. So there I was on the phone, trying to teach her the guttural “ch” –no, not H, Ch, from the back of your throat, catch some mucus with it—laughing as she repeated after me in a hopelessly non-Semitic accent.
Will my daughters know these words? What will not-being-Christmasans mean to them? Jordan and I talk about it sometimes, and like all parenting/family decisions we’ve adopted an inevitably ad-hoc approach, improvising as we go along. Saturdays were a sacred family day, until my student-midwife clinical placement began. In just a few years Eva and Tillie will have their own Saturday activities, which we will or won’t resist. We make it up. We bend and flex. We take evening walks to look at our neighbors’ Christmas lights, sometimes squinting through the Star of David glasses, sometimes removing them to better enjoy the cool & colored light.
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