Christmas falls on Shabbat this year, reminding me that since my conversion, that was always my favorite calendar configuration. They do their thing; we do ours. No sitting around with nothing to do because everything’s closed but the movie theaters and Chinese restaurants. Shabbos Christmas always gave me something positively Jewish on the day, and alleviated some of the pain of transition in the early years.
For the comfort of the newly-converted (and the amusement of the veteran giorim), I have compiled a list of rituals that take form in both Christian and Jewish life. Of course there is not exactly a one-to-one correspondence, but there is certainly enough to provide outlets for the former non-Jew’s accustomed activities. Take a look.
Christians send cards at Christmas; Jews do it at Rosh Hashana.
Each has a cumulative song: “The Twelve Days Of Christmas” versus “Echad Mi Yodeah” (sung at the Pesach seder).
Christians make and decorate gingerbread houses at Christmas; my friend Heather once made a gingerbread sukkah (adorable, ingenious, and much simpler).
Christians imbibe obscene amounts of fat, sugar and starch at Christmas in the form of hot cross buns and plum pudding; Jews gorge on sufganiot (doughnuts) and latkes.
Christians publicize their miracle with strings of Christmas lights on the house; Jews light candles in the window or in wind-sheltered glass boxes outside the house.
Christians (at least a few, anyway) bake a Twelfth Night cake (with a bean or pea inside); Jews bake shlissel challah (with a key inside, or in the shape of a key) after Sukkot.
Christmas and Easter account for the two major festive meals in the Christian calendar. Jews have a Pesach seder, a Purim seudah, approximately 19 festive meals during the month of Tishrei, a dairy blowout at Shavuot, and of course, two lavish meals every Shabbat.
Christian children trick-or-treat on Halloween and beg for tricks or treats; Jewish kids go sukkah-hopping (especially in Israel) and have to produce a song or a vort (a short Torah-related speech) to collect a treat from each family sukkah.
Christians give up certain foods for Lent; most Ashkenazi Jews give up kitniyot during Pesach (here’s what I think of that, if you haven’t already read it).
Jewish holidays get earlier every year—until there is a leap year and they get pushed back. Christmas festivities and commercialization get earlier every year because Christians don’t have enough holidays. (This is my little theory). They don’t have enough, and Jews have too many. They breathe the same sigh of relief after the shopping, decorating, partying madness that starts around Halloween and goes through New Year’s that I breathe after the month of Tishrei, when Mar Heshvan (called mar or “bitter” because there are no holidays) begins.
Would I trade the 25-hour fasts, the compulsive cleaning of Pesach prep, the (to me) puzzling giddiness of Purim, the Martha Stewart Month of Tishrei, and the emotional roller-coaster of the Israeli national holidays (Yom HaShoah, Yom HaZikaron, and Yom HaAtzma’ut)? Any day of the year (except possibly Hoshana Raba) I would say no. The command to celebrate and commemorate is sometimes exhausting and occasionally veers into what the girls at my high school bewailed as “mandatory fun,” but let’s face it: the Jews are a long-lived people with a lot of history behind us. And I am always harping on this blog about the importance of studying and remembering history. So where the temptation may be to live the vast majority of our days as “normal,” Judaism doesn’t let us do that.
I sometimes miss having all of the card-writing, tree-trimming, carol-humming, snowman-building, turkey-basting, Baileys-sipping, gift-wrapping together-time all crammed into one short season. But after having it both ways, I think it’s good to spread it out over the year.