Who says a Jewish girl can’t enjoy Christmas? I LOVE Christmas ~ the smells, the songs, the decorations. My mother loved Christmas, too. When I was little we made Spritz butter cookies every year. We decorated half with blue and silver sprinkles and the other half with red and green. We listened to Christmas music. We toured Santa Claus Lanes all over the San Fernando Valley – houses dripping with colored lights, lawns covered with fake snow, and roofs sporting Santa and his reindeer. In the back seat of the car, I’d sip my hot chocolate, oohing and ah-ing at every display.
Years later, when I joined a sorority that was decidedly not Jewish, two of my closest friends were Christian. I introduced them to matzoh ball soup on Passover and potato latkes on Hanukkah (they had no interest in fasting on Yom Kippur… imagine that), and they invited me to their family Christmas celebrations. Turned out, I was a fabulous tree decorator. I could hang red and gold balls on the tips of branches, arrange nutcrackers and ballerinas and little rocking horses, and string lights through greenery with the best of ’em.
“But you’re Jewish!” they exclaimed. To which I could only reply, “Yes, but I still love Christmas.”
Shortly after I was married, my husband and I attended a big Christmas party at the home of somebody he worked with. Not only did they have a giant pig on the dining room table with an apple in its mouth (something I’d never seen before in real life), they also had a magnificent pianist playing Christmas carols. I sang along with every song, even the religious ones. While my husband lingered in the dining room waiting to find out if the pig was for eating or not, I sat beside the pianist drinking spiked hot toddies and gathering people into our sing-along. When my husband found me sitting on the piano (after a few too many hot toddies) belting out “Come all Ye Faithful,” he questioned my behavior.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
“Singing Christmas Carols!” I joyfully responded.
“But you’re Jewish,” he said, puzzled.
“Yes,” I said, “but I still love Christmas.”
Fast forward many years, and I’m the author of a holiday novel. Crazy, right? I mean, how does a Jewish girl end up writing a Christmas book? I might be good at hanging ornaments, baking Christmas cookies, and singing Christmas carols, but that was the extent of it. When it came down to the details of Christmas and holiday traditions, I knew zip. So, like any conscientious writer would, I did my research…. oh, so much research.
How do you tell a Douglas Fir from a Scots Pine or a Blue Spruce? What exactly is eggnog? Why are stockings hung by the chimney with care? And what on earth is a roasted pig doing with an apple in its mouth? There was a lot to learn, and thanks to Google, I learned it. Not all of it ended up in my novel, but that’s what happens when you’re a writer. You spend a tremendous amount of time learning about things you might never use. It’s part of the process.
The other day I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen in a long time. She had heard about my new book and asked what it was about. When I told her it was a holiday novel that takes place in a small town at Christmas time, she furrowed her brow. “But you’re Jewish,” she said.
I smiled. “That I am. But I still love Christmas.”
Five random holiday facts I learned that did not appear in LONG DANCE HOME:
1. An 8 ounce cup of egg nog has around 440 calories, can contain the equivalent of 15 packets of sugar, and, depending on the recipe, might have more saturated fat than a Big Mac (sorry)
2. “White Christmas,” written by Jewish composer Irving Berlin, is named as one of the most popular holiday songs of all time.
3. The Nutcracker ballet is based on a gruesome fairy tale written in 1816 that includes an infestation of armed mice, an evil seven-headed mouse king, a terrible and brutal battle, and a horrible curse by a vengeful queen whose children were murdered. Let’s read that one right before bed!
4. A pig is roasted with an apple in its mouth for aesthetic reasons: during the process of roasting the pig, its jaws sometimes tighten into a ghastly grimace. The apple prevents this.
5. Finally, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, approximately 7500 people end up in emergency rooms with decorating related injuries, including falls from stools, ladders, and rooftops; electric shocks while hanging lights; and foot lacerations from stepping on broken glass ornaments. That said, Hanukkah has its dangers too – open flames on menorahs, vats of oil hovering at 375 degrees for frying latkes, and little children gambling! What Jewish mother in her right mind allows any of this? Evidently, one who writes a Christmas book….
Jewish girls love Christmas parties, too!