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Black Lamb

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Now in its 14th year of publication, this magazine was created to offer the discerning reader a stimulating selection of excellent original writing. Black Lamb Review is a literate rather than a literary publication. Regular columns by writers in a variety of geographic locations and vocations are supplemented by features, reviews, articles on books and authors, and a selection of “departments,” including an acerbic advice column and a lamb recipe.

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Sensory overload

In the meadow we can build a snowmensch.

December 1st, 2004

BY MICHELE GENDELMAN

Until our son came along, my first husband and I’d had no cause to debate The Tree Issue. But before we even entered into negotiations, I made a preemptive strike by bringing home a four-foot high artificial pine tree and all the trimmings: our little prince of Israel was going to experience the wonders of both Chanukah and Christmas! My husband turned white as powdered sugar, like a pfeffernusse cookie with legs.

turkeydinner.jpgUnderstandable. He came from a Conservative, glatt kosher home, and even though his parents lived back on the east coast, he was terrified they’d call to wish us a happy Chanukah and hear tinsel tinkling in the background. I had to explain to him that tinsel doesn’t tinkle; sleigh bells do.

I, however, the all-American mutt (Irish, Jewish, Polish, German, and one one-hundred-and-twenty-eighth Delaware Indian, which is only one one-hundred-and-twelve parts away from tribal membership and a share in a casino), had belonged to a Reform congregation whose rabbi dressed up as Santa Claus every year to entertain underprivileged moppets at the Knights of Columbus. I didn’t know any Jews, in my family or elsewhere, who didn’t celebrate Christmas.

“How will he know he’s Jewish if we celebrate Christmas?” my son’s father protested.

“He’ll know by going to Hebrew school,” I said, “and by becoming a bar mitzvah. And if that fails, the first time he sees a foreskin in a locker room full of goyim, I’m reasonably confident that he’ll catch on.”

By the time I married my second, non-practicing Protestant husband, I had codified my Christ-free Christmas with a seven-foot, living Ponderosa pine dazzlingly arrayed with vintage bubble lights, hand-strung popcorn garlands, and a vast collection of ornaments devoid of religious significance. My most treasured is a little black leather motorcycle jacket given to us by gay friends. If you don’t already have your own gay couple, get one. They throw splendid parties and give the best presents.

When Chanukah and Christmas overlap, as they frequently do, my décor puts all who enter the house into sensory overload: an electric menorah casts its blue glow in a front window framed by flashing strands of red and green lights; fresh mistletoe beckons those of an osculatory predilection; crystal draydels catch the firelight and sparkle like jewels; wind-up Santas waddle across the floors; and Dinah Shore’s Christmas album plays on the stereo. Dinah, Mel Tormé, Irving Berlin — no one writes or croons Christmas songs better than the Jewish people. The other Mel — Gibson — probably feels it’s the very least we can do after having killed his personal lord and savior.

If I believed in Jesus the first thing I’d pray for is an invitation to someone else’s house for Christmas dinner. Despite all the labor involved, though, I enjoy hosting my own, with the traditional sodium-packed, mucilaginous green-bean casserole, ham, and turkey for as many newly-single middle-aged persons as we can fit around the festive table.

The traditional Chanukah dinner is no less elaborate. I make potato latkes, despite the fact that all that oil leaves my kitchen smelling like the NASCAR time trials, and a calorie-fraught crème fraîche to top them with. And just as there are three branches of Judaism, there are three schools of beef brisket preparation: the barbeque-sauce school, the tomato school, and the one to which I hew, the onion soup mix with whole cranberries school. Mmm, meat so tender, you’ll want to convert.

On each of Chanukah’s eight nights, the children receive a gift, even the twenty-six-year old, who also remains partial to milk chocolate Chanukah gelt. On Christmas morning, they awake to find a K2-high pile of packages ’neath the tree. My parents were cheap and my husband’s were poor, so we do our best to replace those sad memories of Christmases past with happy ones of Christmas excess. In our daughter’s words, “It ain’t over till the fat man brings.”

The decorations, the gifts, the foods — it’s all good. But the best part of the holiday season is Christmas Eve. That’s when we gather round that electronic hearth known as the television to watch our favorite Christmas movie. Which prompts me to briefly pose a question I’m certain weighs just as heavily upon your thoughts as it does upon mine: why is there no Chanukah movie? Thousands of Jewish people in the film industry, and the best we can come up with is Adam Sandler’s Eight Crazy Nights?

Anyway, our favorite holiday film isn’t It’s A Wonderful Life or Miracle On Thirty-Fourth Street. It’s National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. If you’ve forgotten how gifted a physical comedian Chevy Chase is (which puts you in the company of every producer in town), just watch him metamorphose from a tender-hearted, Christmas-lovin’ shmoe into George Bailey with a chain saw.

After that, it’s off to bed and visions of sugar plums and that herringbone-pattern 18K gold bracelet I’ve been dropping hints for since last year.

You don’t have to be Christian to enjoy Christmas. Deck the halls with boughs of challah! •

Posted by: The Editors
Category: All Christmas Issue, Gendelman | Link to this Entry

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