We all live in our own little microcosms, and often forget that there are many others who do not share that space with us. I was reminded of this earlier in the week, when a question about whether our county's schools would be closing early on Thursday, the 23rd, rose up on a school list serve.
Thankfully, they're not. The schools are closed all day on Friday, December 24th, and even though I understand that not a whole heck of a lot of learning will be going on in the classrooms on Thursday, I for one am grateful for that last full day. As a working parent who is always inconvenienced when there are half days, professional days, snow days (not to mention sick days), and as the parent who is entirely responsible for minding the children during school breaks (while working!) I am happy that there is one final day of normal routine before we all disappear into those microcosms for winter break.
But one parent chimed in on the listserve, "Well, it OUGHT to be a half day!"
Well then. Who would that benefit? Perhaps families who are traveling out of town (not us.) Perhaps families who are preparing for Christmas celebrations (not us.) Perhaps families who have one parent at home with flexible enough time to accommodate another half day (not us.)
Many folks, I'm sure, would have appreciated another half day. And many would not.
This time of year (holidays, Yuletide, winter solstice, winter break … ok, let's really call it what it is – Christmas) makes those of us who do not observe or celebrate the mainstay American winter holiday remember what it feels to be outside of the mainstream.
I actually grew up celebrating Christmas. Lots of tinsel and presents and excitement and anticipation. Not much family, as my mother was both an orphan and Jewish, and my father was essentially estranged from his sisters. Without much extended family around to make us crazy, there wasn't a lot of family drama. But a lot of joy in the day, especially for my mother, who thought Christmas was the cat's meow.
I never expected that I would give all this up, and yet, as a young adult, I felt a tug towards the Jewish side of my heritage, and, with the help of my husband-to-be, discovered a whole new world living a Jewish life. The biggest and saddest fight my mother and I ever had was when my first child was born, and my husband and I agreed that we would no longer be opening presents at my Jewish mother's apartment on Christmas morning. It took her years to forgive me, and I'm not sure she ever did.However, the arrival of grandchildren in my sister's home (where Christmas is still celebrated) took a lot of the sting out.
So I have a quandary every year on December 25th. It's still a day stoked with meaning for me, if only family memory. But my own family has no connection to it at all, except as a quiet day when nothing is open and more likely than not, we'll go to the movies and eat Chinese food (and thanks to Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagen for putting a hechsher [kosher symbol] on that tradition.)
But I still feel a tug. On the one hand, I get annoyed when people, like the mother on the school list serve, make an assumption that EVERYONE needs extra holiday time at this time of year. If you're Jewish, Chanukah is already long past and gone. No one clamored for a half day so that I could fit in latke making, candle lighting, tzedakah (charity) projects and family time during all eight nights of Chanukah, when my kids still had to do their homework, practice their instruments and play on their teams.
But on the other hand, I wish I had a little more reason to celebrate and slow down to appreciate a holiday that featured prominently in my life for many years.
In the Jewish community, we call it the "December Dilemma." How do you keep your children focused on the fact that Chanukah is not a major holiday, while many of their friends get to put up beautiful trees and open lots of presents and you are surrounded by carols and Santas and reminders that you are different?
My own December Dilemma goes deeper than this. My kids are starting to understand why and perhaps even appreciate that we don't celebrate Christmas. But there's a part of me, formative and primal, that wants to mark the day in some special way. Maybe it's to remember my mother, who loved Christmas more than anything. Maybe it's to remember my childhood. Or maybe it's just because I love the lights in the midst of all the darkness at this time of year.
As I was writing this, a friend rang my doorbell and brought me a little holiday present – totally unexpected but so appreciated. It glittered as I opened it. Out of the snowman wrapping paper came a little gold bird ornament, and I laughed and said that since I didn't have a tree I would put it up in my office to remind me of her friendship and our children's friendships.
It's now sitting on top of my computer, a sparkly reminder of the magic that this season, no matter what you celebrate, can bring.
So merry Christmas, happy new year, happy solstice, and joyeux noel to everyone. And let's all hope that the lunar eclipse earlier this week, bumping into the winter solstice as it did, is a sign that 2011 is going to be a year of light and peace, hope and joy for all of us, no matter what microcosm we swim in.
Photo by seantoyer via Flickr