Now that we are days away from the inevitable post-Christmas Covid surge, I am reminded of the question my kids asked me so many years ago: “Mom, is Santa real?”
I’d been dreading this question for years, but not in the way that Christian moms dread having to lie or break the news to their kids, hoping to preserve the innocence and childhood magic of the season a bit longer. No. I dreaded it in the way that Jewish moms dread the question: Since it’s not our religion or custom anyway, do we straight-out tell our kids the truth or keep the cultural fib afloat?
I opted for a combination approach: I told my kids that while Santa isn’t real, it’s not for us to break the news to other kids. It’s not our holiday or custom, so we would just be ruining it for others. I actually made them promise to not engage in conversations, lest they slipped. As luck would have it, within days of this discussion, a 7-year-old girl on my son’s bus asked if he was excited for Santa to come.
“We’re Jewish,” he replied, thinking that she would understand the cultural and religious implications.
No such luck.
“Well, I guess you’re getting a bag of poop from him,” she said.
He came home crying.
He’s 23-years-old now and has luckily gotten over it, but clearly, I haven’t. This hideous global pandemic has left me irrational and short-fused, as well as touchy on certain topics, so a recent interaction with a repair person in my kitchen, left me jaded and irked.
This kind fellow, who repaired my icemaker just in time for a socially-distanced New Year’s Eve that involved my nuclear family and not enough ice-compelling drinks, pushed a few of my buttons, not attached to the fridge.
“How was your Christmas?” He made small talk.
Who can blame the guy? Aren’t we all starved for human interaction from behind our masks?
Normally, I’d respond, “Great, and you?” But because I’m also out of practice, socially speaking, I announced,” We’re Jewish.”
This sweet fellow understood the ramifications immediately, and said, “Oh! You’re lucky! You didn’t miss out on a holiday, then.”
By some divine intervention or true miracle of the season, I shut my trap and didn’t react, but here’s what went through my head, in case you’re still reading.
I actually love Christmas. I don’t live in Israel; I live in a predominantly Christian country. I love that the country comes to a halt for one day. I love that the world seems quieter and at peace. I love the really quiet morning, with everyone home and sleeping in. I love that stores are closed and that we meal-prep ahead, and yes, get Chinese food even if we don’t feel like it, because that’s a Jewish-Christmassy thing to do.
This year was different, though. (We still got Chinese food.) Christmas was about nuclear families, protecting others, and guarding what is most precious to us: kindness towards others and good health. So I had a lot of pleasure seeing the Facebook posts from friends near and far, in tiny gatherings, matching PJs (I especially love the red and black plaid ones, friends), and tables set for four or six people at most. I got teary-eyed, seeing some of the pics because I know that some friends haven’t seen their parents since last Christmas, and others missed grown kids who couldn’t travel. My heart broke, but then I saw them – the precious few who just couldn’t do it, even while the entire universe is making sacrifices.
It was especially surprising that after the lesson we learned post-Thanksgiving, some families felt exempt from the dire warnings regarding larger Christmas gatherings with extended family members and friends. Those few photos illustrated a total lack of regard for others.
And who am I to judge, you ask? I am the spouse of a health-care worker. I am the mother of a son, who may no longer be upset that Santa is bringing him a bag of poop, but is still upset that the auto-immune medications he has no choice but to take, leave him immuno-suppressed and vulnerable. I am the daughter of a mom I haven’t seen in months, a mom who lost her beloved husband – my father – 18 months ago and is still in hell and in need of support. I am the sister of siblings who I miss so badly it hurts deep in my heart, and I am a friend of friends who are more like family than friends.
You know who else I am? I am the Jew who didn’t celebrate Passover last April with her family. Or Rosh Hashana or Yom Kippur or Thanksgiving or Hannukah, for that matter. Did you hear me whining?
(Okay, I may have whined a little.)
So while I may have “lucked out” in the Christmas department, I’d hardly call that luck. We are in this pandemic together.
With the advent of science, we now have a vaccine (Oh God. Please don’t get me started on that one) so we are in the home stretch, all things considered. Let’s not peter out now. I know that our nerves are frayed, our psyches bruised beyond repair, and our hearts broken over the devastating loss of life all around us.
But for heaven’s sake, unless you want someone you know to end up in heaven sooner than expected, please, please just hang in a little while longer.
As for the things I’ve seen: I can’t unsee them. But I promise that I’m trying hard to forget and move forward into a saner, simpler, and healthier future for us all.
PS. Wasn’t it so cool of the Pandemic to put itself on hold for New Year’s Eve?