Sunday, December 19, 2010

This Things We Leave Behind... And Those We Gain

I am feeling a distinct Christmas-shaped hole in my aura this year.

The year before I converted, we nixed the tree (which was getting progressively smaller, anyway) to see how it felt. It was OK, although, as I reported then, I was caught off guard by some carolers and wept openly at a shopping center that first year.

Last year was all abut the joy of choosing Judaism - and Christmas and Chanukkah were close, so it all felt like a big love-fest. All was well.

This year, though, Chanukkah started on Dec. 1. By December 9, the menorah was aglow with all nine candles, all the gifts had been given, Ma'oz Tzur sung (and sung, and sung) and then darkness. Chanukkah was over.

Meanwhile, carols were on the radio, Christmas lights (yes, Melanie, they ARE "Christmas" lights) were being hung and the buy-buy-buy-frenzy was reaching its peak everywhere I turned.

I don't miss the pressure to out-do last Christmas every year. That's never what it was about for me, anyway. Christmas has always been a state of mind. An extra smile or an extra bit of patience, and remembering to treat each other like human beings (except, apparently, during black Friday sales. All bets are off then). It's just that all of that was wrapped up in the packages and the lights and the singing and - for what its worth - the smell of cinnamon pine cones.

In theory, I should be able to transfer all of those feel-good feelings right on over and celebrate with the Maccabees, no? I'm finding it not quite that easy in practice and I don't know why.

I guess I am mourning a little bit of my childhood: Singing in the choir at midnight mass, matching family PJs and the sweet anticipation of Christmas morning. I will not ever forget the Christmas that Santa brought facepaint and Dad painted my sister and I up like members of KISS. (Dad was cool even then.)

I know that on December 26 I will feel better. Not only because people tend to go back to being rotten to each other, but because I have gained so much more than I lost when I left Christmas.

Let's begin with a place and a service where I truly feel close to God. I like that Jews are taught to treat everyone the way they would treat God not for some promise of a glorious afterlife and rewards, but because we are obligated to - it is the right thing to do and that is why you should do it (vs. you should do it to get into heaven).

While the list of things I have gained from conversion is vast, I'll end it with the friends I have gained. I didn't gain them because I converted - in fact several spouses are still Christians. I gained them by being involved in Temple Israel.

This (I like to think) close group of friends are the ones you can call at midnight when a squirrel is squatting in your living room (Bucy is packing and I have him on speed dial) and the ones who will then show up with many squirrel-themed gifts to mock you and your fear of small, furry wildlife after the terror has passed.

They are the friends I want around me when we deal with things that seem too big - loss of family, financial ruin, serious illness. These are the women and men I want in my corner because some of them will hug me, most of them will make me laugh and many of them will then pick me up by my shoulders and give me a push to move forward (when progress is the last thing from my mind).

If I've lost Christmas, it was a small price to pay for getting a soft, warm and often funny place to land when the holiday spirit inevitably wears off.

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