It’s been years since Christmas hasn’t been a horribly uptight, stress-filled time for me. And I hate hating it, because it means so much to my family to have me with them during that time. Christmas has always brought out the petulant child in me, though, and I’m not proud of how I’ve reacted in the past.
The biggest trigger for my poor behaviour in recent years has been Christmas pyjamas. Perhaps I should explain, as that really does sound over-the-top crazy, even for me.
I converted to Judaism 2.5 years ago, and was on the path for a few years before that. I come from an old-skool Irish Catholic family, and have been a family misfit for as long as I can remember. I stopped eating meat when I was 11. I came out as queer in my very early 20s. And the faith in which I was raised was, if you’ll pardon the pun, a heavy cross to bear through my adolescence as I tried to figure out what did and didn’t make sense for me.
I suspect you may be thinking, “but what does this have to do with pyjamas?” My mother has gotten my sister and me (and now our kids) pyjamas as a Christmas present. Warm, flannel goodness. I should also mention that due to a lot of factors (including never having enough time to actually get anything done when it would have been more timely), my mother has often found herself doing very last-minute shopping (like, December 24th at 4pm – I’ve never gotten windshield washer fluid and gum in my stocking, but I know some years it was close). What’s left at the end of the Christmas shopping madness? Not a heck of a lot. So, rather than have me be empty-handed the morning of the 25th (which I’ve actually asked for a few times, because getting gifts is awkward and uncomfortable for me, but that would be a post filled will a whole different level of neurosis), she would bring home pyjamas that were – wait for it – Christmas themed.
One year, it was Christmas tree balls. I thanked her in front of my family, and fumed inwardly.
“She doesn’t accept that I’M A JEW INSIDE! She’s MOCKING ME! SHE DOESN’T CARE ABOUT MY FEELINGS!!!”
See? Crazy. Well, the crazy leaked, just a little bit. I tried to carefully tell her later that while I appreciated the ritual of pyjamas under the tree, would it be possible to get me some in the future that did not have associations to Christmas. Her response? “Well I’ll try, but those were the only ones in your size.” Uh huh.
(keep in mind, my mom has a history of doing things for the ritual/intent, while getting the substance of the thing totally wrong. See my 28th birthday when she brought me cupcakes for my birthday, then told me I couldn’t eat them because they had milk in them. She also bought me baby clothes for my birthday, which, as I was 8 months pregnant at the time, with a toddler, and was losing myself entirely to the baby crazy, made me burst into tears.)
So. Christmas tree balls. I chose to eventually take the high road, having had the conversation with her, and wear them with love and irony. The next Christmas comes, and I feel the telltale squishiness of the square package with my name on it. I open the paper, and – sure enough – Rudolph jammies. Okay, sure, they weren’t covered with the Magi. They didn’t have baby Jesus in the creche. But they represented, once again, my mother choosing to NOT HEAR ME. So, I thanked her, and took them home, and left them in an obvious place, tags still on. Two weeks later, she handed me the receipt, and told me to return them for something I would wear. Better, no?
Six months later was my Beit Din and mikveh immersion: the day I formally become a Jew. Mom brought me, among other things, the most astonishingly kitschy Fiddler on the Roof mezuzah holder. I KNOW she supports my decision to convert. I KNOW she accepts my Judaism. She has attended community Chanukah parties, seders, and services with me. She has embraced my faith as important.
So, the next Christmas, I open up the pyjama gift. Yellow, with penguins! And they’re not even wearing Santa hats! Choir of angels moment, I tell you. She looked at me, waiting for my reaction, and I just grinned at her. Then my daughter passed me a small, rolled-up looking gift. I opened it. Pyjama bottoms. With Christmas trees on them. I laughed so hard, I had tears roll down my face. My mother DID NOT SEE THE TREES ON THE PANTS when she bought them.
It’s been two years since the last Christmas pyjama incident, and I’m not worried about it happening again. In fact, I’m at a point now where even if I did get a bunch of themed stuff, I might even embrace it. Not because I’m not secure in my Judaism, but because I am secure in it. It makes my mom feel good to give me gifts. Why should I take that away from her, just because the gift isn’t always something useful or appropriate to the recipient? Do I always get gifts right? Hell no!
Christmas may be a time I’d love to go to the movies and eat Chinese food with my brethren and sistren (and my daughter is totally on-board with that too!), but it’s a time when I get to make my mother happy, and that’s way more important.