It’s that time of year when I find it easier to lie. Small talk revolves around the question: “so are you all ready for Christmas?” And, each time, I assess whether or not the “I don’t celebrate Christmas” conversational route is worth pursuing (this needs to be delivered carefully so as not to come across all Scrooge-like). Often, I prefer to avoid the complications that inevitably come when explaining that Chanucah falls at a different time each year and simply respond with: “Nearly. Are you?”
Despite my occasional longing to decorate a Christmas tree, I do not envy my non-Jewish friends and colleagues at this time of year as they drain their bank accounts and imaginations searching for the perfect gifts for their nearest and dearest. I sense the palpable panic in the air as they make frantic preparations for their Christmas-day lunch extravaganza. My commenting that my Grandma Shirley essentially does this every Friday night does not, shockingly, help to alleviate their stress.
Yet there is one particular pastime during the festive season that lays open the cultural chasm between our two faiths more starkly than anything else — booze. I cannot comprehend how much alcohol is drunk by the nation throughout December. And more disconcertingly, I cannot keep up.
I actually like to think of myself as a decent drinker among Jews, which could be down to my lineage. My Grandpa knew and enjoyed his whisky. I bought my mother a carafe for Chanucah and she recently texted me from a wedding with the question: “So, what exactly is a Jägerbomb?” before finding out for herself.
Compared to my Jewish friends, I am a reasonable drinker. However, they don’t really constitute tough competition. The last time one of them suffered a nauseating hangover was due to an over-consumption of wine at her mother’s 60th birthday. Not exactly hardcore.
My increased tolerance can be attributed to my non-Jewish university friends. It was through them that I learnt how gentiles routinely returned from a night out only to carry on the party and pop open another bottle. Returning to my flat after a night out, my Jewish flatmates and I would carry on the party by popping some frozen latkes in the oven.
Yet even the effort my university friends put into assimilating my alcohol tolerance could not prepare me for the festive season in the working world.
By the beginning of December, invitations abound — company Christmas do, departmental Christmas do, work contacts Christmas do, university friends’ Christmas do etc. My diary looks like one long bar crawl. With each RSVP, I feel more dehydrated.
It is at this time that non-Jews exhibit their superhuman drinking abilities. Firstly, their power to drink on an empty stomach. It was at my first ever Christmas work do that I learnt the phrase “eating is cheating”. By 9pm, I either order some bar snacks or I head home. One Jewish friend recalls a work drinks scenario where, a few drinks in, he ordered a round of five pints and one “penne al salmone” from the bar.
’Tis also the season of the boozy lunch and thus frequent demonstrations of another gentile boozing phenomenon — day drinking. If I drink at a lunchtime, I am ready for a shluff by 5pm. Boozy lunches at work kill me. Returning to my desk after just one glass of wine, I struggle to focus on my computer screen yet my colleagues continue to function as normal.
This is not just a seasonal dilemma. A friend of mine is forced to leave post-it notes marked “RDM” on her work after joining her team for Friday lunchtime drinks — “Re-do Monday”.
There is also the torture of a hangover which my non-Jewish colleagues like to cure with the tradition of hair of the dog. They drag me to the pub at lunchtime doing their best to convince me that more alcohol will cure my thumping headache and shakes. I assure them that, unless the barman is serving toasted challah and a pillow I am not interested. They look at me blankly and I order a diet coke.
And so this is Christmas. I actually now look forward to December 25. At least, then, my non-Jewish friends are busy and most of the pubs are closed.