Family & Education

Christmas is cancelled, and I'm sad

Gaby Wine has always had a very jolly Jewish Christmas. So, what to do in 2020?


I’m not going to mince my words or beat around the (holly)bush here, but if you haven’t already taken the hint, I’m a bit of a fan of the C-word. No, I’m not talking about the nasty, horrible C-word, which is swirling around invisibly, looking to catch its next victim unawares and blighting so many people’s lives. I’m talking about the other C-word that has been making headlines just as much lately, the one with sparkly lights and bling hanging from it and Mariah et al. singing all about it. (And FYI, it’s not Chanukah.)

I know that I shouldn’t be bothered about it, that I should think of it as “just another day”, albeit one with better TV than usual, but I can’t help feeling miffed that it isn’t happening this year.

I mean, of course, if you are a believer in the New Testament, it’s still happening, but for the rest of us, it’s not happening. First things first, I always get out of doing the cooking since family tradition dictates that we are at my brother-in-law’s — and who am I to start breaking with tradition? Not only does my brother-in-law cook the best Jewish turkey inside the M25 (as if being cooked by a Jewish person somehow makes the bird Jewish, but you get my drift), but he was the pioneer of tablescaping before the word became fashionable. Things which just look like tat or clutter in someone else’s home are magically transformed into a show-stopping C-word Day display on his dining table, which wouldn’t look out of place in the window of Fortnum and Mason’s.

And, have I mentioned the crackers? Oy, the crackers! These are not just any old crackers. These crackers come with bells, which, if played in the correct order, actually play tunes. Not tunes that I should recognise, of course, but I am not too tone deaf to realise that  these tunes ain’t going to work with just four crackers this year…

Then there is always a new board game with rules that take ages to explain and even when we understand them, no one can agree on them. Cue the Queen, who starts thanking the nation for our selflessness and sacrifice over the past year and I sit there hoping this message will rub off on my kids before they resume the board game again.

It’s usually at this point that a huge box of chocolates magically appears and everyone is very restrained during Strictly, but by the time Call the Midwife starts, any pretence at self-discipline has been done away with. By then, two boxes of chocolates are going round in opposite directions like some kind of ill-conceived getting-to-know-you game on summer camp. Except no one is actually interested in getting to know one another. We are just interested in not being lumbered with the coconut-filled chocolates at the bottom of the box. Events usually end with the closing credits of Eastenders or, even more dramatically than that iconic drumroll, my son gets an allergic reaction from the cats and we all trundle home.

Either way, the day is always a joyful one in. It’s a bit like holding someone else’s baby - I don’t have to create it, “cook” it or clean up after it. It’s all the fun without any of the responsibility.

So where did this love of the C-word come from? Perhaps it was from my South London upbringing, where getting picked for Mary in the Nativity play at my primary school was akin to landing yourself a starring Hollywood role. The competition was fierce. Much to my frustration, this role always went to much a blonder girl and I would invariably be fobbed off with shepherd’s wife or another walk-on part such as servant of one of the three kings (I have heard of scraping the barrel, but…).

Perhaps it came from my parents, who used to give us one present on Chanukah and at least eight on C-word Day. Which day would you prefer? Sure, we had a Chanukiah, but we also had a C-word tree and a stocking, complete with the prerequisite tangerine in the toe. We would then congregate at the home of our best friends and have a jolly, Jewish C-word Day lunch.

Where our kids are concerned, we have dispensed with the tree (tempting though it is) and instead, my mother-in-law now does a very impressive Chanukah bonsai tree. There are no more stockings and there was certainly no Nativity play at the Jewish primary school my kids attended, so sadly no chance of my daughter fulfilling her mother’s unrealised dreams.

But we have kept alive the socialising and the fressing, which is especially enjoyable if someone else is in charge in the kitchen. That’s what I’ll miss most this year. But, as luck would have it, I’ve just checked the Jewish calendar and Friday is a fast day. Looks like, when it comes to cooking,  I am off the hook then. In fact, we all are. Merry C-word Day everyone!

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