Have yourselves a merry little broiges

Christmas is obviously a Jewish festival co-opted by a junior offshoot faction, not least because of its almost unlimited potential for arguments

December 14, 2020 11:40

As we all know, Christmas is obviously a Jewish festival that has simply been co-opted by a junior offshoot faction. Consider the tell-tale signs: it’s an excuse for a big family gathering, specific foods are traditionally served (and in excessive quantities), plus there is almost unlimited potential for arguments.

At the root of every broiges is a simcha where someone did the wrong thing. Even the excessive adoration of the newborn baby seems Jewish, although I don’t recall a biblical description of the bris. To be honest, a stable doesn’t seem like an ideal setting for a circumcision. For a start, there are the obvious hygiene challenges. Did they put down a clean sheet atop the straw in the manger? Where exactly would the mohel have washed his hands? Were the donkeys and oxen temporarily cajoled to wait outside?

Then I have other questions: which of the Magi was the mohel? It’s not known if Mary chose to remove herself from the stable for the procedure (at that point in our son’s bris, I went into the kitchen with the other women and started feverishly buttering mini-bagels and flinging smoked salmon on them as a distraction.) Would Mary have had easy access to mini-bagels? The record is stubbornly silent.

But Christmas is the festival that more often divides Jews than unites us. My husband and his brother grew up with what I think is a fairly typical Jewish approach: no tree, no decorations, no cards out on display, but come December 25, bring on the kosher turkey and trimmings (vegetarian stuffing, no pigs-in-blankets).

My own childhood Christmases were celebrated in full and in multiple households, owing to the staggering complexity of our interconnected step-families. One December 25, I woke up on a camp-bed in a tiny spare bedroom and thought: where on earth am I? Answer: at my non-Jewish step-mother’s first husband’s mother’s house. As well as a tree, there was a Yule log so huge that one end of it was put into the fireplace to burn slowly while the rest of it (over 20ft) stuck out at a right-angle and everyone had to step over it every time they walked across the sitting-room.

But now we are in a corona-controlled world and if we want to share Christmastime with others beyond our own immediate household, we must form a temporary bubble with them (inexplicably, Boris missed the opportunity to refer to this arrangement as a Christmas bauble).

Throughout the pandemic, the Government has attempted to temper the rules with pragmatism. It’s obvious that, if there were a lockdown over Christmastime, with absolutely no household mingling allowed, it would be so widely flouted that it could lead to a disastrous spike in cases. Presumably, they reasoned it is better to loosen the reins a little — see how I have taken a leaf out of Boris’s metaphor rule-book and am using random metaphors that bear no relation to my subject-matter — and set guidelines to try to limit the damage.

During this period, it’s presumably been decided that the virus will stand back and stand by, possibly retreat from the front line to play a little festive football. It is not yet clear exactly what agreement has been reached, but it is to be hoped that the viral hordes will elect not to work at all during the festivities and will instead take time out to lounge around, watching bad films and wiring their way into a huge tub of Celebrations.

Our extended family usually gets together at Pesach, Rosh Hashanah, for Breaking the Fast and at Christmastime. Now, having had to mark the High Holy Days on our own and raising a glass to the others only via Zoom, we are even more desperate than usual to see them.

Gathering on December 25 used to involve 11 of us, from three households. But as the other children have grown up (at 17, our son is the youngest), some have left home. Now, with the same 11 people, we would be six households so we can’t do it. The lynchpin family in the middle is my husband’s brother, his wife and their two daughters. My fear, as soon as the plans were announced, was that they would opt to bubble with “the other side” — my sister-in-law’s sister’s family, rather than us. To be honest, given the choice, even I would pick them rather than us, but already I can feel my lip trembling at the thought of being left, unchosen and unwanted. It feels like when team captains selected players for rounders at my primary school and I would always be picked in the last three.

While I am fretting about this, my husband talks to his brother. A decision has been made. They are opening the golden envelope now. And the winner is... no-one. They have decided it would be safer not to bubble at all. We live nearby so we agree instead to have a walk on December 25. I try to suppress the thought that maybe they’re just saying they’re keeping apart but that, as soon as they’ve had a chilly elbow-bump and stroll with us, they’ll be racing across London to bubble with the others.

Still, there’s an up-side. It means we are now free to bubble with my side of the family which — though less handily located, being an hour’s drive away rather than five minutes — offers a significantly more Christmassy opportunity. As my sister’s husband is not Jewish, there are no restraints — cue tree, decorations, lots of presents and copious amounts of wine. L’chaim!

Claire Calman’s latest novel, Growing Up for Beginners, is out now.

December 14, 2020 11:40

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