I Never Believed in Santa Claus

Macy’s NYC

My family does not celebrate Christmas. Although my parents would have preferred for it to be just another day, it was always clear that December 25th was the day we did not celebrate Christmas. We were Jewish, and had our own holidays. Our own candles. Our own food.

Donna and I acknowledge Christmas two ways: we go to Alexis’s for waffles and Prosecco, and we tip the employees who work in our apartment building. We don’t exchange gifts.

Growing up, I knew of other Jewish families who were just like us, except that they celebrated Christmas as a secular American holiday. Like Thanksgiving. They decorated an artificial tree, ate a spiral sliced ham, and exchanged presents. My parents said it was “A shanda.” A scandal. Jews should act like Jews. Jews like us go to the movies and out for Chinese food on Christmas. Jews like us do their shopping after Christmas to take advantage of the sales.

My parents believed that all Jews, all over the world, were our kin. They divided the world into Jews and everyone else. I feel kinship with a subset of unobservant, over-educated, and under-employed queer New Yorkers. At Christmas, I feel a little at loose ends. I’m missing a party that I don’t want to attend.

My Dad told me that Santa Claus didn’t exist. That parents, aunts, uncles, and grand parents buy all the presents. I understood that my life wouldn’t be any better if we were Christians or if we celebrated Christmas. I’d have to wear a red and green plaid dress with a black velvet Peter Pan collar, tights, and black patent leather Mary Janes. I’d get the same dolls, Nancy Drew books, and a purse. Different wrapping paper, the same problem. 

My birthday is the day before Christmas. Every year I had a small birthday party on Christmas Eve. I didn’t like the attention. I suspected they weren’t really celebrating me. They were celebrating who they wanted me to be.

My parents obliquely asked me what I wanted. I was afraid to tell them the truth. I hedged my answers. Asking for boy’s toys would start an argument. I tried to ask for toys that weren’t made specifically for girls or boys, e.g. a Spirograph or Labyrinth. Toys I could play with by myself and still feel like a boy.

Fur-EliseOn my birthday, and on the first night of Hanukkah, presents would materialize under the piano in the living room. I dreaded opening them up. I couldn’t pretend to like the jewelry box that my grandmother gave me with the ballerina that twirled around to Fur Elise when I opened the lid. Instead, I silently wished for a new baseball glove, a Met’s cap, and black figure skates. I wished I wasn’t a girl.

Birthday gifts are still tainted by association. I have nostalgia for gifts I never received. For something special. Donna tries her best, but it is an impossible task (unless she gets me a Labrador Retriever puppy). The best solution is for me to give Donna a list of the books I want, and for her to select a few to give to me. It takes the pressure off both of us, and I’m not sure Gracie would like a puppy.

I’m glad this year is almost over. I’m looking forward to January, to peace and quiet, to the days getting longer, and to curling up with some new books.

Notes: This article, Why Eating Chinese Food on Christmas Is a Sacred Tradition for American Jews, explains everything you always wanted to know about this tradition. Unfortunately, Donna doesn’t like Chinese food, but she will go out for Thai, Malaysian, and Indian food, so all is not lost.

17 thoughts on “I Never Believed in Santa Claus

  1. Mrs Fever

    There is a Spirograph special edition out this year, for the holiday season. I had one as a kid and loved it; I am sorely tempted to get myself one for the sake of nostalgia. However, the pragmatist in me “tsssk!”s and makes discouraging tongue-clucks whenever I think I have convinced myself to go ahead with it. Sigh.

    I’m with Donna – Thai food is my favorite; I’ll take that over Chinese cuisine any day.

    Happy Birthday! 🙂

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thanks! I loved my Spirograph – my parents had to buy me a lot of colored pens to use with it. I liked the puzzle aspect of it – and trying to make patterns. I don’t have any kid toys – and I don’t know if I would like playing with them – the only continuos play from my childhood is ice skating – and I still love Bugs Bunny and other Looney Tune cartoons.

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  2. Lesboi

    I think I had that same jewelry box when I was a kid. Probably got it at Christmas. Probably put rocks and marbles in it since that’s what I coveted back then. I always look forward to January too so we can all stop being so crazy and get back to our regularly scheduled programming. I’m not a fan of Christmas at all. Just something I have to endure every year. You’re not missing anything. Happy Birthday! Hope you get some good books.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      The books better be good since they came off my list! I hold off on buying books after the summer so that I will have something to ask for.
      I had a small collection of bracelets I was given that I stuck in the ballerina box, along with anything else I needed to put away like lip gloss. It still makes me wonder what they were thinking…

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  3. The butch

    I’m sorry this time of year sucks for you. It will be over soon. Hang in there.

    I’m a Black Hole birthday person–falls within the week between Christmas and New Year–and my secret wish as a child was that my birthdate would magically change to another time of year. Alas.

    Happy birthday wishes to you.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I hear you. If you want a party it has to be either before December 15 or after January 7, and by that time it feels a little surreal. And I bet you get “one big present for both” instead of two regular size presents. But, as my mother often reminded me, “at least we got the tax deduction for that year”.

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      1. The butch

        Yes, I got the tax deduction line too.

        Some years, most years, I didn’t get a birthday present at all. And so, like many Capricorns, I generally pretend I don’t have a birthday.

        GQB is a mid-January baby, so we’ll celebrate hers in style.

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  4. halitentwo

    Oy. I’m right there with you Jamie! And yes, I had that same stupid box with the stupid ballerina whose only redeeming quality was that her leotard was blue. I hated every gift I ever got. And only now realize it was because they weren’t actually for me, they were for the person my family wanted me to be. Instead, I got labeled as ungrateful. Another totally relate-able post!

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  5. Cai

    My boss is Jewish and not much for the holidays. We do secret Santa every year at our kiosk, and I’m his secret Santa. I’m getting a gag gift for him, based on a theme he’s been doing this year with our coffees, then get him a gift card because he’s such a gamer. A manager we both know at another store said he’s going to freak when he opens the gag gift. 😀

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