How This Jewish American Wiccan “Celebrates Christmas”…

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How This Jewish American Wiccan “Celebrates Christmas”

In the very near future, I will be spending a huge chunk of my time in Israel. It will be nice not having to explain holidays to anyone or explaining why Christmas is just another day to me. For now, in the suburbs of a predominantly Irish and Italian neighborhood with a good 20 churches in pretty much every direction I turn (I wish I was exaggerating), I am still explaining myself. I have no idea why people still think their religion is the only one that exists on this planet. I’ll never understand it!

I am completely respectful of other people’s religious beliefs and their holidays, so long as I am not subjected to them in a means to try and convert me, but my spiritual beliefs and holidays are often met with some extremely disturbing questions, as opposed to the few I have received recently that were honest, curious, and filled with excitement for knowledge. They were by no means offensive. When a person is open and honest, and interested, it makes it so much easier for me to be me, as opposed to feeling like I have to repress my thoughts.

A few weeks ago someone wished me a “Merry Christmas” and received my usual response, which is that I do not celebrate Christmas. This is someone whose establishment I frequent once or twice a month, and not only did she look like I’d just kicked her, but she came over to make sure she hadn’t offended me. I had to explain that I celebrate Chanukah and Yule, and that I am not Catholic or Christian. She was incredibly confused, but she came over to make sure she hadn’t offended me with a wish for a good holiday. Me, I simply like to be clear with people. I am not trying to offend anyone, but if you’re going to wish me well, wish me properly. Don’t make assumptions and please, don’t tell me I “don’t look Jewish”. I don’t even know how to answer that one without telling you off, and because I come from a rich ancestral well of knowledge and an incredibly deep DNA pool, I can assure you that we come in all different shapes, sizes, and colors. We are all distinctly unique, some more than others.

Growing up, Christmas was not a word used much in our home. Not for any other reason than the simple fact that we’re Jewish. We had many Christian and Catholic friends, some who understood and some who did not, that we ourselves did not celebrate the same holiday, nor did we share the same spiritual or religious beliefs that they did. It is extremely disturbing to me that in 2013, any Jew still has to explain themselves.

People like to quote the Bible at me, and they are generally New Testament folk. They’re the kinds of people that don’t realize exactly how “new” the New Testament really is. I, myself, do not adhere to anything outside of the Old Testament. Even that kind of loses me at times. Prayer is an amazing thing, but I like to stick to my own path when it pertains to anything of a spiritual nature. I am not trying to change or convert anyone.

Today is simply December 25th to me. It’s not a holiday, but it IS my Great-Uncle’s birthday. He passed away 15 years ago, but I still remember him very clearly. I remember the last things he ever said to me, and I remember how silent this time of year became after he passed away. For several years prior to his passing, myself and two other family members would try to spend the day with him. Even though he had long since stopped acknowledging his own birthday, he still loved going out to a nice restaurant and enjoying good food, good company, and he told stories like nobodies business. They’re the kinds of stories you want to hear from someone over the age of 80, because you know that no matter how much time passes, you will never hear such stories again.

After he passed away, the tradition maintained in my home on Christmas Day was movies and good food. Either we went to the movies and came home to a really great meal, or we stayed home with a pile of movies and made a meal together. Almost always, it was homemade Italian food from scratch, or Chinese food from the best place in the area.

To know me is to know that I make killer Italian food. It’s something I love doing, but I am just as comfortable making Asian cuisine, Mexican cuisine, and pretty much anything else that I have mastered in all my years of cooking. Nothing is impossible, but I am an epic lasagna failure. It’s the only thing I make that falls apart, so I’ve stopped doing it. It is never inedible, it just never does what it’s supposed to do. Despite a family recipe for veggie lasagna that has been passed down for four generations, I completely and utterly suck at it. It’ll probably be another ten years before I attempt it again. It takes time and patience, and we all know I have no patience.

Over time I have found that people really seem to be offended whenever I clarify that I do not celebrate Christmas. They look at me like I kick puppies, torture kittens, steal winning lottery tickets, and am just, on a whole, not a good person. I look at them with the knowledge that, for over 5000 years, my people have not celebrated Christmas. It’s not on our calender and it’s not in our religious texts. It’s perfectly ok to not share the same religious beliefs. If we did, we’d be living in some kind of bizarre utopia. That’s not a world I can imagine functioning in. Differences make the world go ‘round. We can either choose to come together and learn from one another or we can continue fighting in the name of religion. The choice, however, is generally not ours to make because those that govern our respective countries are a huge part of why organized religion is failing. I could go on, but I won’t, or I assure you, I will offend you.

One year a family friend (one of my brother’s best friends at the time), on leave from the Army, wanted me to convince my brother to come to midnight mass with him. I, personally, do not spend time in churches. It has never been my thing. My brother politely declined, but as his friend became more insistent he finally said “Look, there’s a Jew hanging from a cross in no less than 7 places in there. With that track record, I don’t care to be the sacrifice sometime between midnight and 2 a.m.” We ALL laughed, and no one was offended.

This very same friend asked us about Christmas trees, genuinely wanting to know “If we put up Christmas trees, what do Jewish people do?” Never one to miss an opportunity, I turned around and said “We put up a Chanukah Bush, John.” He nodded and said “Oh, ok.” I said absolutely nothing for a few minutes, everyone was in on it because they’d heard me do this little bit before. Finally, after suppressing serious laughter to the point where I almost hurt myself, I admitted to him that I was just fucking around with him, that there was no such thing as a Chanukah Bush (though I admit, I know some people that put one up because they love Christmas trees, but don’t celebrate Christmas). Again, laughter ensued. You have to really know me to know that I will joke like that with the people that know me best, and that, while inappropriate to some, I am careful what I say in mixed company because I don’t go out of my way to be hurtful to others. I do like to be very clear though, that’s just my way. Humor and clarity.

Approximately 11 ½ years ago, Wicca was introduced to me. It is the perfect blend of a nature based religion steeped in Kabbalistic teachings. Kabbalah is Jewish Mysticism. If you don’t know what that is, use a search engine. That will explain it more clearly for you.

For me, Wicca was like coming home. It was pretty much everything I had been raised around, especially a love for animals and nature, and the elements. Part of the Wiccan Rede is “An it harm none, do as ye will”. There is no governing body, you govern yourself, and the Wiccan Rede tells you “So long as you are not harming anyone, do as you will. Live your life.” It is laid back and calm, and it brings an extra level of peace to my life. Even my Rabbi is comfortable with my spiritual beliefs. He’s one of the most open people I have ever met, so I feel supremely comfortable being myself and speaking my mind around him. Until I met him, I had NEVER been in the presence of a man of God and not felt judged. However, my Rabbi is unique. He too, is from a foundation of “You’re not harming anyone by being you. Live your life.” In this, I always feel incredibly blessed.

Almost all of my friends are religiously different than I am, and that is beyond ok. I am not sitting in judgement of them or their beliefs. I want them to be their authentic selves, and I can only hope they want the same for me. I have friends that are Jewish and friends that are Wiccan, so I don’t feel spiritually deprived in any sense of the word. We should all celebrate what we believe in and do so with those we love. We should wish the people in our lives well EVERY DAY, not just during the month of December.

So Lisa, exactly how does a Jewish American Wiccan “celebrate Christmas”? Simply put, I don’t. I ignore the insanity of my neighbors, all of whom DO celebrate Christmas, and I go about my day. I will bake Cranberry Orange scones for breakfast, I will do laundry and maybe enjoy a movie. I will play with my fuzzy little Princess. Later on, I will be making a nice meal for the family I am spending my day with. I might even get some writing finished, if I’m feeling up to it. Basically, anything goes. It’s just another quiet day for me. After years and years spent taking care of others, quiet days are something I really treasure.

Wishing you & yours a beautiful holiday season.

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Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving

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Thanksgiving is days away and I’m going to do my shopping tomorrow (I have been in far too much pain today to actually psych myself into it. I was also far too drained to focus on anything other than staying in my PJ’s and not going out in 22 degree temperatures. I’ve wanted a nap since a little after 9:00 this morning. I’m seriously eating dinner and going to bed as soon as humanly possible.), which is unusually late for me, but I have a list and I’m sticking to it, even though it’ll be crazy in the store no matter what.

I honestly don’t think I’ve made a Thanksgiving meal in about 6 or 7 years. It’s been long enough that I simply don’t remember the last time I did it (though I do know that my father was in the hospital at the time), but this year I decided that, despite only cooking for a few people, I’m not making ten plus pounds of turkey for anyone. It’s a lot of food, food that will absolutely go to waste because no one around here eats dark meat (Based on personal preference, nothing more. ), so I am going to re-vamp the menu slightly, but I’m still going to make stuffing because I’m craving it and it’s one of the most awesome things about Thanksgiving in terms of food.

Everyone makes stuffing differently, providing they make it at all, as everyone likes different side dishes this time of year. I don’t know anyone that makes stuffing the way I do, but I inherited the recipe from my mother and it’s good enough that I will pass it down the generational line because there is no way in the world this chick is genetically producing children that can’t cook.

I’m keeping things healthy by including a salad, even if I’m the only person that eats it. Truth be told, I like to tear up my turkey or chicken and throw it right into a salad, even on Thanksgiving. I do not feel guilty about food EVER, but I especially don’t like bringing food issues of any kind to the table during the holidays.

So, I’ve got a nice meal planned, there will be plenty of leftovers, but I’m completely sidelined and baffled by dessert. For the last couple of years I’ve ordered pies and cheesecake for the holidays from a local Italian bakery. I’m not a pie maker, I know my baking strengths and I don’t have the patience for pies, so when it comes to things of that nature, I turn to those who do it for a living. I made the mistake last year of ordering a Pumpkin Pie that was so bad, I refused to eat it. From the crust to the filling, it was one of the worst things you could ever possibly taste.

Pumpkin Pie is hard to screw up, it’s a pie I know how to make without a lot of effort, but I was exhausted last year and there would not have been pie at all if it were left up to me. I think I ordered four or five different pies between Thanksgiving and the end of last year, and the only ones worth eating were Caramel Apple Walnut & an amazing Chocolate Cream that was downright sinful (it took me two weeks to finish it, it must have weighed ten pounds!). All the others stunk, but the Caramel Apple Walnut is consistently good.

I eat fruit year round like it’s a sport, and I have an immense sweet tooth, so even though I had not previously thought about it, I am going to try to snag a Caramel Apple Walnut to cap off this year’s meal. Personally though, at least for myself, I’m thinking of making my awesome brownies. It will take me the next month and a half to eat them because they’re truly divine, and full of dark chocolately goodness and other healthy things that help reduce any issues one might have at eating a small chunk or two, but a lot will depend on how long it takes me to get the main course and the stuffing in the oven.

Fibromyalgia makes it virtually impossible for me to prepare a huge meal in a few hours like I used to, so I’m thinking I will prep the stuffing Wednesday since it’s not a long amount of prep work, and then do the main course and the salad on Thursday. Each takes less than 20 minutes, the oven does all the real work. If I have energy after that, brownies will be made. If not, I’ll settle for a tiny wedge of pie. However, I guarantee that pie will not see the light of day. It’ll come into the house tomorrow afternoon and by Thursday evening, the box will be in the trash. I have serious pie eaters here, they don’t mess around.

My only other real “plan” for Thanksgiving is to watch movies and read. I just want a nice meal and a relatively quiet day. Black Friday will be spent chasing newly acquired black kitten who is SO at home right now, it’s not even funny. Every day she learns something new and shows me a new trick. Yesterday it was the fact that, small as she is, she can open closed doors. I have to admit, I was impressed. Today she ran up and down the stairs like a mad woman, and every time I’d go to check on her, she’d go flying back up the stairs like she’d just committed a crime. If you saw the behavior on video, you’d crack up. It’s entertaining as hell. She doesn’t make a lot of noise, so when she meows, which she finally did Saturday, it is the cutest thing ever. She’s pretty possessive of me, but I don’t mind, except when she speeds after me, nearly knocking me down. She’s a little beast when it comes to following me when she wants to. She’s sound asleep, the next minute she’s right under my feet or bumping her head into my legs. She is the gift that keeps on giving, and I’m thankful that I decided to come from a place of yes and bring her home. She’s already helping me feel a lot better about certain things. I’ve had less headaches/migraines since she’s come home, which cannot be a coincidence. I’m calmer and more centered, and I am not yelling nearly as much as I normally do.

I am not gifting anyone anything this year, other than my love, loyalty, and friendship, and for some people, all three. I might treat myself to something small, but I really just want to survive the remainder of this year with my head above water, and move into a New Year where I can prosper.

I feel bad that I won’t technically be doing anything for Chanukah this year, which begins Thanksgiving night, and is my favorite of all the Jewish holidays. I have such great memories of the happiness of Chanukah that it makes me sad, but it’s also not about gifts. Right now, for me, it’s about remaining focused. I’m doing my best.

This year has taken huge chunks of my soul, but others things have been given back to me, like unconditional love, loyalty, confidence, respect, new friendships that I treasure, old friendships that are the untarnished Platinum in my life, and the knowledge that the more I grow, the more content I am with who I am and where I’m going. Nothing is set in stone, and I’m learning that every time someone tries to break me, I come back stronger from the trial.

I hope everyone has a wonderful, peaceful, happy, healthy, and safe holiday.

Holiday Gift-Giving & Outrageous Decorating

Unlike 98% of the people I know, I don’t celebrate Christmas. To this day people still act shocked when I say I don’t celebrate Christmas and never have. During my first year working on my ParaPsi degree, I stumbled upon Wicca. It turns out I’d been utilizing a lot of the minor nuances for most of my life, and have since adopted additional bits and bobs as a bit of a back-drop for me spiritually. Thank you Mom and your Kabbalistic teachings.

I grew up the daughter of someone who became über observant during the High Holidays, and downright neurotic during Passover. If it had been presented to me differently I wouldn’t have such an aversion to it now. I haven’t really observed the holidays over the last few years. It begins with losing both of my parents, moving into my house, and then realizing I can’t find a simple menorah, or the candlesticks that my Great-Grandmother brought with her when she emigrated from Lithuania. Technically they’re all in the house, but since more than half of it is still packed, pinpointing one or two items is exhausting. So for Chanukah, it comes down to simple gift-giving.

It’s nauseating to me how commercial the holidays have become. It’s always been over the top, but this year was definitely the worst in history, with stores opening up hours before Black Friday even became Friday. Instead of people enjoying  time with family, they were waiting on line to get into stores, acting as if they’ve never seen such wonders in a store before. It’s all the exact same stuff that was there on Monday, and unless it’s a brand new item you’ve never seen before as many new things came out at exactly 12:01 a.m. that Friday, it’s the same crap they always have, but now they’ve tweaked the prices to make everything seem extra special. It’s not.

I can’t begin to say how many people have told me that they simply dread their credit card bills right now, because in a country with so much excess, people actually feel that they have to buy every single person they know, are friends with, like, etc., a gift of some sort. It’s no longer about family, laughter, sharing, it’s all about the gifts. I realize it’s been like this for quite some time, but it’s actually never been that way for me.

Growing up, Chanukah was never about who gave and/or received the most expensive gift. It was a time where my close immediate family got together for a nice meal, my Grandmother would make enough latkes for three professional hockey teams and their families, and discussions would range from current events to complete and utter wackiness. The sounds and smells of home. For me, that’s been gone for a long time and it’s a piece of me that has died because only two of those family members remain. It is a piece of me that will be reborn when I have children of my own and become the matriarch I was born to be. Until then, it’s about thoughtfulness. A gift does not have to be outrageous, but it does have to be thoughtful. I try to give things that people would not buy for themselves, things they love, things they’ve talked about wanting, but generally things they wouldn’t spend the money on because they’ve got so much else going on that the funds simply aren’t there. I love things I can make for others, but I like to start the DIY stuff in August. It’s not some insane competition when you’ve given yourself additional time to prepare. I have so few people on my list any way, but I still like to give myself that extra time just in case I’ve procrastinated at some point.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about the insanity of holiday decorations. I’m from New York City where it’s a nice blend of menorahs and Christmas lights. I love driving through the city during this time of year because you simply do not see menorahs in the suburbs. I live on a street where approximately 30 homes are decked out for Christmas. It’s pretty quiet here, for all intents and purposes. On neighboring streets the displays are bigger, louder, and a few spots in particular are horrendous eye sores the second it gets dark, which is literally by 5:00 PM. I drove past one a week or so ago and thought I’d go blind from all the action. One spot in particular is decked out to the point where you almost expect Santa to land there via helicopter. There may have even been a heli-pad on the roof, I’m not 100% sure because I had to look away fast, lest I lose the vision in my right eye! I will try to get a photo to share with all of you. It’s that obnoxious.

Living outside major metropolitan areas, you don’t get the balance of the city. Here, you might find one or two items amidst all the Christmas decorations in a store. Specialty items for decorating aren’t hard to find on the Internet. I have absolutely no idea what I’d do with an 8 foot menorah on my front lawn, or a 12 foot dreidel, but I’d love to see my neighbor’s faces if I ever do decide to purchase one and put it out before Thanksgiving even starts!

Suburban life, you’ve got to love it!