On the Shabbat before Christmas
Our family is a merry blend: a mishmash of Jewish, Irish Catholic, Presbyterian. By marriage, there’s a rabbi and a minister; there are sons of missionaries who grew up in India, and a couple of resolute atheists for good measure. Religious backgrounds and sensibilities notwithstanding, geographically, we are all over the place: we’re Detroiters, Clevelanders, Chicagoans, Floridians, New Yorkers, Texans, Minnesotans, Wisconsinites, Seattleites, Portlanders, Canadians, you get the idea. There’s an itinerant lot of us.
When it comes to holiday celebrations, we’re everywhere and nowhere in particular. Our holidays - all of them, from Rosh Hashanah to New Year’s Eve, from Thanksgiving to Passover -- involve a gentle negotiation, sharing families and traditions. Who’s going where? Who’s cooking. And what do we eat?
Try as I may to seduce my family with my cooking, (all would agree that I am an excellent cook) coming “home” to Detroit tends to be a something of a hard sell, particularly since we raised our two sons in Cleveland. We moved a decade ago, when our boys were in college; to them, Detroit is just a place to visit us. Without their childhood memories, family roots, or even a sports allegiance, Motown is not their hometown. And so it goes. In compensation, my husband and I find ourselves on the road, or in an airport on Christmas Day. Heading West or East or South for some extravagant holiday of our own making.
In years past, our kids had it “rough.” As a young family, we’d fly off to visit “Gran’ma and Gran’pa in Florida" one year, and in “Gran’ma and Gran’pa in California” the next. Either way, all grandparents were hale and hearty and fun-loving. Our holidays were a whirlwind of museums, movies, and zoos, and unnaturally warm weather.
As for a tradition to observe, a set of rituals to follow, the simple comforts of home for the holidays? Those were never a priority, and never particularly in our mix of frenetic activities.
Do I sound wistful? I suppose I am, just a little.
My husband and I are now the senior class of the family. With adult sons living out of town, with a grandbaby on the way this spring, and a wedding in May, all bets are off for where and how the holidays will go. There’s the gravitational pull of work and travel schedules, new in-laws to accommodate, new family traditions to adopt and celebrate, new invitations to extend and accept.
But last Friday night something changed on the horizon, something remarkable, the dawning of a new age, and perhaps a new tradition There were stars in the sky, and cars from out of town in our driveway: both sons - (and with them my new daughters!) came home for Shabbat dinner. From Chicago and from Cleveland, they drove in for a visit, albeit just for a night in Detroit. There we were, for the first time, three adult couples, seated around my table to light candles, open a bottle of wine, and break . . .a fresh-baked challah.
I declare: the moment was a Christmas miracle. By whatever powers I can bring my family together on the Shabbat before Christmas at my table from now on, there will be poinsettias and matzoh ball soup, chicken and cranberries, a winter solstice salad of greens and fresh berries, chocolate pound cake (see previous post for recipe) . . . and birthday gifts for all.
A mixed up, crazy new tradition. Oh, why not?
And merrily, we’ll roll along. This Friday night, we’ll drive to Cleveland for Christmas Eve at my son’s house. There we will be, with his wife’s family, our new meshpucha, travelers all. We’ll light the tree, open the wine, stuff the stockings, celebrate. Our new, extended family tradition . . . bearing birthday gifts for all.
Wishing you the happiest of holidays and a healthy, peaceful New Year.
And thanks for dropping in.