“There’s No Such Thing as a Chanukah Bush, Sandy Goldstein”

So if someone wanted to avoid certain holidays, like if they were a scrooge or something, they could move far away, across the seas, over to a country like Japan. Except, Western holidays are here, too. Santa-san visits my daughter’s school and the company Christmas party; there are wreaths and trees in stores, and Kentucky Fried Chicken has somehow convinced everyone that Americans dine on greasy buckets of their chicken for their fancy Christmas dinner. You, therefore, have to reserve said chicken a good while in advance.

It is handy living here for Halloween, a holiday I’m not so into. I’ll take the candy, thanks very much, but you can keep your goblins and skulls and All Hallows Eve. Just throw me your candy corn and a giant Twix.

And I love the sights and sounds, the panettone, and Buche de Noel of Christmas. It is my dream to belt out O Come, O Come, Emanuel or Silent Night, on stage, or just door to door, carolling. I think I’m Idina Menzel or the whole Glee Cast when it comes to Christmas songs. Forget about Elf–I think I could out-shower sing cute-what’s-her-face.  The thing is, since our daughter is now three, and oh-so-with-it-in-understanding, something has risen up in me. The deep inner-workings of Jewish Mama, that’s what. The whole, “There’s No Such Thing as a Chanukah Bush, Sandy Goldstein.” 

My parents read that little paperback to us and it’s really something–you practically have to campaign for Chanukah. There is something deep there that knows our Jewish children will want to take part in Christmas. I, myself, want to! Especially as I believe in the Messiah. Luckily, I later got stepparents who were non-Jews. Meaning, we got Christmas! All wrapped up– stockings, and British Christmas crackers, too!  I love every scent and song, every movie, soundtrack, snack, and meal (except the roast ham, that is).

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Is Santa-san bringing me a gift, too?

We have to root for Chanukah, sell it strong, because our kids will ask about getting our own Christmas tree. They will petition for the beauty of twinkling lights, the chubby man in red.

Foreigners will come up and ask them if the’ve been good for Santa. Your kids will give you confused, furrowed looks. “Who’s him,” she’ll ask, suspiciously, as we part from the stranger. All the hubub of catching Santa at their father’s Christmas party, only to arrive a few minutes too late. No present, just a blur of something red.

And you’d think it would be easy, here in Japan, to just let it roll by, me teaching those carols in spurts, and educating with the Macy’s Day Parade, after they’ve been thoroughly taught on the miracle and warmth of Chanukah.

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But Santa-san is here. Songs have been translated and my kid’s teacher is asking everyone who has trees and suggesting Santa-san will bring her something. Her eyes are gleaming. She is checking the sky. Chanukah is over, early this year and celebrated on a Thanksgiving turkey-high. Her presents have already, a while ago, been hidden and then found.

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And there is no multicultural curriculum, no “Happy Holidays”. There are only “Christmas parties”. No blue and white paper plates covered with dreidels, no talk of Kwanza, or winter solstice. There is no “Happy Chanukah” thrown my way. There is only Santa-san. Here, it carries no notion, no division of “Christian vs Jewish.” There is only Christmas, the warmth of flickering resplendent bulbs wrapped around Rudolph.

And after all of the rising feeling, the slight tension, the joy…

I misunderstood when I needed her to arrive at school.

She missed Santa-san. I think I was the more disappointed one, sorry I had goofed.

“It’s okay”, said my husband. “She’s Jewish.”

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PS After all this time, I had no idea our book was made into a movie!

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3 thoughts on ““There’s No Such Thing as a Chanukah Bush, Sandy Goldstein”

  1. I enjoyed reading your post! My oldest daughter’s best friend is Jewish, so she learned that Santa did not come to her home. Growing up in Japan some kids in my classroom did not get a Christmas gift, so I hope it’ll be easier for you as your kids grow older. My daughter’s thing now is a tooth fairy. She seems confused that I didn’t have a tooth fairy when I was little. Parenting requires more creativity than I have imagined.

      • Awww. Thanks! I was like “we just don’t have a tooth fairy in Japan. Period.” I’m so not creative! I’m still not sure what to say. I even forgot to put money under my oldest daughter’s pillow one time when my hubby was away for business… Her older friend who happened to be sleeping over at our place that night (double whammy) said to my daughter that the fairy was me. Kids, kids…

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