Gastronomical Jews at Christmas

I have very fond memories of Christmas Day. That may not seem like an especially odd statement. But my family … Continued

I have very fond memories of Christmas Day. That may not seem like an especially odd statement. But my family was Jewish, so we didn’t celebrate Christmas, at least not in any conventional sense of the word.

I was born into a Jewish family, as I said, but we were specific kinds of Jews. We were gastronomical Jews. Bagels and lox, of course, but also rugelach, whitefish salad, challah, latkes, hamantashen. If we could eat it then it was Jewish and, by extension, had something to do with God. As far as I was concerned, God resided not in Heaven or the Great Void but in the Frigidaire, somewhere between the cream cheese and the salad dressing. We believed in an edible deity, and that was about the extent of our spiritual life.

I can’t remember us ever observing the Sabbath except, oddly, on Christmas Day. True, ours was a modified Sabbath-we listened to Christmas carols on the radio and made hot chocolate with an electric kettle-but the television remained off, and we very much dwelled in what theologian Abraham Heschel famously called “a sanctuary in time.” In fact, time-usually in such short supply around our house-suddenly felt expansive, infinite.

Why the sudden observance? I suppose we had no choice. The rest of the world was shuttered. There was nowhere to go, nothing to do. So we did nothing, went nowhere.

Well, not exactly nothing. Being gastronomical Jews, we foraged for food, embarking on the traditional, and by now clichéd, pilgrimage to a Chinese restaurant-or, even better, ordered in. I also found myself, not normally a dexterous person by any means, overwhelmed with an urge to use my hands. I’m not sure where this sudden burst of nimbleness came from. Perhaps, as a Christian friend suggested, I was subconsciously channeling all of those parents across the country, wrestling with the latest Lego contraption or electronic gizmo.

In any event, I didn’t fight it. I made wood engravings. I patiently, and skillfully, constructed model airplanes. Later, as an adult, I assembled bookshelves and changed light bulbs that had burnt out six months earlier. Like I said, I don’t know where these skills came from, nor where they went to on December 26th, but I was grateful for their mysterious appearance nonetheless.

This year, I’ve decided to put my hands to even better use. I’ll be volunteering at a homeless shelter, helping prepare a Christmas lunch for the residents. It seems like the perfect activity, combining the Christian notion of brotherly love with my very Jewish love of food. I’m not a very good cook–cooking involves the hands, after all–but I’m counting on that Christmas grace to once again carry the day. It hasn’t let me down yet, and I’m sure it won’t this time either.

Eric Weiner is author, most recently, of Man Seeks God: My Flirtations with the Divine. 

More on:


Comments are closed.

Read More Articles

The Three Most Surprising Things Jesus Said

Think you know Jesus? Some of his sayings may surprise you.

How to Debate Christians: Five Ways to Behave and Ten Questions to Answer

Advice for atheists taking on Christian critics.

Heaven Hits the Big Screen

How “Heaven is for Real” went from being an unsellable idea to a bestselling book and the inspiration for a Hollywood movie.

This God’s For You: Jesus and the Good News of Beer

How Jesus partied with a purpose.

Jesus, Bunnies, and Colored Eggs: An Explanation of Holy Week and Easter

So, Easter is a one-day celebration of Jesus rising from the dead and turning into a bunny, right? Not exactly.

Friend or Foe? Learning from Judas About Friendship with Jesus

We call Judas a betrayer. Jesus called him “friend.”

Fundamentalist Arguments Against Fundamentalism

The all-or-nothing approach to the Bible used by skeptics and fundamentalists alike is flawed.

Hey Bart Ehrman, I’m Obsessed with Jesus, Too — But You’ve Got Him All Wrong

Why the debate over Jesus’ divinity matters.

Dear Evangelicals, Please Reconsider Your Fight Against Gay Rights

A journalist and longtime observer of American religious culture offers some advice to his evangelical friends.

How Passover Makes the Impossible Possible

When we place ourselves within the story, we can imagine new realities.

This Passover, We’re Standing at an Unparted Red Sea

We need to ask ourselves: What will be the future of the State of Israel — and what will it require of us?

Just As I Am

My childhood conversion to Christianity was only the first of many.

shutterstock_127731035 (1)
Are Single People the Lepers of Today’s Church?

In an age of rising singlehood, many churches are still focused on being family ministry centers.

Mysterious Tremors

People like me who have mystical experiences may be encountering some unknown Other. What can we learn about what that Other is?

Five Bible Verses You Need to Stop Misusing

That verse you keep quoting? It may not mean what you think it means.

What C.S. Lewis’ Marriage Can Tell Us About the Gay Marriage Controversy

Why “welcome and wanted” is a biblical response to gay and lesbian couples in evangelical churches.