Saturday, December 26, 2009

Being a Non-Celebrator

There have been many times when in talking to someone I allow as to how we don't celebrate Christmas, and I am met with a look of disbelief comingled with pity. A common follow up to that look is some variant of: "But then what do you do?!"

Well, there is nothing different about the calendar date of December 25. It is 24 hours long, and the daylight hours are still rather short, even at 35 degrees north latitude.

Some years, of course, Hanukkah crosses over Christmas day, so that we are "in Hanukkah" as I like to say. (There are several Jewish holidays that are more than one day long, and it feels more like one is "in" these than "on" them). But due to the the fact that the Jewish calendar is a lunar one that was intercalated with the solar year more than 2000 years b.p., sometimes we are not celebrating any holiday when Christmas rolls around.

And we don't celebrate it, although we are certainly aware that most people are celebrating, and in a very big way. And that means that the day itself is still weirdly different for non-celebrators (NC). I mean, there's no such thing as a quick trip to the store or a spin through the mall. (We make it a practice to avoid the mall and most major department stores and big-box stores anyway during the month of December. Our sensitive Aspie nervous systems just can't take the crowds).

What to do? Well Christmas seems to be a gift to non-celebrators. It is one of the only days in our 24/7 year when an NC doesn't have to make up an excuse to stay home and finish that novel, or that project or watch a movie.

And speaking of movies, that is one-half of the traditional American Jewish solution to what to do on Christmas: A Movie and Chinese, which harks back to the place and/or time when the only restaurants open were Chinese ones, and the movies seem to always be open. When we lived in town, we usually managed the 'movie' part--especially the three years running when segments of the Lord of the Rings were released--but alas, the Chinese restaurants in Albuquerque tend to close on Christmas. Then for a few years, our synagogue ran a fundraiser on December 25 where you could come and pay to watch a subtitled Israeli movie and eat catered Chinese food purchased from a Chinese place at the close of business on December 24th.

Also, in New Mexico, the evening of December 24 is the last night of Posadas, and Old Town and other neighborhoods begin to glow with the warm glow of the luminarias when the sun goes down. When we lived in town, we used to go down to Old Town or to the old Ridgecrest neighborhood to walk in the cold air, listen to the mariachi, and the carolers in the square, and enjoy the light. We'd either start or end the evening with a traditional but pork-free New Mexican dinner at one of the New Mexican food places--posole, tamales enchiladas--done "christmas" with both red and green chile, refried beans and Spanish rice, and of course, biscachitos--the enchanting New Mexican Christmas cookies made with anise.

Now that we live in the mountains, we seldom go into town on the evening of the 24th, so we skip the luminarias but we do enjoy our own homemade New Mexican dinner--pork-free, of course! And this year instead of Chinese and a movie, we watched the new Star Trek movie before having a wonderful Shabbat dinner featured a slow-roast beef, roast butternut squash, the Engineering Geek's comfort-food favorite green-bean casserole (a bit salty), and a fruit pie. A quiet day reading The Greatest Show on Earth by Richard Dawkins (me), doing puzzles (the EG), and working with the new puppy (the Boychick). A NC friend over for the Boychick, and friends stopping by to have a glass of wine for us.

A nice day. Really, the importance of Christmas for those who celebrate it, makes it a quiet and relaxing day for those of us who are non-celebrators. The only day in our American 24/7 year where we don't have to make an excuse to stay home.


jacsuza said...

Thanks for the beautiful picture of the luminarias/farolitos in Old Town! Although there are a few displays here in the "Old Pueblo", nothing here matches what is found in New Mexico. We also had a mellow, "NC", Dec. 25.

Retriever said...

That's a lovely picture of the luminaria. What a nice festival. Our down the street neighbors have had luminary bags on their front lawn in the snow for the last week or two and it is really cool seeing the dancing flames thru the bags on the snow. But rain and snow gone now.

We have celebrated Christmas very much the same as your domestic pleasures (apart from the boy and I going to Christmas Eve services and the consumerist mountain of presents on Chrismas morning). Our family has similar issues with crowds and large malls, and we find shopping more and more unpleasant, tho we get lots online.

We have been eating lots of butternut squash, too, as the garden is pretty much done for except for some hardy collard greens and brussels sprouts which I like, but nobody else.

I have this week off and plan to spend it mostly cozily at home, getting a chance to read and clear out closets and cook a lot. The girls have been baking up a storm: a great birthday cake for my son yesterday, and a strawberry apple crumble tonight.

In our family, there is always a tremendous let down after the build up to Christmas for so long. THo most of them are pretty much agnostic (except my son and I), the Saturnalia/consumerist hype of the holiday captures all of us to some degree, and there is a tremendous sense of anti-climax and gloom afterwards. However, that may be as much to do with the dark and short days, and the damp cold as anything else...I am not a big believer in New Years' fuss, but I try to get more organized when kept indoors so much, and cheer myself up by poring over seed catalogs and starting some seeds for the spring.