Growing up as a secular Jew in a heavily Hebrew New Jersey suburb, my childhood reaction to Christmas could be described as confused bemusement. Jesus seemed like a mensch, but such a fuss? Eight nights of Hanukkah was more than enough; 12 days of Christmas had to be overkill. Jewish holidays are heavy on candles, awful wine and potato pancakes, and attempts to jump on the seasonal bandwagon with blue-and-white lights and Hanukkah bushes just fell flat. So the weeks from Thanksgiving to New Year were spent in alienation, watching from the sideline while the rest of society engaged in collective pious debauchery.
Even if I couldn't appreciate the holiday spiritually, I could bask in its culturally reflected glow. The iconography of Christmas is so saturated with talking snowmen, prancing reindeer and jolly elves that you never need to notice Jesus standing way in the back row. I learned that you could sample from Christmastime's buffet of delights while leaving the whole "messiah" thing on the steam table with the broiled fish and lima beans. So, in the spirit of ecumenical appreciation (or at least appropriation), allow a member of the tribe to modestly propose some mostlyJesus-free ways of having yourself a merry little nondenominational X-mas.
Get Scrooged (whether you like it or not)
Every year it emerges from our theaters, rattling its chains like Marley's ghost. Its innocent victims succumb, unaware of the dangers of repeated Dickensing. If you are faced with it, I don't recommend fighting: Just lie back and think of 1840s England. Yes, A Christmas Carol has returned, and Tiny Tim aficionados can pick their poison. Theatre Downtown again presents its familiar large-cast adaptation, this year with Dean Walkuski stepping into Scrooge's scowl. Or there's RS&C's decade-old Dickens by Candlelight in DeLand. For a Scrooge substitute, Mad Cow Theatre provides a literary alternative in Dylan Thomas' A Child's Christmas in Wales, while Orlando-UCF Shakespeare Festival's Every Christmas Story Ever Told treats Ebenezer and his ilk with the irreverence they deserve.
How about a nice show, maybe a little nosh?
While we don't control international finance or start all the wars in the world, we Jews are responsible for one thing: dinner theater. How else to explain the surreally blasphemous holiday shows at some of the tourist-oriented establishments? If flaming ostriches and pirate elves aren't your thing, but you still want a show to give you holiday cheer (and bottomless beer), check out Sleuths Mystery Dinner Shows. Though sandwiched between soon-to-be demolished buildings on the outskirts of the withered Mercado, Sleuths is holding firm and attracting some of the best acting talent in town. With new writing bringing a Joe's NYC Bar sensibility to the scripts, it's shaping up as respectable theater. (sleuths.com)
The (other) Festival of Lights
As a child, I charted the arrival of the holiday season by the progress of my neighbor's decorations. As I walked to school, I watched their house transform into a wonderland of animatronic carolers, giant candy canes and disturbingly off-model giant cartoon characters. And the lights — so many lights! Enough blinking, twinkling lights to shock my sugar-addled young brain into an altered state that it didn't reach again until laser Floyd shows in college. While the adult brain may require chemical assistance to achieve that state, a visit to the Osborne Family Lights is the next best thing. The annual display that ate Disney-MGM Studio isn't the same since it moved from the departed "Residential Street" sets, but they make up for it with a synchronized music show lovingly ripped off from YouTube. Just don't ask the cast members where Ozzy and Sharon are; they've heard it before.
Have a traditional Jewish Christmas
So, you want to see how the other 1.5 percent lives? You could spin a dreidel at the Mount Dora Library Hanukkah Celebration. You could join the Feldman Dynamic at their Home for the Hanukkahs, which is guaranteed to make you feel better about your own dysfunctional family. Or for the ultimate in holiday irony, Playwrights' Round Table is offering Six Degrees of Santa Claus at the Jewish Community Center. If you really want to celebrate the Semitic way, here's a handy timetable for observing Christmas Day in accordance with ancient Jewish tradition:
7 a.m.: Stay in bed. The kids have been opening presents for the last week. So pity the groggy gentiles and go back to sleep.
11 a.m.: Brunch. A bagel with a schmear, or maybe some lox and eggs you'd like?
3 p.m.: Go see a film. There are so many Jews at the movies on Christmas that they serve chocolate-covered matzo at the snack bar (but we sneak in our own candy anyway).
7 p.m.: Dinner. Chinese food, of course.
9 p.m.: Watch ‘A Christmas Story' for the 97th time. If you'd rather shoot your eye out, watch the "Mr. Hankey" episode of South Park, and sing along with "The Lonely Jew on Christmas." Under no circumstances may you watch Adam Sandler's Eight Crazy Nights; it's an anti-Semitic forgery on par with The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
Midnight: Late-night latkes, then bed. Merry X-mas to all, and to all, shalom!
Note: Details for all events referenced can be found on the following pages in our Holiday Calendar.