After a month of publishing almost exclusively “December Dilemma”-driven content, I promised myself that there would be no more. But then a friend sent me this essay on Salon.com, where Christopher Noxon explains the unique solution he and his Jewish wife found for their holiday hangups: Irving the Snowchicken.
Noxon relates how they came to hatch Irving:
Eventually, we arrived at our bottom lines. No matter how superficial or secular the holiday had become, she argued, it was still Christ’s birthday, and my beloved just couldn’t be party to that. No tree, no mistletoe, no Santa. I took stock and realized … none of that mattered to me, either. I didn’t care about the trimmings — they were mostly tacky and meaningless anyway. What mattered to me, as both a grown-up and a parent, was the make-believe. When I boiled it down, all I wanted was someone magical to break into our house and leave us cool stuff.
Every year, they and their three children devise more additions to their homespun tradition:
We now have a songbook of Winter Wonderday classics that includes a recording of “Born to Be Wild” with all-poultry vocals. While burning our wish lists, we now raise our voices in a song that includes a line written by 7-year-old Charlie: “Santa is fired from the job/ He gives presents like a slob.” We’ve also begun the custom of leaving out a tray of food near the pant-festooned mantle — Irving, the kids discovered, favors sunflower seeds and fruit juice. And we now go to great lengths to build a nest for Irving, the construction of which begins with a Winter Wonderhike to collect twigs and leaves, which we then stuff inside a ring of chicken wire (and which is mysteriously littered the next day with soft white feathers that look very much like they were clumsily extracted from an expensive pillow).
In recent years we’ve spent the evening with bowls of candy, frosting and cookie pieces, building entire encampments of Snowy North gingerbread chicken coops. And we’ve found that no Winter Wondereve is complete without a feast at Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles, where we delight in the combination of maple-soaked fried dough and the sacrificial body of our host.
From the Jewish perspective, their solution is brilliant. While we’ve shown that families can celebrate Christmas and still be unambiguously Jewish, there is no chance that a family that elevates Irving the Snowchicken will be confused religiously. There’s no religious content to Irving; he’s just a mythical figure who brings gifts, like the tooth fairy.
The most obvious argument against Irving is that the particularity of the Noxon family’s celebration isolates them from sharing in the communal spirit that is essential to most religious traditions. That’s true, but they were specifically searching for a non-religious answer to what was essentially a cultural conflict. Moreover, I’m not sure how Irving differs from other unique family traditions, like an annual summer migration to a house in Maine or a family game of capture-the-flag after Thanksgiving. Since most families’ celebrations of Christmas and Hanukkah are primarily about family togetherness and gift-giving (same as Winter Wonderday), the difference between Winter Wonderday and other unique family traditions is more of degree than of kind.