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My First Christmas Eve Dinner at My Son's Home

Originally published December, 2002. Republished December 13, 2012.

"How could he ask us over for Christmas Eve Dinner?" I griped to my husband. "What has happened to all the Jewish education that this son of ours received during his growing up years? Doesn't he know that it would kill us to see him celebrating a Christian holiday? I am certainly not going!"  

The moment that Jordan and Yolanda asked us to that dinner, I regretted that we had decided to go to Florida for the last two weeks of December. I should have known better than to visit them during holiday time, I silently castigated myself.

Jordan and Yolanda had been married the year before in an interfaith ceremony officiated by a rabbi and a priest. Since they had agreed before the wedding that they would each keep their own faith and that in their future home they would observe both the Christian and Jewish holidays, I should not have been so surprised by their invitation. Nevertheless, even though I was aware that they were going to celebrate Christmas, I was adamant about not witnessing it!

To my utmost chagrin, my husband, our other two sons who had also flown in from Connecticut, and our daughter who had joined us from California, did not show any qualms about going to their dinner party. They even seemed to be secretly looking forward to an evening that would be a new experience to them. I could not even find an ally in my own mother who, living so near the young couple, had become quite attached to Yolanda. I was definitely alone in my misery.

"What does one wear to a Christmas Eve dinner?" my other children wondered out loud, but none of them knew the answer. "Mother, what do you think?"

"Don't ask me, you know I am not going and I don't care," I responded in a sullen dismissive tone, wallowing in self-pity.

When my family was ready to leave for Christmas dinner, a feeling of aloneness swept over me. It was then that I came to realize how foolish it was not to want to be with my husband, our children and my mother on one of the rare occasions when we were all together, just because the event was a Christmas Eve party.

"We knew that you would change your mind at the last minute," my daughter said giggling, while the others tried unsuccessfully to control their laughter.

I was plagued with apprehension during the entire ride to Jordan's house, for I did not know what to expect. Would their yard be decorated with Christmas lights? Would they have Christmas music all night long? For sure they would have a tree, but what if they also had a nativity scene? I did not know if I would be able to accept it all with a smile, but I would certainly try.

To my utmost relief, as we entered their driveway I noticed that there was not a single Christmas decoration in their yard or on their front door.

As usual, Yolanda, her parents and her brothers greeted us warmly, but nothing has ever touched my heart as much as the indescribable look of happiness in Jordan's face when he saw me.

"Mom, I am so glad you decided to come," he said, as he hugged me tightly.

Yolanda and Jordan took us around their beautiful new home — it was our first time there — where we saw a medium-size Christmas tree in the corner of the living room and some wrapped gifts under it, nothing ostentatious. My mother and husband appeared relieved that those were the only two signs that a religious holiday might be taking place, but our other children told us on the ride home that they were disappointed that the evening had been toned down for our benefit. "They are probably saving the real celebration for Christmas Day," our youngest boy complained.

On the dining room table there was a large menorah holding nine blue candles, even though Hanukkah had taken place the week before. Those were the only two signs that a religious holiday might be taking place.

As for the festive meal, it was very much like a Thanksgiving feast in December — the same traditional foods with the addition of a plate of latkes (potato pancakes) and a steaming bowl of rice and beans. The soft new age music playing in the background was drowned by the boisterous conversation about what had been happening in our lives since we had last seen each other, not much different from dinners when my children were small and all four would speak at the same time.

At midnight, as we sipped the sweet hot chocolate drink that Yolanda's parents had prepared, a Christmas Eve tradition in Peru, and we shared memories of our children growing up, I felt fortunate that Jordan had become part of such a loving, caring family. It was then that I knew that I had made the right decision by not staying behind nursing my false pride and missing a wonderful family reunion.

I also realized that uncharted terrain lay ahead, and I had to learn to take one step at a time, and to keep moving forward.

Hanukkah (known by many spellings) is an eight-day Jewish holiday commemorating the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt of the 2nd Century BCE. It is marked by the lighting of a menorah and the eating of fried foods. Hebrew for "candelabrum" or "lamp," it usually refers to the nine-branched candelabrum that is lit for the holiday of Hanukkah. (A seven-branched candelabrum, a symbol of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem, is a symbol of Judaism and is included in Israel's coat of arms.) Yiddish word for a potato pancake, traditionally eaten during Hanukkah. Hebrew for "my master," the term refers to a spiritual leader and teacher of Torah. Often, but not always, a rabbi is the leader of a synagogue congregation.
Raquel Stabinski-Leib

Raquel Stabinski-Leib is a freelance writer and author. A collection of some of her stories can be found in the just-published anthology Lives, edited by Charles P. Lamb.

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