Before attempting Christmukkah, do your homework
by Diana Beechener
I considered myself a cosmopolitan child. I traveled in Europe, sat at the adult table during parties and watched R-rated movies. So when my friend, Becca, suggested that we combine our holidays and celebrate together, I was confident that my seasoned 12 years could handle a Christmukkah extravaganza.
I knew the basics about her holiday: Hanukkah was an eight-day version of Christmas with candles, dreidels and a different menu. There would be no Santa, but that illusion crashed with my father late on Christmas Eve of 1987. When Dad tripped over the dog, I discovered that the bearded man delivering presents to my Christmas tree was not St. Nick, but my father, with a swelling ankle.
I arrived at Becca’s house ready to impress. I discovered that my task was decidedly harder than anticipated when a steel-eyed woman opened the door, raising an imperious eyebrow in my direction.
“Rebecca,” called the woman, “your friend is here.” The eyebrow did not lower until Becca came into view, thanked her grandmother and hustled me into the living room.
“Come on Di, I’ll teach you the prayers!” I nodded, eager to learn. After Becca uttered the first Hebrew phrase, I felt cold dread creep into my chest.
I gave the prayer my best effort, but I hocked my way through hard Hebrew H’s like a tuberculosis victim. When the prayer mercifully ended, I blushed as Becca’s family peered at me with mirth-filled eyes. Becca smiled, and her grandmother froze her eyebrow high over her forehead. I spent the rest of the evening praying that someone would sing the dreidel song, in English, so I could redeem myself.
Becca sang in our school choir and developed a love for choral music, so for my part of the Christmukkah, I invited her to the Christmas Eve Mass at a local Catholic church. I was not Catholic, nor religious, but as my Grandmother told me no one puts on a show like Catholics. So with stories of robes, harmonizing, incense and freshly draped garlands, I convinced Becca that she should experience a night of Christmas cheer.
We sat in the warm church, enraptured by the choral harmonies and smell of crisp pine mixing with the smoky incense. When the communion procession began, Becca perked up in the pew.
“Oh!” she cried, “we get a snack!”
“No, we don’t,” I said, watching the long line of people solemnly approach the altar, genuflecting and presenting their open mouths to the priest. Becca doubted my statement and scooted toward the end of the pew, following the crowd. I panicked. For all I knew, the altar boys were trained to spot outsiders and take them down. I grabbed her arm.
“They’re eating the body of Christ. You can’t eat God unless you’re Catholic!” The look of horror that crossed Becca’s face was temporarily eclipsed by the indignant snort of a woman in the pew ahead of us. Scowling at me, she grabbed her toddler by the hand and dragged him away. I fished in my coat pocket.
“I think I have some Lifesavers,” I said.
We sat in silence, Becca pondering religious cannibalism, while I wondered if I could have, perhaps, phrased my information in a better way.
A year later, we bravely decided to share the holidays again. A month before the big Hanukkah dinner, Becca coached me in Hebrew prayers. When the night finally came, despite my practice, I still felt as though I was getting Bat Mitzvahed by fire. I kept my head bowed low, my voice soft and remembered what Becca drilled into my brain during those countless lunches. The tiny nod from her grandmother as she lowered her eyebrow was the only Hanukkah miracle I needed.
At the Christmas Eve Mass, we sang along with the choir and soaked up the seasonal spirit without incident. When the communion procession began, I felt an elbow in my side.
“Don’t worry Di, I’ve got us covered,” whispered Becca as she pulled a bag of cookies from the pocket of her coat.