Happy first night of Hanukkah, fellow members of Tribe! On that note, I’d like to take a few minutes to talk about Christmas. Christmas dinner specifically. Whether it was due to interfaith dating or a lack of funds to travel home for the holidays, I’ve found myself at a number of Christmas celebrations. The nice thing about Hanukkah is that it’s not the most serious of Jewish holidays and there’s eight nights of it. So you can multitask — light your menorah at sundown and scarf down a few latkes one night, head over to Christmas dinner another. Should you be invited for Christmas, you must be prepared, especially if you are the only Jew in attendance . After the jump, some tips for the Jew at Christmas dinner.
- Find about the pork situation in advance. Something for you to know, oh Jewish one: Ham is a very popular dish to serve at Christmas. Ham? What is ham? It is part of a pig, which technically makes it pork. If you keep Kosher, are a vegetarian, or just hate ham (as is the case for me), make sure there will be something there for you to eat. Ask the host in advance what the menu is and offer to bring something you can eat if ham is the main event. This way when you get a heaping hunk of pork put in front of your pie hole, you don’t have to refuse it and seem like an ingrate.
- Show up with stuff to put under the tree or in stockings. It’s polite to show up with a little something to put under the tree, especially if there is a present exchange of some sort happening. As a rule of thumb, buy for the host (or the person(s) who invited you) and the kids if there are any. For everyone else, stocking stuffers like socks, oranges, or chocolates (not Hanukkah gelt) will do.
- Be prepared to tell the story of Hanukkah and/or lead a round of dreidel. There may come a point in the evening (actually, there definitely will) where someone asks you about your own traditions. Be prepared to regale them with the brief version of the story of the Temple in Jerusalem and the oil that miraculously burned for eight days. Alternatively, you can show your hosts how to play the lively game of dreidel, but only if it has gotten to that point in the evening where everyone has watched “A Christmas Story” at least three times.
- Make sure you know at least one Christmas carol. I was in a caroling troupe as a child (my parents are very liberal) so I pretty much know every Christmas carol including an obscure version of “Jingle Bells.” But it’s okay if you don’t. Learn one or two so you can fake it till you make when the caroling portion of the evening rolls around. If you really don’t know the words, do what you did in Temple as a kid and move your lips.
- Every good Jew knows to show up with food. Even if you are bringing a Kosher option for yourself, bring something traditional that everyone can enjoy. Perhaps a figgy pudding? I’ve never had one before, but I’ve always wanted to. Anyhow, show up with something edible. You know your Bubbeh would disown you if you didn’t.
- You can get drunk here. At my family gatherings, one bottle of wine is enough to serve 12 people or more. My mom complains she gets “dizzy” after only one sip. If I’ve had more than 3/4 of a glass she asks if I am too drunk to drive. This is because we are Jews, the great teetotalers. As I’ve discovered at my many Christmases, people of other backgrounds encourage, nay, expect you to polish off a whole bottle of wine on your own. Go for it! It makes the yuletide more gay and those conversations with the weird uncle so much more entertaining. As long as you don’t have to drive and know when to stop so you don’t embarrass yourself, booze it up, baby … without guilt for once.