This is not news to most of you, but this year marks EtsyBrook’s first Christmas. And by that I mean it’s this menorah lighting, Ve’ahaftah reciting, hook-nosed-blowing haftorah reader’s first time having a legitimate excuse to gift advent calendars, ostentatiously wrap presents and deck the halls in celebration of a holiday that is related to the birth of Jesus Christ. I’m sorry, mom — my boyfriend made me do it.
I am clearly being forced into this celebration.
The Jews in the house will know what I’m talking about when I say that I have been living in a state of intense Christmas envy since about age 13. Up until then, getting eight days worth of presents in comparison to my gentile friends’ one measly morning of tearing through wrapping paper seemed like a pretty sweet deal, especially when my presents involved a sticker book one night, a stack of Lisa Frank stickers the next, and OHMIGOD OILIES!!! But for most Jewish kids, around the preteen years, the eight days of gifting comes to a halt and we start to realize that Hanukah might not be as important a holiday as our parents had previously led us to believe and — whoa — John and Maria gets to decorate a nine-foot tree and ice gingerbread cookies and unwrap sky-high piles of presents and simultaneously hate and love Christmas music?
This could have been my childhood.
It’s not like I haven’t had many non-Jewish friends over the years, but joining them to decorate their Christmas trees or participate in their family eggnog guzzling traditions never even crossed my mind. So for the past two decades, my siblings and I have contributed to the Christmas spirit in the only way we knew how — by ruthlessly critiquing the lighting displays of every house on the border of Long Island’s Nassau and Suffolk counties. I am particularly gifted in this endeavor, and every year I remind everyone that colored and white Christmas lights should not be mixed and that “plastic light up Santas are bullshit.”
Christmas Labbits are the opposite of bullshit.
Still, in spite of this satisfying family tradition, I have always felt like I have been missing out on the most satisfying elements of the Western world’s most beloved holiday. When I realized around August that I would be dating a man of Christmas celebrating proclivities during the holidays, my head nearly exploded from the pine-scented anticipation. Christmas trees! Present wrapping! Present unwrapping! Slutty Mrs. Santa costumes! (Okay, maybe not those.)
Like Halloween, holiday gifting obviously requires months of planning. I started my present list for Jeffrey in a Google document that continued to grow over the course of the summer and into the fall. In November, I was just beginning to make my purchases when I stumbled across this on a friend’s Facebook page:
This, my friends, is called the Whisky Advent Calendar. It is basically the most amazing gift on god’s great earth. The UK based website Masters of Malt claims to have come up with the idea, but I’m pretty sure it was created by Jesus especially for my boyfriend Jeffrey whose blood alcohol content occasionally clocks in at OMG WHISKEYYYYYY.
As I’m sure you’ve guessed, there are no candy corn in this advent calendar. Every day for twenty-four days, the whiskey swigging recipient opens up a tiny door to find a “dram” of whiskey from around the globe. While Jeffrey has been trying to keep up with his shots of rare 17 year-old Hibiki and 50 year old single malts, he’s understandably running a little behind. If Santa looked a little wobbly on his sleigh last night, you can be sure he was dipping into our windowsill stash.
So, for the past month or so I have been watching Jeffrey dissect this early present shot by shot, all the while collecting and wrapping presents for him to open on Christmas day.
Because I am a crafting addict, I was intent on hand-stamping the wrapping paper for every one of my gifts this year. In addition to my honey’s many treats, I also had some Secret Santa and family gift giving obligations to attend to.
My magic tools.
Secret Santa gift for a coworker named Daryl. At least I think her name is Daryl...
Often I would wrap Jeffrey’s presents right under his nose, which was endlessly amusing. At night I would be stamping myself into carpal tunnel while Jeffrey and I tried to understand why people are obsessed with Homeland (seriously people, why?). With Jeffrey’s concentration held by the quivering lip of Claire Danes, I easily slid his smaller gifts into boxes in front of him without him noticing, perfectly folding and taping the packages beneath handmade patterns of kitties and pandas. Then I would clip the ends of a bow and, with much fanfare, place a fully wrapped present under the tree.
"Wait, is that for me?" he would ask me.
"Yes," I would say. "I am a magician."
WHAT’S IN THE BOX???
One of the things I had been looking forward to most this holiday season was decorating a tree to complement my painstakingly wrapped presents. Jeffrey’s apartment has very high ceilings and we fit a nine-footer in here this year, which allowed plenty of room for me to hang the ornaments I had been coveting for months, including the super-extra-blingy baby panda that called to me in all of its kawaii cuteness from a Shibuya boutique in Tokyo.
Needs moar jewels.
Added to the pile of critters in our vaguely animal-themed pile of pine were these two kitties:
And these three kitties:
And most recently, this felted version of everyone’s favorite internet kitty, which served as Jeffrey’s Christmas teaser present on Christmas Eve:
Internet kitties FTW! (NyanCat Ornament by The Cutesy Shelf)
Our tree is basically a zoo.
Kids! Can you find the: NyanCat, 3 pipe cleaner cats, bamboo panda, super-blingy panda, 2 mermaids, 2 ballerina cats, 2 brown bears, zombie gingerbread man, winged Wonder Woman
We even have a Reddit robot mingling amongst the animals, and he is responsible for informing the other ornaments about new holiday trends and social news. Oh no, he crashed.
The Ghost of Internet Future. (Reddit Robot Ornament by OlechkaDesign)
The only thing that missing from the tree was a contribution from my mom, who when she heard there would be a Christmas tree in my home this year, ran to the mall to try and take a picture with Santa for a personalized ornament. She was ultimately kicked off the line by one of Santa’s unfriendliest elves because apparently only actual children are allowed to sit in Santa’s lap. Pervert. But I love that she tried, and it was in her honor that I hung this bagel from the tree.
Kosher for Christmas.
Lest you think my enthusiasm for the birth of Christ (sort of) caused me to forget all about Chanukah, please note that the Brook siblings had a dreidel party!
"A dreidel in every drink," was the party’s policy.
Tastes like miracles. And gambling.
It should also be noted that Rachel’s magnificent menorah sweatshirt was hand-sewed by one of her friends. Next year, Hanukah sweatshirt. Next year, you will be mine.
My sweatshirt envy miraculously lasted eight days and eight nights.
While my ability to acquire a hand-embroidered, Hanukkah-themed outfit fell short, clearly Christmas was never going to escape from my propensity for dressing to a theme. Fortunately, my favorite leggings company did not fail me, and allowed me to wrap my stems in twinkling pine-covered branches.
Deck your legs in piney spandex. (Christmas Tree Leggings by Black Milk)
Fa la la la la…
And you know I couldn’t resist this “kittens in mittens” dress, which I saved for Christmas Day.
Commitment to cute for Christ. (Kittens In Mittens Dress by I’m Your Present)
Food too, is easy to tailor to the theme of merriment and mistletoe. I very rarely feel compelled to cook, even on holidays, but baking is another story. While cooking is most certainly an art, whipping up baked goods always felt more accessible to the crafter in me. Lest you give me too much credit, I must confess — the cake is Duncan Heinz.
I’m a regular Jewzy Homemaker.
Though I’m sure it’s as easy to mix together flour and sugar and a bunch of other ingredients into a homemade batter, the one stop shop of a boxed cake batter has always been good enough for me. Besides, all I really want to do is decorate.
I really should have piped “Happy Birthday Christ” on this thing. #missedopportunity
Before I even knew I would be embarking on Project Christ Cake, I was snooping around Etsy for some cute gifts for Jeffrey’s niece when I found the cookies below and decided they would make an adorable addition to the Christmas dessert table. I’m pretty sure the targeted two year old licked a single cookie and tossed it aside before diving back into her ice cream. So, you know, it was all worth it. Still, these are pretty damn adorable.
Imma bite your cute little heads off. (Christmas Owl Cookies by Sweet Art Sweets)
While I might not be cheffing it up in the kitchen on Christmas Day or hand-mixing a secret family-inherited recipe, one thing I do know how to do is wake up early to acquire bagels. This is a skill that was passed down from my father to me, and to him from his father. Yesterday, since it was a special occasion, I decided to go the extra mile and hoof it to Russ and Daughters to pick up a couple of their mind-melting bagel sandwiches for me and my still-snoozing fellow. Naively, I thought I would be one of the first to hop on line outside the Temple of Appetizing, as I often am on non-holiday weekends. But alas, I was not the only member of the tribe who wanted to celebrate the birth of the most famous Jew with a prime piece of pickled herring, and at 8:55am I joined my brethren on line to wait my turn for salvation.
An hour later I returned to the apartment, quiet as a mouse, and after a little covert arrangement I ran to the bedroom to wake up my partner in Christmas celebration.
"Jeffrey! He came! Santa came and he knew EXACTLY what we wanted!"
We must have been good this year.
I do have to say, it was nice to be able to inject a little of my heritage into the Christmas celebration. As a lifelong Jew with much attachment to the traditions and cultural footholds of the chosen people, even with my excitement over celebrating new holidays, I felt a twinge of guilt for so whole-heartedly embracing Noël. (Even while embracing Jesus’ birthday, my Jewish guilt lives on.) I wasn’t sure how the rest of the Brook family was going to feel about my overwhelming enthusiasm for a holiday outside of the Jewish faith and tradition; but it was refreshing to realize they understood. For me, the holidays are not about aligning oneself with Christmas or Chanukah, Jew or Catholic or Christian — the holidays about the love of festivities and spirited celebration. The love of making things and giving to people and spreading the cheer and love and fun. To me, that is like a religion.