A Jew’s First Christmas: Crafts, Celebrations and Bagels Under The Tree

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.

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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?

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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.”

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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:

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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.  

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BOOOOOOOZE!!!

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.

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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.

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Panda paper

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.

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My magic tools.

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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."

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WHAT’S IN THE BOX???

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Moar pandas!!!

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.

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Needs moar jewels.

Added to the pile of critters in our vaguely animal-themed pile of pine were these two kitties:

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And these three kitties:

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(Pipe cleaner cat Christmas tree ornaments by Old World Primitives)

And most recently, this felted version of everyone’s favorite internet kitty, which served as Jeffrey’s Christmas teaser present on Christmas Eve:

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Internet kitties FTW! (NyanCat Ornament by The Cutesy Shelf)

Our tree is basically a zoo.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Deck your legs in piney spandex. (Christmas Tree Leggings by Black Milk)

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Fa la la la la…

And you know I couldn’t resist this “kittens in mittens” dress, which I saved for Christmas Day.

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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.  

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!"

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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.

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From the Etsy Storque Blog: Killer Dolls!

Not at all creepy.

When I was younger I used to sleep over my friend Michelle’s house a lot, and while we always engaged in fun activities like making holiday-themed chocolate lollipops, and watching David Bowie’s crotch-laden Magic Dance, and putting on plays in which I displayed my loose grip on all foreign accents, I also dreaded going to this particular friend’s house for one simple reason.  The place was riddled with potential killers.

This little lady wants you TO DIE.

Michelle had a very impressive collection of what I’m sure are/were very coveted collectible porcelain dolls posed along the top of the armoires in her bedroom and in the guest room.  No matter where I chose to sleep, on Michelle’s bedroom floor, or in a little guest room’s trundle bed, if I looked towards the ceiling, dozens of beady, lifelike eyes and perfectly curled eyelashes would stare down at me from beneath ornate, southern debutate hats and massive hair bows.  I have never been a fan of dolls that look too much like real people.  Or dolls with no faces.  There are a lot of dolls that freak me out, actually.  It has always seemed to me that something with human limbs is more apt to strangle you in the middle of the night than something with — I dunno — paws.  Or a keyboard.  Please — give the dolls to everyone else, and just put me to bed with my computer.

Which is why today’s Storque blog post in the always fascinating “Keep It Weird” column, by Blog Editor Michelle Traub, is pretty much the embodiment of my worst nightmares, though in an artful way.  In fact, I might actually need the dollhouse miniature black lace garter and bra.  Or the impeccably detailed Hoarder Dollhouse, complete with the trash (or “treasure”) collecting “Maybelline” crouched amongst the rubble in her bathrobe, and a pick-up truck full of junk sitting in the yard.

You know. Just chillin.  (Hoarder Dollhouse by turtlestones)

And yet some things I may have to leave for you to pick up, dear EtsyBrook readers.  I’m just too big of a wuss.  Plastic baby arms tacked to a boardA needle-felted Rotten Tooth Fairy Doll already bearing its teeth?  I’d sooner sleep with a life-sized clown statue by my bedside than lie with these things in my apartment in the dark, scary night.


Read the original Etsy Storque blog post, "Keep It Weird: All Dolled Up," in its entirety.

EtsyBrook Gift Guide: Getting Horny with Jen Vaughn

Jen Vaughn is a brilliant cartoonist – creator of Mermaid Hostel, the coolest comic under the sea, mastermind behind, “Menstruation Station,” my very favorite illustrated rag (yes, I went there) about lady issues, and author/illustrator of an impending comic workbook book called “Moving In Together” that will help couples navigate the basic questions of co-habitation. (Recommended: toss one microwave, keep all sex toys).  In addition to being a master illustrator and storyteller, Miss Vaughn is also a multicolored-clothing enthusiast.  She is a pink-haired pioneer, a rainbow-clad rapscallion. 

A typical Vaughnian ensemble.

She also happens to be an Etsy seller, peddling personalized illustrations that allow you, or the people you love, to fulfill dreams of riding winged creatures, or transforming into scaly-tailed merpeople.  But what is most important about Jen today, other than that she is one of the people I love most on this planet, is that the lady likes her some unicorns.

Does it surprise me that this buxom babe, oozing magic hotness has a thing for an animal whose defining characteristic is a spear of pure phallic majesty?  Or that the woman who at any given time could be wearing a rainbow tank, rainbow mittens, or a rainbow belt, would be attracted to an animal so closely associated with the many colors of the post-rain sky?

Not really.

Does it make giving gifts to The Lady Jen Vaughn a super-fun adventure of fantastical proportions?

You betcha.

Too much? (Unicorn Onesie by bangbangcrash)

Here’s the thing about gift giving on Etsy.  Once you put your finger on a subject/object/thing a friend or loved one likes, you can (ninety-nine percent of the time) find endless permutations/interpretations/incarnations of said subject/object/thing that your giftee never would have thought of.  What’s that?  Your sister likes Harry Potter?  How about getting her a pair of hand-painted Harry Potter-themed sneakers, or a golden snitch necklace, or a set of Owl-Post-themed stationary?  You will blow minds.  It is actually crazy how many times I have simply bumped into something that would make a perfect gift for someone I know.  I am all set on presents for my nuclear family, my three or four best friends, my dog, my shrink, my hairdresser and my friends’ unborn children –- for the next five years.

Jen Vaughn made her love of unicorns and all things rainbow apparent very early on in our relationship.  She also, one day, made a particularly awesome reference to “pooping” said rainbows.  (We are classy ladies and these are the kinds of things we talk about.)  Lo and behold, a few months later, just in time for the holidays, I stumbled upon this:

So child-friendly. (Ornament by Holiday Regrets)

This is what we call Gifting Destiny.  Turns out the ornament’s seller is Holiday Regrets,  a shop that collects items submitted by Regretsy fans.  If you don’t know what Regretsy is, you really need to visit the website (I promise to post a through exploration of Regretsy in the future), but what you need to know about the site for now, it that is posts the most hilarious, and least-likely-to-be-useful of what Etsy has to offer.  To date, I have purposely bought at least two things featured on Regretsy, which probably won’t come as a surprise as my EtsyBrook posts reveal more about me.  As you will see,  I have weird-ass taste.

Meanwhile, as soon as I saw my little pooping unicorn, I knew it had to be mine, to be Jen’s.  I think I set the record for fastest browse-to-transaction rate in Etsy history.  A couple weeks later, the ornament was placed on Jen’s tree in “Muff Mansion,” the fabulous house of cartoonist ladies where Jen Vaughn used to live, and all was right in the world.

Should I have also gotten her the Unicorn Poop Soap?

Since then, I have been quietly collecting unicorn-related items just in case I feel an extra spurt of Jen love coming on (which happens often), or in case we decide to have a sexy Scorpio co-birthday party (as we most definitely will), and I have the urge to surprise her with something extra snazzy for the occasion.  Now, my dear EtsyBrook readers, I share this collection with you.  I will admit that I had to hold back one of the big guns in order to not totally blow my future gifting plans for my horn-loving friend, but once she receives said gift, I promise to share it with you.  In spite of this omission, I am still revealing many things I would/could have given Jen in the future, but that are now out of contention given my steadfast commitment to surprise in gift giving situations.  Now that my stash of secrets is revealed, please know, fair-maned, as-of-yet-undiscovered Unicorns of Etsy – I’M COMING FOR YOU.  

So here is, in all it’s sparkling, horny, multicolored glory, The Super Magical Extra Colorful Ultimate Unicorn Gift Guide.  Click below to access the Etsy Treasury I created to host these items, which then will let you click through to each individual unicorn-themed gem.  And if you like what you see, let me know.  As my grandmother would put it, were she to participate in such things, “Would it kill you to “favorite” an Etsy Treasury?

Sexy Witch Pinup Oven Mitt!  Those of you who know me well, know that this item goes largely unused.  But it was one of the very first things I bought for my very first NYC apartment, and its arrival on the UWS made my 250 sq. foot studio finally feel like my own.  One thing’s for sure — you can’t find a Halloween-themed oven mitt with a sci-fi grip at Bed Bath + Beyond.  Coolest oven mitt ever made, by squaresville.

Modern Wildlife
Stiletto planter by giddyspinster

Tips For Newbies: Play Favorites

The online world of Etsy is a big place, and without a way of keeping track of the things that strike you, it’s easy get overwhelmed and lose your way.  Since the very beginning of my Etsy addiction, I have been using the “Favorites” feature to collect all the items and sellers that woo me in one place for future consideration.  My advice?  When in doubt, favorite.  You can always “X” something off your compiled list, but it will be much harder to find that dino planter or that just-perfect black lace dress if you don’t bookmark it when you first lay eyes on it.  Besides, to add an item or seller to your favorites, all you have to do is click one cute little button.

To add a single item to your favorites list, click through to the item’s page and hit the “Favorite” button at the top right corner of the page.

To favorite an entire shop/seller, make sure you are on the shop’s main page, and click the “Add to favorites” button in the bottom left-hand sidebar.

Anytime you want to access your entire list of favorites, simply click on the heart-shaped box in the top Etsy menu bar.

And If you do want to check out the favorite lists of the sellers who inspire you, visit their main shop page and click on the “Favorites” button just under the profile picture in the left-hand side bar.

You can choose to keep your favorites page public so others can browse your selections, or private if you want to keep your coveted items, like one-of-a-kind vintage finds, hidden from the eyes of others who may browse your list.  If you are going to sift through other people’s favorites — which is one of the very best ways to find new and exciting items and sellers — I think leaving your favorites list open for public viewing is just good karma.  But it’s totally up to you.  You will very quickly see how hopping from favorites list to favorites list will help you build up your own, until you have pages and pages of earmarked items and sellers you love.  Like this sample page of items I have been drooling over recently:

As for making purchases, I use the same rule for online Etsy buying that I do for in-store shopping.  When I find something I like, and can’t decide whether or not to buy it right away, I mark it and walk away.  If I find myself returning to my favorites page over and over to make sure a vintage dress is still available, or that a ceramic vase has not yet been bought by another; if an Etsy find infects my mind and I really can’t let it go…it’s off to Paypal City.

Parisian Schoolgirl Chic
Vintage dress by Persephone Vintage

Parisian Schoolgirl Chic

Vintage dress by Persephone Vintage