Once again this year, Chow Bella writers are gnawing on the holidays -- in the form of stories of Christmas and food. Hope you have some Alka-Seltzer handy. Enjoy.
By Ada Malcioln Martin
A product of divorced parents, a crazy Jewish Panamanian dad, and a bi-polar Anglican mom of West Indian descent, you could say that my view of the holidays has always been a bit skewed and shrouded in religious ambiguity.
I have siblings, but I grew up practically an only child as both my parents were married previously and produced children in their previous relationships. Jose and Ruby surprisingly had a progressive and amicable relationship which I contend was largely because early on my mom willingly allowed my father to raise me in the Jewish faith. As for their personal relationship, let's just say that they stumbled upon one another.
They couldn't have been more opposite in nature. My dad was a suave, highly educated, Latino man, who dressed much like the men from Buena Vista Social Club. My mom was a bargain shopper, a depression era baby, who collected sugar packets and creamer in her purse upon visiting a restaurant. So it won't surprise you to hear that when we celebrated Hanukkah and Christmas together, we did so as cheaply as possible, with a fake plastic Christmas tree, and a plastic menorah.
Despite having religious parents, I would by no means call myself a religious person. Growing up my only religious exposure happened when I was forced to attend temple with my dad during high holidays. For you gentiles that would be Yom Kippur, the day in which Jews atone for their sins, and Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New year. My dad didn't belong to one of those hip modern temples either, you know the ones that have a cool female rabbi, but instead he belonged to an orthodox synagogue where men sat on one side wearing Tallits (Jewish prayer shawls) and yarmulkes, and women sat on the other wearing mostly white dresses with white scarves atop their heads that more closely resembled doilies.
Given my youth and my religious antipathy, when I harken back to my childhood, I think less about the religious aspect and more about the time we spent together. Every year we would drag the box down from the hall closet, stick the branches into the wooden holes of the faux trunk, and then decorate the tree with brightly colored mismatched bulbs and ornaments. At the onset of Hanukah, we would place the menorah on the opposite side of the room away from the tree for fear that the two might spontaneously combust, and then plug it in. Yes, plug it in; I know the Jews in the audience are cringing at the thought.
Despite my mom's tacky holiday decorations, my parents were able to come together and put aside their differences. What stands out to me most about them during the holidays was their willingness to compromise and treat one another with respect and dignity which those of you who are kids of divorce know that can be a difficult task.
I am a complete control freak and understand that compromise is a difficult pill to swallow but I will say that whenever I argue with my husband and feel like I don't want to bend on an issue, I do think back to my parents and reflect fondly upon their willingness to co-exist and agree to disagree. I stop to picture my Anglican Christian mother standing proudly beside her plastic Christmas tree, and my Orthodox Jewish dad lighting the tacky plastic menorah with orange light bulbs, or should I say "flames" and think," if they were able to do it, why can't I?"
So this season as you contend with family fights over things such as where the festivities should be held, or whether to give gift cards over gifts, try to focus on the real purpose of the holidays. Cherish your loved ones and the time spent together because that time is fleeting, and when disputes arise, do what Jose and Ruby did, practice the art of compromise.