The Ungrateful Child: A Christmas Tale

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Chow Bella took a bite out of the holidays earlier this month with our annual "Eating Christmas" event at Crescent Ballroom. No worries if you missed it -- catch the essays here through the holiday season.

The Christmas after I graduated from college, I was living, if you can call it that, in London. I had arrived at the beginning of the summer, planning to stay for a few months and then go back to New York to find a real job. By December it was blindingly cold and I shivered even when I layered all my thin cotton clothes on top of each other. But I had found a poorly paid job as a bartender at a trendy night club I'd read about in FACE magazine, and I made enough money to pay the rent on a small, spare flat I shared with an Australian grad student and an English friend of a friend.

The three of us flatmates got along well, and I'm not sure why I didn't spend Christmas with them. Maybe because they were both Jewish. Maybe because my mother, who is originally from England and was raised Anglican, had a lovely vision of me spending Christmas with her childhood friend and urged me to go. In any case, I found myself on Christmas day at the comfortable, middle class home of people I had never met: my mother's old friend Anne, Anne's tweedy, bespectacled husband, and their two girls, who were much younger than me.

My mother had assured me I'd be welcome, but I had the feeling they were a little surprised I'd turned up. I think I was too.

See also: Glue Christmas

It was nothing like the Christmas I knew. For starters, it was all about Jesus. This came as a shock to me, because there had been no Jesus in our Christmas celebrations growing up. Probably because my mother was trying, without much help from her agnostic Jewish husband, to raise her children as Jews. Jews with Christmas. For another thing, this English family spent what felt like an eternity standing around the piano singing hymns. Not carols, like the ones I knew from the Charlie Brown Christmas special. Hymns. They seemed taken aback that I didn't know any of them. Had my mother ever told them that she'd married a Jewish man and was raising her kids Jewish, or had she skipped that part? Had she figured that somehow, because she'd felt comfortable with these people, I would too? Had she forgotten that I was not her?

For a Christmas present, they gave me a bar of soap. It felt like an afterthought, and my feelings, frankly, were a little hurt. I mean, my mother had made it sound like these people were family. Shouldn't I have received something more substantial, even though I hadn't thought to bring anything for them? Something wrapped, at least?

At the dinner table, after the eating of the roast beef and yorkshire pudding, I cut into my slab of Christmas cake to discover a little plastic figurine. The rest of the family hurrahed for me, then explained that I had just found their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in my dessert. The hurrahs were understandably sort of half hearted. After all, I had nabbed the one little baby Jesus in the whole cake - and I didn't even know what it was.

I felt guilty. But I also felt kind of triumphant. I had forked the baby Jesus! I had won!

On the tube home, I resolved not to tell my mother much about what had just happened. At the time, I thought I was protecting her. Looking back, I know I was protecting my own ungrateful self.

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