For the second year in a row, Yoni and I were lucky enough to be invited to Christmas dinner. Yoni grew up with a Christian grandmother, so he had some experience with Christmas festivities (supposedly, there are a few pictures of little Yoni with the tree – would love to see those!). I, on the other hand, had no Christian friends until I went to college. I did sometimes experience pre- and post-Christmas at one or another of their houses, but I was never involved in the actual celebration of the day until last year.
I am, however, somewhat of an expert in involving non-Jewish friends in Jewish rituals. More friends of other religious persuasions than I can count have sat around our Shabbat dinner table, Passover seder table – even joined us in synagogue. So when I went to my first (and second) Christmas “dinner” (it was really lunch), I think I subconsciously (or consciously) expected a reverse of that experience. What do I mean? Yes, there would be food, and fellowship, but there would also be at least some kind of religious element – rituals, prayers, discussions that go on for hours before we’re allowed to eat. Something.
Much to my surprise, that was not the case. While there was a prayer before the meal, I have NEVER eaten a meal with another chaplain or chaplain spouse where there was NOT a prayer. And this prayer was in no way tailored to Christmas; it was of the garden variety, thank-you-for-the-food and fellowship etc. And that was the sum total of the day’s religious content. We ate “dinner,” relaxed, played board games, sat around the tree, went home. I don’t know if this is typical of Christmas celebrations, or if the more overt religious content was removed to avoid making us uncomfortable, but this experience did reinforce my believe that non-Jews who participate in Jewish rituals must think we’re crazy.
Maybe the difference lies in the liturgical/non-liturgical divide. Whatever the reason, I was grateful both to be included in my friend’s Christmas celebration, and also to be spared too much celebrating of Christmas.