Last month, my children cheered when they saw a Christmas tree in Costco, and I ignored it, stony faced.
"Is Christmas soon?" they asked, eagerly.
"No, first comes Thanksgiving. And then Channukah. And there are other holidays before Christmas, too," I said.
"So why are there Christmas trees?"
It was a simple question, and I answered it simply.
"What's Christmas Creep?"
"Christmas Creep is when people are so excited about Christmas, they forget there are other holidays that other people celebrate. Including Thanksgiving, which is next."
"Why do they forget there are other holidays?"
"Because they don't need to remember, sweetie," I said, sighing, pushing my cart into the cold parking lot. Pushing it past other carts laden with trees and lawn reindeer and mountains of tinsel.
They don't need to remember, but I do.
The truth is that Christmas Creep isn't just about forgetting other holidays, it's about forgetting other people. And worse than that, Christmas Creep is about forgetting Christmas as well.
My husband, a Lutheran, hates Christmas Creep more than I do. For me, it's a familiar angst. For him? It's a reminder of what is constantly being lost for people who do celebrate that particular holiday.
He tells me that he didn't really learn what Christmas was about until he was in college. An adult. Until he left home, Christmas was about getting. Now, he says, Christmas is about family, and love. Seeing cousins in Minnesota, who he sees so painfully rarely. Seeing his aunts and uncles and remaining grandparents. Meeting babies and seeing how absurdly much children have grown. Physically being with the people you love.
But it's hard to explain that to a child through the haze of tinsel and and the twinkling of fairy lights.
My husband can't stand the Christmas Creep, not because it makes him feel alienated from the world around him, but because it makes him resent the waves upon waves of distraction from what he actually cares about.
Neither of us are likely to jump onto the Holiday Fever bandwagon before we've thoroughly enjoyed our Thanksgiving weekends. Neither of us are eager to give up time with our families to buy things we don't necessarily need for a holiday we feel, in the case of both Christmas and Channukah, shouldn't be about presents anyway.
Despite this, he loves Christmas. He loves putting on his cheezy Christmas sweater, drinking quarts of eggnog with a grin on his face, hanging a wreath on our front door. He loves the lights and the stockings, the tree and A Muppet Christmas Carol. He loves gingerbread houses and red and green M&M's on Christmas morning.
I've always known Christmas was important to him, and it never bothered me. It still doesn't. I love seeing him happy, and I love making him happy. I go to church every year with his parents, smile and shake hands with the pastor, sing along through all the carols. The first date I ever took him on was after he came back from spending Christmas with his family. I drove him up to Sauganash, and parked the car, and walked hand in hand with him in the snow through a magical world of Christmas lights brighter and more complex than any in the town where I grew up.
And it was beautiful and romantic, even to me, somebody who doesn't care about Christmas.
I understand that there is something special about Christmas for people who do care, and part of me has always been dedicated to helping my husband create that magic with his children. Who also happen to be my children.
And he has been equally understanding when it comes to my need to pass along traditions to my children. He has agreed with me on the importance of a Jewish preschool, not for religious indoctrination, but for the introduction of a long and complex history we both want them to know. He has been at every family seder, cracking jokes about gefilte fish and still eating it. He has learned the sh'ma, and sings with more enthusiasm than I did at our children's age. And it has also, in a way, pained him. I know that.
Some of his relatives like to wear shirts with slogans like, "Put the Christ back in Christmas." And both of us are all for that. Because it's honest. Because Christmas isn't "the reason for the season," but Jesus is the fundamental reason for Christmas. And the more we as a society get back to remembering that, the less Christmas Creep we'll have. The less we'll be constantly bombarded by messages to buy buy buy buy buy, and the less I will feel like I have to protect my children, not just from losing their sense of their cultural identity, but from losing ANY sense of cultural identity.
I look forward to the days spent in Minnesota, surrounded by my husband's family, who have become my family. I look forward to hugs and cookies and catching up on news. I look forward to laughing at M's aunt's inappropriate jokes, and drinking beers with his cousin on the farm. I look forward to seeing my children get to know their cousins, in whatever limited capacity they can with so little exposure to each other, and hoping that someday they will feel the bond of love and family for these people who share their history, their heritage, their genes, and their traditions.
I do not look forward to church, but I go because I am part of this family and I want my children to know that and to be as well.
I do not look forward to the endless Christmas trees on the street and non-stop Christmas Pop on the radio. I do not look forward to people I love asking my children about Santa, and building my complicity every time I keep my mouth closed in a smile.
I cannot look forward to Christmas, because before I am even ready to approach it, it's here. Christmas Creeping its way under my skin and fatiguing me before I can acknowledge it. By the time Thanksgiving groceries are bought, I am done with Christmas.
But I'm not done. I'm never done. I'm an American citizen, and each year Christmas is more American than apple pie for Thanksgiving dessert.
And now I am less done than ever, because each day my children see a new toy in a catalogue, and they want Santa to bring it to them.
That I neither want to buy nor can afford.
That is as much the "reason for the season" as the yet unpacked suitcases from our Thanksgiving trip littering the foyer.
I am teaching them the very things about Christmas I despise each time I offer a Santa platitude. Yet I offer Santa platitudes, despite each word breaking my heart as it tears my children farther from me.
As my Lutheran husband would smile and shrug and say, "Diyenu-" it's good enough.
This is otherness in America. But what good is my exclusion, what good is my culture and my heritage and the relative safety of my isolated rhetorical shtetl, if my daughters are on the outside, while I am in?