Christmas in the Namimoto household lasted about 15 years. As soon as my siblings and I were old enough to realize the truth about Santa, we started celebrating less and less each year. When I moved to Japan in my 20s, flying home just to celebrate Christmas seemed a bit unnecessary. Making my annual trip back to Los Angeles to surprise my brother at his high school graduation, though, seemed more special. Christmas was never a point of contention for us or our families because Christmas was never that important to my family. My parents have never put pressure on us to visit during certain times of the year. Having left her entire family for a different country at a young age, my Mom knows what it’s like to feel guilty about not coming home during certain times of the year. She has said that she never wants us to feel that. We certainly realize how lucky we are and make every effort to not take this gift for granted.
This is why I didn’t understand why I was having a meltdown on Christmas Eve in 2012. I had recently moved into Bryan’s (my now-husband) apartment in San Francisco. We lived with two roommates above a bar on the main strip of a gentrified neighborhood. Our two roommates had already gone home to be with their families. San Francisco, like many cities, is full of transplants and the entire city virtually shuts down during the week of Christmas.
This was the first Christmas Bryan and I would spend together alone, without either of our families. At this point, we had been dating for two years and knew we had a future together. He was Jewish, and I had been thinking about converting. So I did what I thought a good Jew-to-be would do: I didn’t make plans for Christmas. It would just be a normal day like the rest of the days of the year…
The day itself was fine—we stayed in, Skyped my family and had a cozy day by the fire. But as soon as the sun set, panic set in. I looked out the window at our usually bustling, well-lit street and everyone’s lights were off. The previously miraculous empty parking spots made our street look even more like a depressing ghost town. There was not a sign of life in sight.
If you read my blog or my posts here, you know that I live to celebrate traditions with loved ones. I thought I didn’t care about losing Christmas, but I surprisingly felt an acute sense of loss that night. Later that year, when a woman in my conversion support group very vocally refused to stop the Christmas traditions she grew up with, I gave her a knowing look and understanding nod.
That night, we ordered bad Chinese food from one of the only places that would deliver to us. Bryan tried to comfort me, but was just as confused as I was. He had never celebrated Christmas before and, up until this point, was not aware I cared about Christmas.
We then decided that it would be the last sad Christmas ever.
I’m happy to say we’ve had some pretty great Jewish Christmases since then. Recently, our tradition has been to go to a Chinese restaurant with friends on Christmas Eve. On Christmas morning, we bundle up and drive down the coast to catch some crab. Mostly, we sit in camping chairs together on the pier for hours, sipping hot tea and don’t catch anything. We then follow the older Asian ladies to the commercial fishing boats to buy some California Dungeness crab. Then, we have a very un-kosher Christmas dinner with Bryan’s family. What I’ve learned is this: Just because it’s Christmas and you’re Jewish doesn’t mean you have to suffer through it. Everyone has the day off, so it’s just another opportunity to gather with loved ones, no matter what you do.
Editor’s note: This year is, of course, different and we are not encouraging in-person gatherings. We hope everyone will follow their state’s guidelines for safety during Covid.