Our attitude toward Christmas evolved, in America, into an all-out everything but the gifts. For most people, I suppose a gift exchange is the point. We did gifts on birthdays and cash on Hindu holidays. For us, the holidays have always been more about the extended joy, as close to a wedding season as we will get in this country.
As an adult, I still traveled over winter break, first with my best friend, and then the boyfriend who became my husband. Both are Jewish, none of us were expected at home, but part of a winter travel plan was always figuring out where to spend Christmas with someone who celebrated it: A white elephant gift exchange in Rome. Sleeping under an entire jamón Ibérico in Madrid. Sprinkling furikake on wasabi Christmas salmon on a hilltop in Oahu, Hawaii.
The tradition continues with our children, because our neighbors have designated their house as a drop-off point for Santa, who always remembers a gift for each of them.
This year, of course, is a little different. We celebrated Hanukkah as we always do, with family time and the unwrapping of reasonable, enriching gifts. But the next week looms empty, our usual smorgasbord of joyful options cut off.
My friend Camilla’s dining table will not become a gargantuan cheese board. Our darling neighbors won’t gift our son something wildly impractical and noisy that he loves more than all eight presents he gets from us.
Even my father has toned down his rituals. There aren’t any lights outside the house. “It didn’t seem appropriate during a pandemic,” he said. He has wound one rope of lights around the banister inside, and another on the deck, where only he can see them. They bring him joy when he looks out the window before bed.
This season, I will mark the occasion myself. Trader Joe’s makes a chocolate orange. I might confit some duck. We do have some string lights. Maybe we’ll watch “Elf,” have some cocoa and FaceTime some friends. Some friends who actually celebrate Christmas. Because all we do, really, is enjoy it.
Priyanka Mattoo is a writer and filmmaker.
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