christmas

For a big part of my life, I was an Orthodox Jew, and observed the Sabbath every week, from 18 minutes before sundown on Friday to 42 minutes after sundown on Saturday.  Observing Sabbath to the satisfaction of an Orthodox Jew means no use of electrical devices, no direct use of fire, no driving, no carrying anything out in public, no cooking.  No telephone, no computer, no TV.  Ideally a time for slowing down, and communing directly with family and friends… some people even choose to observe a periodic technology sabbath to gain those benefits.  This is all very nice if that is what you want to do that day, but when it becomes a non-negotiable obligation with no flexibility on what you may or may not choose from its index of regulations, well, trust me: it loses an awful lot of its charm.

Yom Tov, literally “good day”, is the Hebrew and Yiddish term for a Jewish religious holiday.  You’ll typically hear Americans pronounce it “yuntiff.”  Most Jewish holidays are additional Sabbaths sprinkled into the calendar, so here and there you have additional days with almost the full panoply of restrictions as the weekly Sabbath.  From time to time, you get a two-day holiday starting on a Thursday (i.e., Wednesday night) and running uninterrupted into Sabbath on Friday night.  Which means three straight days (73 hours) of non-negotiable prohibitions and restrictions.  I’m laying all this out to explain why, toward the end of my days as a practicing Orthodox Jew, I came to dread the approach of any of these holidays.  Here was another day that I viewed as a burden of thou-shalt-nots.  Far from being any kind of good day, when my household started spinning up into “making  yuntiff”, I was wishing I were anywhere else.

It’s many years later and my life is very different now.  We celebrate — in completely secular fashion — Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day.  The beauty of these days to me is, we may have traditional things we like to do on those days but everything is negotiable.  Flexibility is foremost.  What’s fun remains fun only if you have a choice.  And after 18+ years of doing this way, I would not trade it back for anything.  I even brought some traditions from my former life’s yuntiff celebrations: favorite foods and other personal touches.  And just as yuntiff now gives with its flexibility, it receives with the new ideas anyone brings to it.