It’s that time of year (for some). The time when you have to think up presents for everyone. It’s hard.

But there’s one person who wouldn’t be a problem. You know exactly what you want to give that person. You know she’s quiet and locked inside herself. You know he’d benefit from reading

because you’ve read it yourself. You know it’s an easy-to-read, no-nonsense, comprehensive book.

However, there’s still a problem. You don’t want to embarrass that person. If he opened it in front of others, he wouldn’t thank you for giving it to him.

How can you give her the book, disguise what’s inside the package and make sure she opens it when she’s alone?

This is where your creative abilities come in. I’ve done my part. I wrote the book and I put the challenge to you!

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What is Christmas for me, a Jew who lives in Israel and hails from the UK? What was it?

Up to age 11, I didn’t take a lot of notice of it. There were trees with lights behind lots of windows. Radio and TV were full of it. That was about all.

At age 11, I found myself suddenly immersed in a tradition I didn’t recognise. I soon learned the tunes of the carols we had to sing every day. I sent cards to friends because everyone did and my goal was always to fit in. And then there was that art lesson….

“Today, you can draw Christmas pictures.” The teacher (I think she was called Mrs Durell) seemed to think this would be fun for us. My heart sank. Fit in, said a voice from inside. “For the Jewish children, you can draw something from the festival you have at this time if you want, but I’m told there isn’t much to draw.” A general murmur of agreement arose. I kept quiet, although I knew this wasn’t true. We had drawn pictures of Chanuka at my old school. That’s how I learned to draw a cube.

chanukadrawings

Fit in, said the voice. But I don’t know what or how to draw for Christmas. Fit in. I looked over a girl’s shoulder and copied her tree.

At university, I remember singing carols, including one about beautiful feet.

Edit: I’ve been corrected by someone who remembers much more than I. I think I was confusing our “College Carol” with the aria from Handel’s Messiah. Here’s the right one. The only connection with feet is in the words stand forth on the floor, at which we would stamp our feet.

At work, there were drinks. There were always drinks. And the following conversation in the bar with one of the men:

“What are doing for Christmas?”

“I’m going to a conference in Oxford.”

“That’s an unusual thing to do for Christmas. Most people spend it with their families.”

“Oh, we don’t celebrate Christmas. We’re Jewish.” It had taken three months for them to find out.

Then I moved to Israel and Christmas was reduced to watching the evening service from Bethlehem on TV. That’s really all I saw of it.

Nowadays, with social media, Christmas has become much more visible to me – at least the commercial aspect of it has. Also, due to Internet connection, I am able to listen to the BBC. The other day, on Women’s Hour, there was a discussion about stories behind children’s nativity plays. Within those stories, at least two girls had been told they couldn’t be Mary because they were Jewish and didn’t have blond hair. In the podcast, after the live programme, there was mention of the fact that Mary was Jewish and also that, since she lived in the Middle East, she probably didn’t have blond hair.

I am bemused by the assumption that, while I might not take any part in the religious aspects of Christmas, I will celebrate in some way because everyone does. No. Here, work and everything else carries on as usual, even on Christmas day. This year, though, will be slightly different due to the fact that it coincides exactly with the minor festival of Chanuka. As always, schools will be open on the first day of Chanuka, which is also Christmas Day this year (and also Sunday – the first day of the week here) and they close for the rest of the festival. Work continues as usual.

By the way, as I’ve mentioned in previous years, there are about fifty ways of writing Chanuka in Latin letters, but only one in Hebrew:

חנוכה

And here’s a comedy sketch I enjoyed. Comedian Elon Gold explains why Jews are better off without Christmas Trees. https://www.facebook.com/StandWithUs/videos/10154184787887689/

Whatever festival you celebrate at this time, I hope it’s happy and enjoyable and all you wish for.

While America is gorging itself for Thanksgiving and the rest of the world is busy stocking up on Christmas presents, we’re celebrating Chanukah. And doing a bit of gorging ourselves.

The photo I posted last year came out so well, I had to post it again.

Chanuka2012Miriam

Along with my favourite of all the Chanukah songs, although I didn’t find a version I really liked.

I have to admit, it’s 37 years since I attended an office Christmas party. Or any Christmas party for that matter. So when Sally Quilford suggested holding an online party for those of us who don’t work in an office, I thought, why not?

To celebrate, here is a picture of me holding a green doughnut on the sixth night of Chanukah.

Chanuka2012Miriam

If you want to join in the fun, the main party is over on Facebook.

This evening we lit the Chanukah candles for the last time for this year. Over the eight-day festival, I went out looking for doughnuts – the traditional food for Chanukah – and found them in four different bakeries. One of them, I think we all agreed, made the most tasty doughnuts, but a different bakery made the most colourful ones.

Chanukah, 2012. Sufganiot

What a shame they’ve all gone.

There’s a picture of me with the candles, but I’m saving that for Tuesday’s office party.