Diary of Surrender, Week 10: Giving up on Ritual
I’m writing a diary about my year of giving up, although I may give up on this too. Who knows? You can read about why I’m giving up here, and the previous week of saying fuck it here. (The term “week” is used loosely).
My parents were great in a lot of ways, but they sucked in a lot of ways too. One of the biggest ways was their indifference to holidays, to tradition and ritual. I remember waking up as a four-year-old to a pile of gifts in the living room, and being told they were all for me. There’s a photo of me, with a 1970s androgynous bowl cut, peeking over a pile of gifts on the coffee table, looking both thrilled and utterly confused. It was apparently Christmas, but no one had explained the concept to me, and it was jarring. There was no tree, no warning. It was as if my parents made a game-time decision the night before to rush out and get some gifts, in case the kids in my pre-school started bragging about their Christmas haul.
If true, this was a bizarre calculation. My pre-school was at Jewish temple, so none of these kids were likely getting Christmas gifts. They were, however, getting Chanukah gifts, so a few weeks later my parents broke out a menorah and tried their best with the prayers. My parents were out of their depth. With no idea what they were doing, they tried their best to fake it.
Faking it is fine — it’s the building block of most careers. But my parents didn’t fake it with a sense of joy and humor; they weren’t thrilled to have a kid that gave them a reason to figure out what our family’s traditions would be. They were operating under duress, like they were at the dentist, insisting that they flossed everyday even though everyone knew they didn’t. They lit the candles because they were supposed to, because they didn’t want to deal with the fallout of their kid being different from other kids. But they didn’t care about Chanukah, or being Jewish, or ritual, or history, or extended family or our ancestry. They were simply unmoved by all of it.
We limped along like this for a few years — half-assing both Christmas and Chanukah. (To be fair, we did start dragging a tree into the house, which was cool). Eventually…