In this bonus episode, Michael Jamin shares a live reading of Merry Jewish Christmas, an essay from Michael’s upcoming book A Paper Orchestra.
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Hi, it’s Michael Jamin. We have a bonus podcast episode for you today. Uh, as many of you know, I’m working on a collection of personal essays called a paper orchestra, and I was recently invited to read one of them aloud at a public event called strong words. And so the story I wrote and read is called Merry Jewish Christmas. I hope you enjoy it. You’re listening to screenwriters need to hear this for, with Michael Jamin
Story called, uh, Mary Jewish Christmas. And it’s AER from my upcoming book, a paper orchestra growing up Jewish. I learned early on that Christmas was the greatest party I’d never be invited to. There were would be no Santa coming down. My chimney, no chestnuts. Roasting on an open fire, no house wrapped in twinkling lights. They made Christmas tantalizing. no wonder Joseph and Mary were camped out of the neighbor’s lawn. They were hoping to get a ticket inside. Sadly, the Christmas rules were very clear. No Jews. Yeah. The best I could do was hunker down until January 1st. When baby new year would shove baby Jesus out of the way, a baby fight. That’s what I was.
As a child, I recall going to the supermarket where a have yourself, a very Merry Christmas playing on a loudspeaker. Oh, that heartbreakingly beautiful song. My people were already predisposed to depression. Do we really need this as well? a chef with a pension for cookie-based architecture, the, the glorious gingerbread house, the size of a fire hydrant with its gumdrop tile, roof and frosting frosted windows. This wasn’t a mere representation of Christmas. It was Christmas itself. I wanted to live in it. if only I could shrink down to the size of a green army man and crawl inside. I’d barricade the door by licking peppermints together, sticking like cement blocks. Anyone who dared poked their head in would get a sharpened candy, came to the, a warning to any would be intruder that this Christmas Jew was here to stay.
I wasn’t allowed to linger as my mother was in a hurry to ingredients for our upcoming holiday dinner comic grabbed and pulled me to the Jewish culinary destination, the potato band I’m making LACAs in my mother. And she carefully hand-selected each bland lifeless rock that would roll downhill into our stomachs. somewhere along the way, my ancestors had managed to take a perfectly good breakfast. The pancake removes the delicious doughy part and replace it with an edible tube or fried and grease. And we’re gonna top them with apple sauce sheet, half of the added apple sauce. What am I? 80 frosty the snowman standing on the checkout aisle. Wasn’t making me any less jealous with his corn car pipe and his eyes of coal. He was scrappy and delightful. what religion wouldn’t wanna claim him for our own is frosty Christian.
I asked my mother, are you kidding me? He probably dries a Camaro. And she went back to belt to be honest, this whole Hanukah thing needed rethinking. Part of the problem is that you couldn’t hype its arrival because it never felt on the same day. The Jewish calendar is lunar. Not solar. Sometimes Hanukah would land near Christmas. Other times it came shockingly early. Hey, did you know Hanukah falls on November 30th this year, November over sake. as it stood, I’d have to admire Christmas from afar until one Eve on foggy Christmas Eve. When I managed to experience Christmas as an insider, it happened while on vacation in the Amish country, Pennsylvania. It was my father’s idea to introduce us to culture instead of taking us someplace good, like Disney world we checked in at a nearby resort. That was the vacation spot in 1958 once upscale and chic, the hotel had fall into disrepair. Yes, a fire roared in the lobby, but I can only imagine it was fueled by a mountain of status and safety violations. luckily, whatever money they saved in sprinkler upgrades that might save our lives was spent on Christmas decorations. That brought wonder to my Hebrew eyes flex of silver and gold were splayed everywhere, and they had a name for it. Tin learned other words too. The aging pianist in the lobby sang of magical creatures that were half reptile and half bird called turtles. They sounded tank .
There was a log called a U and an a bowl. There was a knock the pleasure was insane. On Christmas morning, we awoke to find fresh snowfall on the ground. Just let the movies promised my sister and I got quickly dressed and raced downstairs to so the Christmas tree like you’re supposed to and they’re handing out presents to a hoard of waiting. Children was a big man himself. Jo Saint Nick, go get one urge my mother, but we’re Jewish he doesn’t know that he’s probably drunk go before my mother nudged me. I approached just as Santa was being handed a fresh stack of presence from one of the elves who I now recognized as our bus boy from last night’s dinner. I said nothing though. We were both keeping secrets. admittedly, I took pleasure receiving a present from Santa Claus and the fact that I might be depriving a deserving Christian child, just because he was late getting to the lobby.
Didn’t bother me in the slightest . Did that make me a bad person or had I already crossed that line? When I told Santa my name is Tim, I rushed to a quiet part of the lobby to unwrap my Christmas bounty. I was certain mine contained the perfect gift. The moment before unwrapping any gift is always magical because that’s when the present is at its highest potential. It could be anything you wanted it to be. I suppose the same could be said about a Jewish child out to experience Christmas for the first time. Just imagine. And now imagine my disappointment. When I discovered what lie beneath the wrapping, it was a bargain rack board game that the hotel picked up at that thrift store. It was like Santa had known all along and he knifed me right in the Jewish gut.
And although I don’t recall the exact name of this board game for the sake of things, let’s just call it abject disappointment by Parker brothers. . I had betrayed my heritage by pretending to be Christian and for what a lousy board game to this day, Christmas morning holds an unsettling stillness for me when most of the population is inside unwrapping presents and spreading good cheer. We Jews wander the city, just like chase Joseph and Mary searching for a destination that will take us in. Usually it’s a Chinese restaurant. So that’s exactly what Cynthia and I did with our daughters. On Christmas day, it’s strange to have a restaurant almost entirely to yourself. Even if you’re with someone there’s a loneliness to it, you can hear it in the silence. At least that’s how I felt when our Mohu vegetables arrived. We sat at the window tables, staring outside where not even a mouse was stirring and closer to the door was an older couple who had grappled with a similar feeling, but ordered the noodles instead for a moment, the woman and I made eye contact on any other day, we may have both looked away, but this was Christmas, even though we were strangers, I think we wanted to share a feeling of connection or at least acknowledge our sense of isolation.
She gave me a smile that said, eh, what are you gonna do? When our meal was over, I ordered a serving of moon cake. Not much just a little sweetness to help enjoy the day as I ushered my family out the door. I set it down on the women’s table, Merry Jewish Christmas. I said Merry Jewish Christmas
To you too.
Hi, it’s Michael. Thank you so much for listening. I hope you enjoyed that story again. It’s from my upcoming collection of personal essays called a paper orchestra. It’s, uh, gonna be published soon and I hope you will consider joining my newsletter so that when it’s you can go get it. I’m not gonna spam you. I’m not gonna sell you a bunch of stuff. You can unsubscribe whenever you want. It’s just to be notified of my public events and, and things that I’m working on. So to sign up, just go to MichaelJamin.com/story, enter your email address. And again, I’m not gonna, I’m not gonna sell it or trade it or do all this nasty stuff your email’s safe with with me. All right. Thank you so much for considering it and, uh, Merry Jewish Christmas.