Everyone’s December Dilemma
Every year on Christmas Eve, I serve my husband, children, and in-laws a Polish feast which consists of many dishes including dill pickle soup, pierogis, oplatek, kruschiki, and – the bane of my December – czernina. Czernina is the Polish word for duck blood soup. I may hear about how Nanny, my father-in-law’s grandmother, made this from scratch with one of the grandchildren going to the butcher to collect the fresh duck blood for the soup. Yes, there really is duck blood in the soup. Not one for handling blood, instead I go down to Hamtramck - the Polish enclave inside Detroit where my husband’s family lived generations ago and is now an amazing mixture of Poles, Bangladeshis, Yeminis, and others – and buy soup from one of the traditional Polish restaurants. Except every year there is some crisis.
A restaurant that is normally open is now closed on Christmas Eve Day. A restaurant will not sell me enough to accommodate the three bowls apiece the Polish males in the family seem to require. The broth, once all of the offending noodles and dried fruits are strained out, is too sweet requiring my husband to dump what seems like an obscene amount of vinegar trying to make the czernina passable. Once I stood inside a Polish market crying faced with a freezer full of bags labelled in Polish that clearly contained different items, but each only had one English word – “Dumplings”. At least once in this horror show I will likely be on the verge of a panic attack, wandering what a Jewish girl is doing running around to every Polish restaurant in 20 squares miles in an attempt not to ruin Christmas.
But this crisis has nothing to do with me being Jewish and the Polish feast has nothing to do with the birth of Jesus. This is about recreating my husband’s holiday memories of Christmases past and passing down these holiday traditions for our children. For other holidays, we have aspects that are traditional – such as the gefilte fish that we make at my mother’s house using my Bubbie’s recipe as my father complains about the fish making the house smell. We also have aspects that we created ourselves – such as our Passover seder complete with singing the story of the Exodus to the tune of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”. Holidays come with tension – when do we stick with tradition, when do we create something new, what do we do when something inevitably goes wrong, and how do we agree as a couple what each holiday should look like for our family? And then, what happens when a parent or sibling disagrees with the choices we have made – do we stick with our decision or is it back to the drawing board?
This dilemma may be more apparent when you see both a Christmas tree and a menorah in the window, but it exists for everyone in ways big or small. Which church to go to on Christmas Eve and which synagogue to go to on Yom Kippur? Dinner with his family or hers? Marriage can be a negotiation of making two lives into one – and holidays are often the lynchpin of the negotiation. Maybe the disagreements are religious in nature – whether to go to church or put up a tree? But more likely they are conflicts about the expectations around holidays and the vision for what family life looks like. This is true no matter which holidays you are celebrating this December.
The true dilemma is trying to celebrate the holidays in an authentic and meaningful way while coping with the expectations of families and communities. Traditions may have to bend and change over time as people come and go from our families. But the heart of the holidays remains: gathering with family, friends, and food to celebrate miracles. Through give and take, communication and compromise, I hope that we can create a December that is full of meaning, light on stress, and – in my case – abundant in czernina.
To read more about what our family does in December: https://www.theoaklandpress.com/lifestyles/mixed-families-get-the-best-of-both-worlds-with-christmas-and-hanukkah/article_8bdceb98-20de-11ea-99fa-53e80958f5dc.html
For other takes on the “December Dilemma” please check out:
Why There’s No Such Thing as A “December Dilemma” by Laurel Snyder at 18 Doors (https://18doors.org/theres-no-such-thing-as-the-december-dilemma/)
A No Dilemma December by Laura Drescher at 18 Doors (https://18doors.org/a-no-dilemma-december/)
How Can We Deal With the So-Called December Dilemma? By Rabbi Jeffrey Goldwasser at ReformJudaism.Org(https://reformjudaism.org/blog/how-can-we-deal-so-called-december-dilemma)