It was just before 7:00 a.m. on December 21 when I threw myself into a cab outside of the Arlington Hilton. The day before, I had a meeting at our offices, followed by our holiday party, culminating in a three block drenching walk in the pouring rain around midnight as I made my way back to the hotel and crashed for a few hours. It felt like everyone had left D.C. for the holiday, except for me and my cold which had taken hold with a vengeance. I was grateful there was a taxi waiting, ready to whisk me to Union Station and home to my family and my bed. With no one to call on ye olde cell phone at that hour, I settled into the backseat for the peaceful 20 minute ride. Or so I thought.
Turns out, I had a “talker” for a cabbie.He told me that yes, indeed — everyone had left town. I shared with him that the hotel was so empty that they didn’t even open the breakfast buffet. He asked me where I was going. I told him that I live outside of Philly. He said something about cheese steaks. I told him my teenage boys like cheese steaks.
We were really bonding. The conversation was flowing and we still had at least 10 more minutes to get to really know one another. And then he asked me if I was ready for Christmas.
Cue ominous music.
So look. I get this question a great deal – as do many people this time of year. Responding to a query is a little more problematic than someone wishing me a “Merry Christmas” which I always take in good stride and return the greeting. But answering truthfully this more pointed, well meaning question always requires an explanation that sounds something like:Actually, I don’t celebrate Christmas. I’m Jewish.
As my boys would say: AWKWARD!!!!!
And it always is. Particularly at the crack of dawn when I didn’t wish to expend the energy to explain my background nor did I have any desire to make this cabbie feel badly for his faux pas. So I just said the easiest thing:Yes. Yes I am.
And then I began to furiously rationalize in my head the half lie I just told.That was actually truthful. It was. I AM ready for Christmas. Just because I didn’t have to prepare anything doesn’t mean I’m not READY for the actual day. In fact, I’m totally ready for the day! I have a movie picked out. I’m dreaming of a little eggrolls dancing in my head. We were even invited somewhere for dinner! I am a highly skilled professional woman having a meaningful conversation with a cabbie at 7:00 a.m. in the morning and I am NOT a liar!
And that’s when it all went downhill.
With five minutes left in my ride, my cabbie went in for the kill:So when do you give your presents to your kids? Christmas Eve? Or Christmas Day?
It was at this point that I actually wondered What Would Jesus Do? And obviously, not being schooled in this thought process, I came up completely blank. Pulling The Dreidel Card now would be, as my boys would say, an EPIC FAIL. I would be outed as a fake celebrator of Christmas.
My nose was running. My head pounded. I just wanted to be at home, in my house with no Christmas tree, no lights, and some matzo ball soup. But I knew I was in too deep. So I took a deep, congested breath and kept shoveling:Well, actually we do a little of both. Some on Christmas Eve. Some on Christmas Day. We try to spend time with all of our family so we break it up. The boys are getting older so the present opening isn’t as much of an event as it once was. We will visit friends as well. We are just looking forward to relaxing and being together.
Yup. I faked Christmas. And I’m not sure which religion I desecrated more by doing so.
Ironically enough, my fake Christmas was very much in line with my cabbie’s real Christmas. During the last three minutes of my ride, he shared with me his traditions – which included two days of present opening as well. Before we could become any closer than we already were, I jumped out, grabbed my bag from the trunk, doubled my tip, and high tailed it into Union Station.
And I felt terrible. For a host of different reasons.
First, there was no rationalizing this last litany of words that poured from my mouth. I was a little liar. And for what? Was I worried that this perfectly nice cab driver would react badly to my Jewish identity? Yes. I was. And by not just coming out and sharing that rather important detail, was I complicit in the assimilation of my faith? Yep. That, too. And did I not give the cabbie the benefit of the doubt that he would perhaps just chat me up about Hanukah or potato pancakes if I told the truth? Roger that.
The entire conversation stayed with me through the holidays. While it was entirely my doing and I take responsibility for the lie, I never would have said these things had the cabbie not assumed I celebrated Christmas. He – and every person who wished me a Merry Christmas this year — was extremely well meaning – but it never stops feeling awkward for me. Its misplaced goodwill, the equivalent of me telling a non-Jew to enjoy Hanukah or Passover. That would be weird, right? We should all be proud of our beliefs and celebrations. And when people err and assume that we are something that we are not, the choice is ours to nicely correct them… or not. But, as I discovered this year, staying silent or feeding that wrong assumption doesn’t do anyone any good.
Next year, I might choose differently. I think there is a better way. I think Jesus might have told folks he was Jewish.