I’ve worked somewhere every Christmas I can remember. Movie theaters, restaurants, taxis, bars. It’s lonesome on that day if it’s not your holiday, so it’s better to at least make money off those who celebrate. To perform some useful function.
When my family first moved to the US we put up a tree for a year or two. We got presents from the Soviet Santa (Father Frost). Then, at Hebrew School, they told me and my brother that Jews don’t celebrate Christmas, so we shamed our parents into getting rid of the tree. American Jews have the poor man’s Christmas: Hanukkah. But it was never more than a consolation prize hastily arranged so kids wouldn’t feel left out. It wasn’t a “real” holiday. As time went on, I felt thankful not to be part of any of it.
When my parents moved into their current home, timers were left behind near the light switches by the previous tenants, who were Hasidic Jews. These timers were there to work lights the family was forbidden from touching during the sabbath—a modern version of a shabbos goy. Whatever the Christmas equivalent of a shabbos goy is is what I’ve become.
When coworkers need shifts covered come December, I’m happy to oblige. Sometimes there’s even extra holiday pay. Christmases in the cab could be pretty dire. Empty streets, with the odd fare every hour or two. Somebody you’d never see out on the streets any other day of the year. Or maybe it’s that they disappear into the crowd and only become visible when the crowd isn’t there. The inevitable meal at the Chinese restaurant. It is rarely a good time, but the work makes it go by faster.
The past few years I’ve bartended Christmas Eve and Day. It’s busy once I open the bar, but the hours before can drag. This year I worked a few hours at the bookstore, then went to see the crummy new Adam Sandler movie. People who come to the Skylark on Christmas overtip. They’re grateful we’re open, that their holiday responsibilities are done with. There’s a family who make tortas at home and meet up at the bar. They always bring me one. I was so busy this year that I didn’t get to eat it for about three hours. It tasted so good when I finally got to it. I made nearly two months’ rent covering bar and bookstore shifts, so I have nothing to complain about.
Visiting my parents for New Year’s, as I do every year, their celebration was extra low key. Their friends are all getting older and are less eager to come over. Or they’ve decamped for warmer climes. There were only seven of us around the table. My contribution is always washing dishes afterward. In past years I was still up at 4am, long after everyone went to bed, but this year my father and brother stayed up and helped; we were done by 2am. Once they stop wanting to mark this Soviet anti-Christmas, New Year’s Eve will become just another day. I’ll have to look to cover a shift for somebody who celebrates.
I feel much more comfortable serving people who celebrate than celebrating myself. I like to keep my head down and keep working. Not pausing to reflect on the passage of time. Maybe someone will invent a holiday I can call my own one day. Until then, I’ll be the guy pouring your Christmas drink or selling you a last minute gift. I’m ok with that.
Somebody has to do it, so it might as well be me.