A Jewish Family Christmas
Going away to a secluded part of the Norfolk countryside for a week, with 12 members of your family, ranging from in age from nine to 90, may strike fear into the hearts of most normal folk. And yet, my family has insisted on making this a sadistic tradition for the past three years.
I’m currently writing this amidst a storm of testosterone over a heated game of Risk. Family reputation is on the line here. And I find myself reluctantly pulled into conversations about football, as the only younger woman in a family of men: 3 male cousins, 2 brothers, and me. In the cottage, this position has seen me take part in various gender battles, including dragging all of the boys into the kitchen, and succumbing to the simple, unemotional nature of male relationships. The directness with which the younger generation communicates starkly contrasts to the snide remarks, subtle jibes and boiling resentments of our parents. My mother and her sister seem to regress into the roles of their childhood when they are forced to co-exist in close quarters, and the holiday began with an intense battle for the master suite. They squabble, stamp their feet and throw strops, all of which has to be mediated by the rest of the family, who have become expert peacekeepers over the years. Generational conflicts have also arisen; the hedonistic vigour of younger members of the family has been perfectly balanced by the austerity of the older. While my brother and I cooked a ludicrously extravagant meal of duck confit with vegetable chutney as a light afternoon snack, my grandparents happily nibbled on their cottage cheese and crackers. My Jewish clan’s celebration includes decorating a Christmas tree in the cottage, donning festive jumpers and buying each other outlandish presents. My grandmother, in a tireless tirade about tradition, has refused to participate in such proceedings. (She has also suggested that she stopped being on Team Nigella the day the Domestic Goddess cooked pork on national television. It’s still very tense). Despite fierce arguments about why Nigella loves to eat treif, our version of Christmas is actually not as bad as it may seem. In fact, it can be, at times, idyllic. Long walks are eagerly taken under the happy illusion that a dose of gentle exercise will excuse a week of inordinate gluttony, including bottomless pots of tea, mince pies, stollen, clotted cream, mulled wine, chestnuts and various other Christmas cliches consumed by the shed-load. Our voices may have grown hoarse from endless screaming over the dinner table, and we will most probably return home more exhausted and in need of a holiday than when we started. But, it’s Christmas, and all the dysfunctionality is what makes family perfect.