Friday, December 25, 2009

Tommy, Can You Hear Me?

I'm a Jew who was raised celebrating Christmas - the beautiful pagan winter solstice holiday, not the birthday of Jesus.  I love decorating our Christmas tree, the futile search for a gift my dad will actually like, the FonJew party we throw every Christmas Eve.  I recently met another Jewish woman who was also raised embracing Christmas, but when her father decided he could no longer justify celebrating the birth of Jesus, her mother did some research, and since then they have celebrated the December 25th birthday of Reuben Mattus, founder of Häagen-Dazs.  Freaking awesome.

In my family, holidays can be somewhat arbitrary - Thanksgiving may fall on a Friday, Chanukah has been known to come in February, and New Year's Day 2010 is coming on January 3rd.  This year, though, is the first time that Christmas has been tampered with - the plan was that we would move Christmas to Sunday 12/27 so we could include some out-of-town cousins in our traditional Jewish Italian Christmas dinner.  So this morning I woke up on everyone else's Christmas, and I didn't know what to do with myself.  It was kind of a let-down.  I contemplated the traditional Chinese food / movie combo enjoyed by the rest of the Tribe, but I couldn't think of any G-rated movies out now that I actually want to see.
Did you ever see the faces of the children,
They get so excited
Waking up on Christmas morning
Hours before the winter sun's ignited.
They believe in dreams and all they mean
Including heaven's generosity.
Peeping round the door
To see what parcels are for free
In curiosity.
Around 9am, my mother called.  I guess she was feeling as out of place as I was, because she announced that Santa had come to her house, and wouldn't we like to come over this morning.  Yes, yes we would.  Moving Christmas just didn't feel right.

So even though I had been telling Ryan that Christmas was still two days away, I announced to him, totally suddenly and without further explanation, "Hey, Santa came to Grandma's house!  Yay, it's Christmas!"

"It's Christmas," he repeated, with the same level of enthusiasm he would produce if I told him we were going to the supermarket.

This is an instance where Ryan's autism is convenient: he doesn't appear to anticipate events. He hasn't been counting the days to Christmas.  I don't think he has any idea that other kids make lists for Santa and beg for coveted toys.  As far as Ryan is concerned, Christmas is whenever I say it is, and I doubt that if we had let him know that last night was Christmas Eve he would have stayed up trying to spot Santa's sleigh flying through the sky.
And Tommy doesn't know what day it is.
He doesn't know who Jesus was
Or what praying is.
How can he be saved
From the eternal grave?
While convenient, this is also disappointing.  I want Ryan to love Christmastime as much as I do, as much as millions of children all around the world have for hundreds of years.  I want him to be able to anticipate the near future, to tell me what he wants, to share a common experience with other kids.  Perhaps predictably, he enjoyed the act of unwrapping presents more than he seemed to appreciate the contents of the boxes.  He spent much of the morning running away from the festivities to play with his old, familiar toys - it was actually hard to convince him to come back to the living room with us at all.  He had a perfectly fine time, but I don't know if he realized it was a special occasion.  At the end of the day he didn't resist leaving Grandma and Grandpa's house and promptly fell asleep in the car, no traces of the residual excitement that might keep other kids bouncing off the walls.


  1. I love catching up with the blog, I am remembering holidays as a kid, at your house was always something fun, and different, i have a step daughter who was counting the days and still the excitement was fair when she opened gifts, she had more fun with the tradition of my husbands family to throw wadded up paper ant each other. her favorite so far, the $15 light saber - so why do we spend so much? glad to hear the holiday was fun and full of family!

  2. My family celebrates Reuben Mattus' birthday. I wonder if it's the family you're talking about, and if so, how you learned about it!

    1. It's been a while, I don't remember where I met this woman. I was living in Mount Vernon N.Y. at the time, so probably somewhere near there. Happy Reuben Mattus Day!


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