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A Christmas/Hanukkah Story
by Sy Rosen

The holiday season is upon us which means good cheer, warm family dinners and six bottles of extra-strength Excedrin.

My side of the family is mostly Jewish from Brooklyn while my wife Wanda's family is mostly Catholic from Puerto Rico. These cultural and religious differences really have nothing to do with our turbulent holiday dinners. The main problem is that our entire family (with me at the top of the list) is completely insane!

Let me recount a typical Christmas dinner:

As soon as my side of the family (the Jew crew) gets to our house they stare at the Christmas tree and exclaim it's spectacular, gigantic, enormous, mammoth. My family then walks around the house counting the Hanukkah decorations, making sure they are equal in number to the Christmas ones.

My wife's family (the mighty Christians) then bound in and stare at the Christmas tree. They say it's beautiful but maybe a little small.

Being Jewish I feel I should say something about the tree... "It's just a symbol. It's not my symbol but it's certainly Wanda's symbol. Yes, it's a symbol. A symbol it is. A big green symbol." With everyone staring I then walk away muttering "symbol" to myself.

At dinner my wife Wanda brings out a golden sixteen-pound turkey which she has worked on for three days. Just when I'm about to say how beautiful it looks my eighty-five year old Aunt Gussie announces that she's become a vegetarian and out of respect to animals everywhere none of us should eat the turkey and we should all take off our clothes. Luckily no one pays attention to her.

Wanda's Uncle Carlos asks if we could put one of the drumsticks aside so he can take it home as leftovers. I try to explain that if he takes it before the meal it's not leftovers. Carlos counters that if he waits till the end of the meal it might be gone and then it won't be leftovers either. I wrap the drumstick for him.

Wanda's Aunt Rosa who is the family matchmaker tells my daughter Ann that there's a nice man in her apartment building who is perfect for her..."He may be gay but I'm sure it's just a temporary situation."

My Aunt Gussie forgets that she's a vegetarian and starts devouring the turkey (including Carlos's drumstick).

Being the host I feel a lot of pressure to make sure there's pleasant, witty conversation. Bringing two cultures together is sometimes difficult and I try to discuss art, music, and literature. Unfortunately, my Uncle Harold begins his annual holiday monologue about his teeth.

Uncle Harold goes on and on about how he has an unusual amount of plaque and how he has to go to the dentist every two weeks or he's facing serious gum disease. Trying desperately to lighten the mood with a joke I say, "Why don't you try brushing them?" No one laughs.

I then try to change the subject by offering a cheerful toast, "It's great being together and I'm looking forward to seeing you all next year." To which Wanda's mother Cessarina says, "If I'm still alive." To which my Uncle Harold says, "If you've got plaque you probably won't be." So much for my cheerful toast.

I try to steer the conversation towards the safe topic of best holiday movies. I try talking about Miracle on 34th Street and It's a Wonderful Life.

However this conversation veers wildly and unpredictably into a heated argument about who was funnier, Freddie Prinze or Milton Berle. The argument escalates as my Uncle Harold (the plaque guy) claims that Milton had better teeth.

Just when I think all is lost and the meal is a complete disaster Wanda's Aunt Rosa rises and says, "I love all of you, we are the best family." Everyone hugs and nods in agreement.

I guess the dinner was a success and my family really does like each other. But I still needed the Excedrin.

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