I also considered naming this blog post A Happy Jew at Christmas, or Intermarried Bliss. Although most people will recommend against intermarrying, I’m here to tell you that there are some real perks and practicalities to marrying someone outside of your faith or culture. For example, you never have to argue about whose family to go to over the holidays. There are twice the festivities to attend, twice the yummy food, and twice the gifts, sometimes even twice the ideas. Of course it helps to be married to a very flexible partner. For example when I ask my husband to come to Purim, he asks, “Will there be cookies?” When my kids ask me to put up the Christmas lights, because they’re tired of asking their father, I shrug and say sure.
If I had to define our family’s intermarried state I would say, I’m Jewish; my husband celebrates Christmas. Christmas is a big deal for him. Let’s be clear about this, this is not the Christmas of Jesus, but the Christmas of trees, stockings, turkey and pie. And so I`m a Jewish person who also celebrates Christmas. And not just for one day, because we all know Christmas is at least two weeks long. While my non-consumerist antenna start to tingle when my husband merely mentions the word stocking (junk holder) I do get very excited about making a gingerbread house. I strongly suggest that Jewish people should find some holiday to make these for, because there’s nothing intrinsically Christian about them and they’re delicious and fun. Okay, mostly fun. My children learn a few choice swear words every year as I struggle to get my walls to stay put. That’s because being the masochist that I am, I refuse to buy a kit, but make one from scratch.
I’ve climbed a steep learning curve on gingerbread houses. For example, the first year I didn’t know about royal icing, the glue that holds gingerbread together, which meant I had to build my walls around books and then hold the whole thing together with a festive red ribbon. This year, due to the ice storm, the power went out while I was baking, resulting in not quite 90 degree angle walls.
|Beautiful kid-made Gingerbread house.|
I keep thinking maybe it’s time to get a kit, but I feel the same way about making gingerbread houses from scratch as I did about natural childbirth. When I was pregnant it was EXTREMELY important to me that I not have an epidural during birth. I had heard all kinds of stories about failed epidurals, epidurals that left you with no feeling below the waist, or with an awful headache. I wanted to experience the pain, and then be able to talk about it afterwards. And so, experience the pain I did. After my sons were born, I wondered why I needed to be such a martyr about the whole thing. My friend Erin, who was also pregnant and due shortly after me, tells me that when she came to see my newborn son a few hours after the delivery with the memory of the pain still fresh, I told her to, “take the drugs.” And so last night after swearing and cursing and the gingerbread walls caving in seven times, I thought, buy the darn kit next year. I probably won’t though. I seem to have a tendency to do things the hard way. I think maybe I’m used to it through writing. (This would be an interesting chicken-and-egg question: do writers learn to edit and edit and fight through their drafts because they are that kind of person, or does writing make us that way?)
About Jewish people finding a motive for gingerbread making… my older son came up with a great suggestion. The boys asked to build their own houses this year, so I baked some extra gingerbread and they struggled to get their own mini houses to stay up. They decorated the roofs with so many Smarties they threated to collapse. When we were all done, my older son said their smaller houses looked like succahs. (These are the harvest huts Jews build in their yards or balconies for the Jewish holiday Succot.) Then he corrected himself and told me that if it was a real succah it would have an open roof. He got very excited and suggested we make gingerbread succahs for Succot next year at Hebrew school, and went on to describe the candy we would need. All this made me the very proud Jewish mother of a gingerbread-making son, especially since I teach the Hebrew school.
In case you’re inspired to make a Gingerbread house from scratch, (or a succah next fall) or just gingerbread people, here’s the recipe. Happy holidays!
3 cups flour
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon each cloves and nutmeg
½ cup butter
½ cup white sugar (otherwise known as white death)
2/3 cup molasses
Beat eggs and sugar until fluffy, add egg and molasses. Gradually add sifted dry ingredients. Mix well. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill overnight.
Roll out dough and cut into gingerbread men, or house walls (carefully cut your pattern out of cardboard-cereal boxes work well- and then use it as a pattern for your house walls). Bake at 350 degrees for 8- 12 minutes.
That’s it for now, I have to go hang the Christmas lights.