Christmas Day, my way
These Chicagoans give holiday family traditions the ol' heave ho-ho-ho.
Bruce Gomez, an Evanston clinical social worker and family therapist, says he’s not surprised by the holiday-tradition-bucking trend. “Cultural and religious shifts, the current economic climate and social and employment mobility have really changed the face of these rituals since as little as 10 to 15 years ago,” he says. “Orphan holiday parties,” which often feature cash-strapped college students hanging together at a friend’s apartment, cooking up a tofurkey and cracking open a box of Carlo Rossi, are most common at Thanksgiving. But the trend persists during Hannukah and Christmas as well.
Penelope Brumm and her husband, Bob Edwards, enjoy Christmas their own way but, unlike Lane and Laurita, the Logan Square couple say they’re simply fed up with the consumerist vibe of the holidays and the mandatory family visits that accompany them. Instead of heading home, they trek downtown. “Because of our busy schedules and money we rarely have time to go downtown for leisurely enjoyment of the city,” Brumm says. “So on Christmas Day, in lieu of gifts, we get dressed up and treat ourselves to the Gold Coast.” This includes a quick drive downtown (where parking, at least for that day, is abundant), followed by a stroll along Michigan Avenue, which the couple has virtually to themselves. Next, they’ll stop in at the Four Seasons or the Drake to admire the decorations and sip a hot drink, followed by dinner on Rush Street, where many of the bars and restaurants are open to accommodate folks like themselves. “It’s a quiet, enjoyable, fancy kind of day, meant for just the two of us,” Brumm says, “and this has become our Christmas Day tradition.”
For Leah Jones, celebrating the holidays without family is more a product of circumstance than choice. The 31-year-old Edgewater resident was raised Christian but converted to Judaism years ago and doesn’t have any Jewish relatives to celebrate the holidays with. So two years back, she helped start the group Loosely Defined, which connects Jews who lack latke-slinging grandmas through both her Edgewater synagogue, Emanuel Congregation, and Facebook. Jones says she and a couple hundred folks celebrate Hannukah at the synagogue with a big community dinner followed by a menorah lighting, but she also opens up her condo for one night during the holiday to friends she’s met through Loosely Defined. “Last year, I had everybody over to my house on the fifth night [of Hannukah] and learned to cook latkes,” an experiment that ended up setting off her smoke alarm. “That was hysterical.”