The One Year Jewish Christmas Gave Me the Peaceful Holiday I Always Wanted

Rose Bak

Photo courtesy of Unsplash

I have never been big on holidays, especially Christmas. There is too much drama, too many expectations, too much disappointment. But once in my life, many years ago, I had one perfect Christmas, without doing Christmas at all.

“What are you doing for Christmas?” my good friend Iron Man asked me earlier in the week.

“Nothing.” I answered. “No one’s around this year.”

I didn’t have to tell him that I was perfectly OK with that, because he knew me so well. He was one of my closest friends.

He knew that I would be fine doing nothing on the holiday. He understood that I didn’t mind being alone, that I actually like it. He got that I would much rather be alone than have to get guilted into doing something I didn’t want to do, like be the pity invite at someone’s family holiday dinner.

“Let’s do Jewish Christmas,” he suggested. “We’ll go for a run, then get Chinese food, and go to a movie. It will be totally low key.”

It just worked out that neither of us had anyone else around that year that we wanted to spend time with.

Neither of us were dating anyone so there were no obligations to hang out with someone else’s family. Neither of us had to work. My best friend was out of town. And since it was his ex’s turn to have their two kids for the holiday, Iron Man would not be on Santa duty.

Completely on our own, with no one to worry about besides ourselves, and no expectations for some Hallmark family Christmas, we could do whatever we wanted. I agreed to his suggestion readily.

A totally relaxing and fun day with one of my best friends? It sounded great.

When Christmas arrived, it was a grey overcast morning, like most winter mornings here in Portland. There was nothing special and if you didn’t know it was Christmas, it would have seemed like any other day.

We headed out to the Columbia Gorge, about 45 minutes outside of town. As we drove east the sun came out and by the time we arrived at the empty parking lot by Multnomah Falls it was shaping up to be a beautiful day.

Winter sun in Portland is a rare gift, and we relished it.

We put on our winter gear and headed up the trail towards Angel’s rest, a very popular hiking destination near the waterfalls.

Within about a quarter of a mile we hit snow. As we climbed higher the snow got deeper and deeper. The snow was fresh and well-packed and other than the occasional animal footprint, we were the first ones to enjoy its beauty.

The sun reflected off the brilliant white snow and kept us warm as we walked the uphill portions of the trail and ran the flat sections and the downhills.

Iron Man could run about twice as fast as me, but we kept my slower pace, not pushing the speed. We were running only for the pure joy of it.

We were talking and laughing, telling stories, and sometimes just running along quietly, enjoying the silence of the snow falling on the trees. All the best friendships include the ability to just be with each other in silence.

Our trail shoes gripped the snow, making crunching noises. Birds sang over our heads and animals chattered in the bush.

As we climbed higher the snow was so deep it was hard to tell where the trail was, and we hugged the side of the trail so we wouldn’t accidentally plunge over a cliff. Sometimes one of us would slip and land on our butt or break through the crust and sink deep into the snow, laughing as we extricated ourselves and resumed our run.

We stopped periodically to take a drink from our hydration packs and enjoy the view around us — the craggy incline of the hills, the Columbia River snaking far beneath us in the Gorge, the rare blue sky, the magical quality of the shimmering snow covering all the trees and bushes in a blanket of white.

It felt like we were a million miles away from the city. We were totally surrounded by nature’s beauty. We had not seen evidence of a single other person — it was like we were the only two people in the world.

For a few hours, running along in the sun, tramping through the snow, separate from the rest of the world, we were completely care-free. Our souls were completely at peace.

Suddenly we heard a crashing noise. We stopped to watch as two deer darted out on the trail ahead of us, gracefully running almost vertically, yet staying upright as they hopped down the steep hill on the other side.

I had never been so close to a deer before, and never have been since then. I stood in awe, amazed by their size and their gentle presence. I held my breath as they flew down to the lower woods, realizing that, like us, they were completely at one with the trail.

Eventually our legs grew tired and we headed back down the trail towards the car. The parking lot was still empty, with everyone else focused on their family holidays. I felt bad that they were missing this beautiful day in the Gorge, but selfishly glad that we had it all to ourselves.

We drove back into the city, starving after running for a couple of hours. We found an open Chinese restaurant and ordered a bunch of food. We relived our run over Chinese food and beer, sharing our dishes.

Afterward eating, Iron Man and I went to see some stupid movie, slouched in seats in the back of the theater, totally relaxed. We parted ways late that night, exhausted and happy.

We did nothing Chistmasy that day, and yet it was a perfect Christmas. There’s never been a holiday that was a blissfully perfect as that one.

There was something healing about the woods, the beauty of snow, the warmth of the sun and a good run. On that day nature gave us a gift we would never get at a holiday party.

It’s a gift I cherish to this day.


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Rose Bak is a freelance writer who lives in Portland, Oregon with her family and special needs dogs. She writes on a variety of topics including local news, homelessness, poverty, relationships, yoga, and aging. She is also a published author of romantic fiction. For more of Rose's work, visit her website at or follow her on social media @AuthorRoseBak.

Portland, OR

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