I’ll never forget the humiliation of being called out for refusing to make a macaroni Santa, using the dried pasta to craft a Hanukkah menorah instead. Or being forced to sing Silent Night with the rest of my 3rd grade class at the “holiday concert,” not quite understanding “round yon virgin” but feeling deeply uneasy at the “son of god” stuff.
Growing up Jewish meant I was the odd and awkward one, singled out for being different, and snubbed for not wanting to embrace something that wasn’t mine.
Even as a grownup elementary school teacher, I was ostracized by parents for not adorning my classroom with Christmas decorations… snowflakes just weren’t good enough; by the office staff for questioning the ornament-laden tree in the front hallway; by my own co-teachers for not being in the “holiday spirit.”
I’ve been called a grinch and told to suck it up because I’m a minority in a Christian nation and that’s just how it is. So forgive me if I’ve always felt out-of-sorts during the long slog between Thanksgiving and Christmas, force-fed a holiday that has always made me an outsider. And with the increase in antisemitic attacks in the last few years, being Jewish can make a guy feel even more othered, even here in progressive Denver.
So cover me with tinsel and deck my balls with boughs of holly, because I always find myself almost jolly when I visit Denver's Miracle Bar pop-up each year and knock back a cozy, boozy eggnog cocktail in the rich glow of string lights and Xmas kitsch. Maybe it’s the loving welcome from Award-Winning Mixologist Chad Michael George, who somehow seems to acknowledge my discomfort while gently ribbing me for it; maybe it’s how his team always seems to organically work in a Hanukkah nook without making it feel tokenizing; or maybe it’s that fucking delicious drink, which immediately warms my body and sets me into a comfortable haze.
The lush concoction of cognac and sherry, along with all the freshness of almond milk and cream and eggs and vanilla, makes the drink opulent and sippable while somehow avoiding the sin of many eggnog beverages — that viscous, cloying mouthfeel like you’re drinking a can of sugary house paint. The cocktail's sweet unctuousness is undercut by the alcoholic acidity of the Pierre Ferrand cognac while its eau de vie burn is moderated by a smoothly syrupy sherry. It’s all just a perfect balance that activates both your sweater weather comfort buttons and high-octane pleasure centers, and you can’t help but sigh into an easy, boozy complacency.
Don’t get me wrong — being subsumed into a garland-strewn hellscape of flashing tree lights and a hoarder’s basement of Christian holiday iconography isn’t something that I submit to gladly. I still grumble and grimace, the PTSD of childhood alienation bubbling just below the surface. But my true joy at seeing a friend so successful year after year, the affable conviviality of the experience he’s created, and the guarantee that I’ll leave the place bundled up for the frigid walk home enveloped in a hazy happiness, all combine to keep me showing up to the pop-up each December.
Let’s call it a holiday miracle.