I am happy and grateful to share this holiday with all of you. Whether you observe Christmas or not, I hope its warmth permeates your homes and hearts.
Finding Christmas again
by Ruth Neuwald Falcon, Seattle, Washington
I loved Christmas when I was growing up. Lights and wreaths strung across 72nd Street between Broadway and Amsterdam. The smell of chestnuts roasting, not on an open fire, but pushcarts on Fifth Avenue. The magical Christmas window displays in Lord & Taylor and B. Altman, and Macy’s on 34th and 6th. The enormous tree in Rockefeller Center where my mother and I would skate while my father sat in the cafe beside the rink, drinking coffee and taking our pictures.
And I loved the carols, singing along in school performances, wondering how to handle the words that came at the end O Come All Ye Faithful. It would look weird to suddenly clamp my mouth shut and stand there like a lump. The rest of the song didn’t feel like a betrayal, but I just couldn’t bring myself to sing “Christ the Lord.” My solution was to silently mouth the words. I didn’t think my Jewish God would mind that.
But more than lights and decorations and carols drew me to this holiday, and I wasn’t sure how my Jewish God would feel about those things. I loved the child, that Christ child whose name I didn’t want to say but who brought with his birth the promise of lions lying down with lambs. It was the smiles on the faces of people on those brightly lit and decorated streets. It was people greeting each other with a friendly “Merry Christmas!” It was a holiday that seemed to embody kindness and generosity. It was the rebirth, every year, of hope.
I grew up with a Christmas tree in my very historically and culturally Jewish home (before the war, it was very common for assimilated German Jews to observe the holiday and my mother was from Berlin) and always made my parents get the tallest one we could find. For most of the year, an old suitcase, held shut with leather straps, lived on the top shelf of the tiny bathroom off what had originally been the maid’s room and was now where the four cats spent their nights. Once a year, the suitcase was hauled down and from it emerged shiny multi-colored balls, fragile painted birds, red and black plastic bells, and garlands of red and green and silver. There were stockings to hang near the tree, matching red, black and white ones for my parents, a red and white one with green lettering for me. We had to get fresh packages of tinsel from the five and dime every year. The cats played with the tinsel and tried to knock over the tree.
But as an adult, first in California and then in Seattle, there wasn’t much room in my life for Christmas and I thought the attachment had gone. But still I held onto the two boxes of “Xmas ornaments” that my mother had preserved from those long ago times, even while thinking I really should let them go.
Last week, I brought home a bunch of pine boughs from Trader Joe’s. I put them in a large antique washing pitcher, another artifact of my mother’s, and went upstairs to find the “Xmas ornaments.” I was tentative about hanging them at first, but one by one, my miniature “tree” was decorated and now keeps me company in the kitchen that serves as office as well as dining room and food preparation site.
I don’t think my Jewish God minds.
Merry Christmas, everyone.