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.

On a covid Christmas, a new routine for feeding the homeless—WaPo

Explosion rocks downtown Nashville—CNN

Trump golfs in Florida as COVID relief hangs in the balance—SFGate

December 25, 2020

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.

Photo by Ruth Neuwald Falcon

17 Comments

  1. Sweet. Thanks so much, Ruth. This is my first Christmas in my 15 years as a Jew to be w/o any family to use as an “excuse” to put up a tree and deck the halls, so I decided to hit the re-set button and let Christmas be just another day on the calendar. Couldn’t do it. Had to put up lights, make a favorite recipe, and play four or five of the thirty Christmas CDs I had amassed over my pre-Jewish years. And I think my Jewish God just smiled and enjoyed the day right along with me. Blessings to you!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you, Ruth, and the same good wishes to you! Christmas is embodied in the spirit of love and generosity we share with one another–whether in person or virtually.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. No worries. There is the Fourth Commandment. — (Principle? Suggestion? Guideline? Appropriate Behavior Trait?—take your pick.) Did I get the number right? Math and memorizing — not my thing.
    Lots of memories — thanks. None of Christmas Trees. Only had one — actually one-half of one. In law school,. My housemates got a small tree and dedicated half to me as a Hanukkah Bush. Thoughtful? Was a good party focus.
    Thanks for this blog, Ruth, and for you.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. My family also had a tree and pretty colored ornaments. Though I loved the trimmings I banished Christmas after starting religious school and pointing out to my parents that Christians didn’t celebrate Chanukah, therefore…
    Neither your family or mine were doing this with us prewar, but during and into postwar years presumably. I didn’t keep the ornaments.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Ruth, Thanks for sharing. We need light in this darkest month of the year and pretty light at that. Decorating trees with lights is a beautiful thing to do. It is a time for goodwill to all beings. I love the tree ornament

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Just have to say as someone who’s spent many years in choirs resenting religious music, I understand historically that who pays for commissioned music dictates its contents. But I still sing AH instead of god. Andy

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    Liked by 1 person

  7. What a lovely personal account. In my childhood, my parents were very close friends with my father’s childhood friend and his adult family who were jewish.. I was honored by being given his friend’s first name, David, and every Christmas Eve, this family would come to our house to help us decorate our tree and enjoy each other’s company and sharing a wonderful day together. We danced the hora in the living room and told tales of how our lives had been during the year. We ate a Christmas dinner together and shared a common prayer of thanks for being together and sharing love for each other. It was a wonderful cap to each year. Thank you for reminding me of the human side of the season and how we are all brothers and sisters on earth.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Thank you, Ruth, for sharing your feelings around the celebration of Christmas. You accomplished for me what you wrote in the introduction to this piece when you hoped “its warmth permeates your homes and hearts”. It definitely did!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Lovely column Dear Ruth,
    I remember Christmas in New York and I have many happy memories of driving our Long Island neighborhood looking for the best light displays.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I’ve come to except the reality that God, however you have come to define that “entity”, is so vast and inclusive that every single religion and every spiritual concept you could dream of resides within his, her, its loving embrace. I too love Christmas and all the hymns, tinsel, and family celebration of this very special season.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I grew up in a Jewish home where my parents would not condone a tree or lights. They had, instead, a wooden Star of David which was decorated with tin foil and 9 candle shaped lights. Dad would not even hear of putting blue and white lights on the house. In my mid thirties I had a house mate who asked permission to bring a tree home. My son and I were secretly delighted. SMR sent a wooden bear ornament. It was a joy. A few years later I met my sweetheart who at almost 80 still puts lights on the house and puts up a tree filled with ornaments. I love it. Oh, I was taught to mouth the Jesus parts in the singing! Thank you so much for sharing this.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. My first religious science teacher was a Jewish woman. She said the idea is not to have faith IN Jesus with the faith OF Jesus.
    Sounded good to me. So at the time we spent rehearsing and singing Christmas songs, it didn’t bother me just sent those boards with glee. But not with literal conviction.
    Maybe that’s the reason I wrote my Hanukkah song to the tune of the Hallelujah Chorus this year.
    Truth is, I still believe in Santa Claus. I think everyone of them. The department store ones, the bell ringers, anyone that puts on that hat with a smile on their heart has to be the real one. And that’s because the real Santa clause is the spirit of peace on earth the goodwill toward everyone and everything.

    That doesn’t have to be a religion. Back in just… B.

    Liked by 1 person

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