Since, like the much of the rest of the country, upstate New York is in a deep freeze, I’m taking my daily constitutional by walking up and down the corridor on my floor. Outside the wind whistles and the trees wave in a way that feels slightly ominous. I’m very grateful there is nowhere I need to be but here and hope all of you are safe and warm.
It’s a very long corridor, maybe the length of two city blocks. Audubon birds hang at either end but the rest of the walls are empty, except for islands of decor huddling beside many of the apartment doors. Everyone follows the unwritten rule not to stray beyond that small personal space.
I’ve been here just long enough to see the fall oranges and browns make way for the reds and whites and greens of Christmas. Doormats have been changed to match the season. Dancing snowmen proclaim Welcome! A row of Christmas stockings promises Treats! There’s one shaped and colored like a poinsettia.
Many of the metal doors (fireproof) have magnetic hooks holding wreaths that have also changed with the season. As I march down the hall, I pass a circle of big fluffy white snowballs entwined with glittery red baubles. More than one door sprouts fake evergreen branches, many festooned with equally fake shiny red berries and pine cones. One has what looks like disembodied antlers tucked in among the branches. On another, the sign warning Oxygen in Use! is almost completely covered by a berry-and-cone wreath whose top looks—perhaps appropriately, if inadvertently—like a crown of thorns.
One door has a red and white stocking hanging on it, embroidered with a single word: Believe. A pointy-eared elf (are there any other kind?) sits on a tall box covered in Merry Christmas wrapping paper. The doormat beside this display repeats the message. A little further down the hall, an old milk can (this used to be farm country after all) is filled with what might possibly be real evergreen branches among what are definitely fake candy canes. I’m grateful I don’t live one floor down, where decals of the Nativity have been stuck onto the hallway windows.
I recognize that these displays are valiant and hopeful. In order to live in this building you have to be at least 55, and most of the tenants are well past that age. Some of them have kids and grandkids, some do not, at least I assume that is the case since I don’t know most of the people who live behind these doors. I do know that this is a challenging time of year for many, so I can appreciate that these are personal shrines to the joy of the season, even though I can’t say that I like them much.
I’m not really as bah humbug as I fear I sound. I loved Christmas when I was a little girl. All those songs about the Christ child choked me up. Still can, under the right circumstances. But at this time of increased antisemitism and Holocaust denial, my heart is building a protective wall around itself, and I am relieved when I return to my apartment, close the door, and light the candles in the new Chanukkah menorah I surprised myself with last week.
Each night, the light from those candles feels like it’s holding me in a peaceful embrace and I am grateful. I hope that the people behind the other doors are being held in the light of their holiday as well, and trust that their symbols mean as much to them as mine do to me.