Christmas, being Jewish & Me
Posted December 25, 2009on:
Proof that my dad was a true maverick can be found in this story, only told to me by my brother in the last year or so.
One December day when I was a kid, Dad came home with a Christmas tree tied to the roof of his Chevy station wagon. In most families and most neighborhoods, that would be commonplace.
But not in a Jewish family in a post World War II St. Louis neighborhood that was so Jewish our public elementary school closed on the High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The only family I remember not being Jewish was one in which the parents had German accents. Clearly, they had moved into the wrong neighborhood after World War II.
The neighborhood tongues started wagging as Dad drove toward our home. Within an hour or two of Dad bringing in the tree, the rabbi was at our door. Alerted by the Jewish grapevine, he wanted to have a little chat. Dad was not intimidated.
They sat in the living room – a place with white furniture and carpet that we rarely used. That showed how significant it was to have the rabbi drop by to have this conversation.
“Jerry,” Dad said to the rabbi, “Santa isn’t going to visit everyone’s kids except mine.”
My brother could tell me this story many years later because then 6 or so, he was listening just outside the room. I was about 4 and not tuned into the significance of it all.
It’s not that Dad wanted Christmas gifts for himself; he just loved the magic of making his kids happy. In fact, each year when we asked him what he wanted for Christmas or his birthday, he said, “Razor blades and socks.”
Needless to say, the tree remained as it did for each year when we were kids. I remember hearing in Sunday school that Jewish kids should not have Christmas trees even if they were called Hanukkah bushes. I sometimes argued we shouldn’t do this. Andy never did. Like father like son.
Our experience was a far cry from when my mom was little and she and her two brothers once put up their own socks on Christmas Eve hoping for a little something like the rest of the kids in school talked about. They were the only Jewish kids in their Granite, Illinois, schools and as she said, “Sometimes we got it” from the other kids.
Mom’s family always had relatives staying with them who had come from Europe. One there that year did not approve of their trying to get a little something at Christmas. He put coal in their stockings. “Christmas is not for Jewish children,” he told them.She always felt that was cruel.
In my first year as a newspaper reporter in 1974, I decided it would be fun to play the Santa role in a store for an article. In those prehistoric times, we didn’t even have an enclosed shopping mall in La Crosse; instead we had a Shopko discount store. I sat on a throne of sorts in the toy department hearing the wishes of children.
After the story was in the paper, a letter to the editor from Santa criticized me for potentially spoiling it for little kids. This may have been an age of the first woman to do this and that stories, but he drew the line at Santa.
We became friends with Santa, who has come to our home every year since 1981 on Christmas Eve. He even came to the hospital to see Matt the year he was diagnosed and was the only kid in the hospital that Christmas. All the others were sent home to be with their family. Santa promised to come to our house the next year.
He did, although so late I thought he had forgot and I was depressed. When I heard the sleigh bells outside that year I really felt the magic. He came into the kids rooms. Who wouldn’t believe?
We had a Christmas tree for many years and I must admit that I have felt a little guilty about it. My husband is not Jewish, however, an excuse but not the real reason.
In recent years, we’ve put gifts under a Snowman, who each year wears these goofy eyes that once were at the top of our Christmas tree. This year we have a pink tam on top, symbolic of what’s happening in my life right now.
This year on Santa’s lap, Michael asked to get into grad school and Maggie for health for family members. Others asked for improved economic conditions, an improved health care system and we had the usual “I don’t know” deer-in-the=headlights responses.
I was selfish. I asked for an end to chemotherapy and radiation.
Mostly the adult kids and adolescents in our group get goofy underwear now from Santa. It’s our tradition. And two moms got some this year. “What goes around; comes around,” our friend Amy, a recipient of this stuff for years, said.
I know Bill O’Reilly will not be happy about this, but then I’m not exactly a fan of his.
I think it is OK to wish people “Happy Holidays.” It’s also OK to wish Christian people “Merry Christmas,” Jewish people “Happy Hanukkah,” to tell African-American people “Happy Kwanza,” and Muslim people “Happy Eid-ul-Adha.”
We should recognize, respect and include each other in our good wishes, no matter who they are or what they believe.
For our family, Christmas really is about showing love to each other. And that is a Jewish value, a Christian value, a Buddhist value and a Muslim value.
Merry and happy whatever to all of you. Give your family members a hug from me.