A Black and White Christmas

It was the week before Christmas and the store clerk was holidayinndressed in some demented manager's idea of holiday attire. A Santa's hat kept sliding down her forehead and a giant, plastic holly corsage poked dents in her chin as she bent over to bag my groceries. Her expression was glum. I, on the other hand, was as jolly as Old Saint Nick because unlike him, I had no Christmas obligations. All the years of childhood deprivation had finally paid off. Most Jewish adults have no mall parking lots to navigate in an endless search for an empty parking space, no cookies to bake, no house to decorate or festivities to plan. Yet, I have not totally escaped. Because, strangely, Christmas is the time of year that memories of my father tug at me most strongly and I miss him the most. One chorus of “White Christmas” on radio is all it takes to drop me down a rabbit hole back into the 1950's.

wonderfullife“Why can't we have a Christmas tree?” my six year old self asks.

“I've explained this before, Jews do not celebrate Christmas,” my father replies.

“Marcy Stein has a Christmas tree.”

My father makes an unidentifiable noise. “We are not the Steins and we do not have a Christmas tree. You can help me light the candles on the menorah and your mother will make potato latkes. After dinner I'll teach you a game with the dreidel that we used to play as children.”

I was not placated. In our own way, we did celebrate Christmas. My sister and I were even granted the special privilege of staying up past our bedtime so we could participate in my father's annual tradition, watching Christmas movies. The movies were accompanied by elaborate ice cream sundaes that my father created for everyone. miracle34thThe obligatory movies were the original 1940's versions of “A Christmas Carol,” “It's A Wonderful Life” and “Miracle on 34th Street,” somehow more effective in black and white then today’s colorized remakes. The highlight of the season was the viewing of “White Christmas ” with Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney (who would have believed that her nephew's star would someday eclipse her own). As a family we shivered, laughed and cried through those movies every year no matter how many times we had seen them. Now that I think about it, my father was not celebrating Christmas. Christmas was just the vehicle to get across a message of hope and renewal and a celebration of the goodness of humanity. How very like my father to celebrate that.

Susan Harrison is an attorney by training, home remodeler by accident, and a writer by choice.

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