Celebrating Hanukkah, but Feeling the Christmas Spirit
Writer Recalls a Childhood Waiting for Santa -- and the Gelt
The first hint of winter snows to come didn't quite take me by surprise recently. I had heard that flurries were predicted on the Weather Channel. Still, spotting snowflakes fluttering here and there in feisty gusts of wind created a feeling of excitement that made me think of holiday parties, cups of piping hot chocolate, shiny colored paper decorations, and all things that glitter.
It was almost the end of Hannukah and I was feeling more Christmas-y than Hannukah-ish.
I have to blame my Rhode Island-born Jewish mother for the magical pull that Christmas has on me. When I was a child of six or seven, she had my brother and me hang our socks up on the fireplace mantle in our Long Island home. "Let's leave some cookies and milk for Santa," she said.
We asked the usual question..."Mommy, how can he fit down the chimney?" She said he could because we had been good. For a number of years, she read us "Twas the Night Before Christmas" on Christmas Eve. The story book was large with fuzzy red stuff on Santa's outfit and sparkles scattered on the paper. It explained everything that we needed to know.
It wasn't that we didn't celebrate Hannukah. We had a silver menorah and received a present on each of the eight nights of the holiday as well as some Hannukah gelt. We had latkes with dinner and sang "Rock of Ages."
My mother had grown up in a kosher home and was fervent in her feelings about the persecution of the Jews. She was a second generation American. Her parents were from Rhode Island; their parents came from Russia. My Jewish father, born in the Washington Heights section of New York city, was the son of immigrants from Czechoslovakia.
My parents were coming out of a post-war time when being "too Jewish" had its problems in some circles. I have wondered, during my adult years, if my mother's affinity for the enchantment of Christmas had to do with a desire for acceptance from being an outsider, or if she just enjoyed the fairy tale aspects of the holiday that imbues December with so much charm.
As children, my brother and I were sent to Sunday school at a local temple. My brother had a bar mitzvah. Yet, for a few of our early childhood years, we loved waking up on Christmas morning and going downstairs as fast as we could.
We'd open up net-like red stockings filled with candy and unwrap some special presents that were waiting for us at the bottom of our fireplace. I still remember the toy wringer washing machine that was wrapped up with just a bow. There was no Christmas tree.
And so I have inherited by nurture the same love, perhaps for the same reasons, of the allure of this season. When our daughter was very young, I hung stockings up on our fireplace for all three of us. My husband went along with my plan as I explained that my own mother had done the same thing. I decorated the fireplace with candy canes. We left messages, cookies, and milk for Santa. I wanted our daughter to have what I had had, and then some. On Hannukah, I exhausted myself getting her more than one present each night, somehow thinking that this indulgence would make the festival of lights seem more like the Santa Claus part of Christmas.
In retrospect, I don't know that making such a fuss over the whimsical part of Christmas was the right thing to do, but I couldn't help it at the time. I was caught up in an aspect of my own childhood that was memorable to me, even though it caused a little identity confusion for my family. Pretending that Santa was coming was just so much fun!
My family just celebrates Hannukah now, but I can't say that I'm not still a sucker for the dreamy part of Christmas. I have no doubts that I'm Jewish, but magic is magic.