“So, are you all ready for the holiday?” The man in the hospital elevator was full of December good cheer.
“As ready as I’ll ever be. How about you?” My mother answered from her wheelchair.
Standing behind her, my mouth dropped open in amazement. What an excellent answer. Totally true, without explaining that she was Jewish and did not celebrate Xmas, my mother had returned the stranger’s goodwill. I should not have been surprised. Having spent almost her whole life in Kansas, center of the Bible Belt, she had had many years to perfect her answer.
I never had my mother’s finesse. As a little girl I used to giggle with embarrassment anytime anyone asked me what I wanted Santa to bring me.
My childhood memories of December 25th are that it was the worst day of the year. My father was in retail and after weeks of holiday rush he and my mother looked forward to the goyishe holiday as a well-deserved day of rest. That was fine for them. They could loll around, read, sip coffee, talk quietly, whatever, but I was always bored. My friends in the neighborhood were busy with their presents, their holiday dinners, and families. I was not allowed to go to my cousins as most of them had Xmas trees in their living room. There was nothing on TV except church programs. VCRs and DVDs had not been invented yet. Yes, I could read and I did, but a full day of even the best book was wearying.
As I grew older I began helping in my father’s store and started appreciating the quiet of December 25th. Sill, nothing could dispel the feeling of isolation that the American holiday season gave me. I did love watching the sentimental shows that came on television that time of year. I enjoyed driving through the wealthy neighborhoods to look at the decorations. And I participated good-naturedly in all the gift exchanges at school and clubs. However, I knew all of this was not for me.
Raised in a traditional home, I did know we had more holidays that the Christians. I appreciated my Jewish heritage and while in university became more observant. Once married and a mother I strived to make sure my children would not feel like they were missing something. Our life was filled with holidays, both minor and major, which we celebrated with enthusiasm. They learned in a Jewish day school so they never had to mouth the words to Xmas carols as I once did. Their social life centered around their Jewish playmates, none of whom celebrated Xmas.
However, the holiday spirit was everywhere each December. It invaded all of our senses. We saw the decoration. We heard the carols. We smelled the gingerbread and cookies. We felt left out. And then we moved to Israel.
And now December 25th is just a day on the calendar, one that often goes by without us noticing the date. It’s just another one of the many good reasons to make Aliyah!