Christmas and Me
More on why celebrating for the first time at 38, twenty years ago, was such a big deal.
It was A Very Covid Christmas in my house for the second year in a row. Brian and I both had the virus, and while it wasn’t as severe this time around, it was a shitty turn of events. It meant not getting to meet up with my family in the city. It meant canceling lots of fun plans and not going anywhere, for two weeks.
Good thing Brian and I enjoy each other’s company. But being isolated from family and friends for so long, and at a time when everyone else was hanging out together, was uncomfortably reminiscent of the Covid lockdown years. It made me depressed, and anxious about backsliding from all the progress I’d made mood- and outlook-wise, and in terms of reconnecting with friends after sheltering in place for the greater part of three years.
Christmas itself though was sweet in its own quiet way, once I surrendered to the reality that it was just going to be the two of us. We made butternut squash risotto with brown butter scallops together as our Feast of the One Fish (hooray for Instacart), listened to the Vince Guaraldi Trio’s A Charlie Brown Christmas on repeat, and watched Christmas movies.
It was my second viewing ever of It’s a Wonderful Life, and my first of Miracle on 34th Street. (We still haven’t gotten to A Charlie Brown Christmas, but it’s on the list.) I have a lot of catching up to do, because in my childhood home, anything having to do with Christmas was forbidden.
In my Covid-addled state I failed to connect the dots between the two parts of last week’s post, so I’ll spell it out here: The antisemitic terror my grandparents’ generation experienced in Europe led my parents to ban all things having to do with the holiday. I wasn’t even permitted to attend a tree-decorating party at my third-grade best friend’s house. “Christmas is not our holiday!” my parents insisted, over and over, throughout my childhood. (Later, I wasn’t allowed to date non-Jews. This meant it was something of a scandal when I married Brian.)
It was my second viewing ever of It’s a Wonderful Life, and my first of Miracle on 34th Street… I have a lot of catching up to do, because in my childhood home, anything having to do with Christmas was forbidden.
At first, too young to understand, I was mystified and saddened by my parents’ position—especially given that we were Reform Jews who very much enjoyed shrimp and clams and lobster and cheeseburgers and bacon, and drove to and from temple on Shabbat and the High Holidays. They were willing to assimilate in almost every other way, but anything Christmas-related was met with a hard “no.”
Well, there were weird exceptions, like: I had to attend an annual sing-in of Handel’s Messiah on December 14th, 1980, when I was 15, so my dad could join in, from the baritone section. What makes this most memorable for me is that I longed, instead, to be at the vigil for John Lennon in Central Park with my friends. I wasn’t allowed because they were afraid I would get “trampled.”
Ditto the Simon & Garfunkel Concert in Central Park the next year. They thought I was going to get trampled at a Simon & Garfunkel concert, like it was Altamont or something. Boy, did their intergenerational trauma make my parents fearful.
As I got older, while I grasped how horrible antisemitism was, and even experienced overt instances of it myself, the boundaries my parents erected in response to it shrunk my world in ways that hurt, and made me feel more like an outsider and weirdo than I already did.
Of course, the Christmas deprivation and feeling left out only intensified my envy and loneliness each year when the holiday rolled around. Which is why the tree Brian and I picked up on Avenue A in December, 2003 instantly transformed me into an excited 5-year-old. I was so gaga for that thing, I insisted we sleep by the light of it, on an air mattress on the living room floor.
In the midst of my Covid brain fog I managed to locate the one existing photo of that tree, and thought I’d share it with you, above.
Brian finally tested negative on Monday, and I followed suit on Tuesday. We’re not 100% back to ourselves—we are both still pretty low-energy, and I have brain fog and an annoying lingering dry cough. But things are looking up, and we’re thinking we might even venture out to some parties in the neighborhood on New Year’s Eve…
In other news…
I’m staying put on Substack, at least for now. I like whathad to say about this. And today Margaret Atwood weighed in. More on my position here.
I was interviewed about all thingsby in Canada’s National Post.
Through Sunday, I’ve got a sale going on paid subscriptions to, which help me pay my many contributors there. For the next three days, you can save 10% off the already pretty low price of $55/year.