Growing Up without Christmas…Sort Of

I grew up without Christmas.

In a fairly religious family that gave us eight days of Chanukah and the requisite equal number of gifts, I still felt that lure of the magic of the season. As much as I tried to feel a part of it by pretending it was really a celebration of winter, or squeezing in among all the holiday shoppers at Wanamaker’s in Philly to buy my parents their anniversary gift (December 22) and my mom’s birthday gift (Christmas Eve – Happy almost Birthday, Mom!), I still felt like an interloper.

I’d indulge in Christmas movies. I still do. I love them all. Funny ones. Romantic ones. Sappy ones. They’d permit me to privately satisfy my craving to be a part of the joyousness of the holiday. I wrangled my way into high school choir (I can’t hold a tune) so I could take part in the pageantry of our Christmas assembly, gracefully walking into the auditorium my hands wrapped around a glowing candle and my voice belting out carols. The audience was filled with our beaming parents, including mine.

When I was very young, my dad, obviously aware of the pull, would hang stockings for my sister and me. Or we’d awake Christmas morning to find one of our reserved Chanukah presents lying at the foot of our beds. I still remember the stuffed animal dog with the wiry shape and grosgrain ribbon. My dad would pick one night and we’d drive around and look at all the pretty Christmas lights embellishing other people’s homes.

Although we had this small taste of Christmas, we never put up decorations – either inside or outside. The world didn’t need to know who we were or what we did behind closed doors. We did what we wanted to recognize the majesty of the season. I’ll always love my dad for understanding this.

As it turned out, I married someone who did grow up celebrating Christmas. And even though the religion practiced in our home is derived from my background, I honored his one request to celebrate Christmas.

So in the next couple of days, I will be with my children and we will celebrate memories; memories of my in-laws, my dad, my husband – all deceased. The stockings will be hung by the fireplace and will be filled with lots of goodies, including Chanukah gelt.

As for Christmas morning, we’ll sit down to feast on a breakfast as traditional (to us) as it is yummy. We’ll have eggs and ham, and lox and bagel.

Happy holidays everyone!


Elizabeth Edwards, the Lady

The news of Elizabeth Edwards’ passing is profoundly sad. When most of us were first introduced to her a decade ago, her lifestyle invoked envy; a successful lawyer, a loving mother, the wife of a perpetually-youthful looking and seemingly devoted husband. And as we’ve long ago discovered about First Ladies and potential First Ladies, she was the brilliance behind her man.

We tried to rectify that she had already endured a tragedy – the unspeakable, unthinkable nightmare of every parent – the death of her son. He was only 16. A star. And he died suddenly in a car crash.

We admired her for overcoming the loss, and envied her for her entry onto the political stage. And then her next tragedy arrived with the nuance of a summer thunderstorm, leaving destruction in its wake. It was a diagnosis of breast cancer. And then, as the world knows too well, came the one tragedy that could have been averted. It was her husband’s lying, scandalous behavior – when she was SICK – and it resulted in a child out of wedlock.

Still every time Elizabeth Edwards graced the media, it was with stoic poise and aplomb.

Personally, as a writer, I have always been impressed with the articulateness with which she spoke. I have read excerpts from her book, and have been captivated by the richness of her prose. Most political memoirs, if not ghostwritten, are heavily edited. I believe neither is the case in Edwards’ book. Her impromptu speech had always been so aesthetically laced; I doubt she needed anyone to help her think.

I am always reluctant to give voice to the notion that people are never given more than they can bear. Even though she had endured too much, she never seemed to lose sight of her priorities, which without question, were her children.

We can remember Elizabeth Edwards one of two ways; the woman filled with so much sorrow that appeared weaker and weaker in the waning weeks of her life, or the vibrant, smiling woman we watched hold her husband’s hand on the stage at the Democratic National Convention. For most of us, that was the first time we met her. And for me at least, that’s the way I intend to remember her.


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