ME IN 1988
I very seldom repeat past posts but I get so tired at this time of the year regarding "Merry Christmas", "Happy Holidays", "Happy Hanukkah" and "Happy Kwanzaa"--I personally don't care what you say as long as this time of the year means something to you for whatever reason. This is a 3 part series that I wrote for a paper years ago--hope you enjoy reading it again or reading it for the first time!
I LOVE Christmas and have since the days stores didn't decorate for the holiday until Thanksgiving weekend when Santa appeared magically all over town and the Salvation Army went out in force and didn't take credit cards and the men stood by their big, black kettles ringing bells. It was back in the days when there were Christmas, not holiday, trees and people gleefully yelled "Merry Christmas", not "Happy Holidays".
I remember 63 years ago sneaking out to my front yard where we had a tall, huge fir tree and decorating it with balls and silver strips and my mother lamenting, & quote; "What will the neighbors think?" and I didn't care. We lived on Bogart Avenue, between Lydig and Pelham Parkway, the dividing line between the Sharks and the Jets--for those who don't get the reference it separated the Jews from the Italians and our block was made up of both.
I didn't think of it as a religious holiday but as a time for peace towards all men. Way back then--in the ice age--you didn't hear songs like "Jingle Bells" until Thanksgiving weekend, certainly not in October as a theme song for a cruise line. The celebration of the Christmas feeling started when you heard Nat King Cole sing, "Chestnuts roasting on an open fire..." from The Christmas Song or Judy Garland's sweet, sad voice sang "Have Yourself a Very Merry Christmas" and, of course, wherever you went you heard Der Bingle (Bing Crosby) sing "White Christmas".
Christmas wasn't a religious time for a Jewish boy in New York but a time of cold weather, snow flurries, people running here to there with a smile on their face and everyone carrying wrapped packages with bows and ribbons. Of course I had an unfair advantage over my Italian friends because I, also, got to celebrate Hanukkah where children were given geldt (money) and went to the houses (apartments) of their grandparents who had immigrated from Russia and England and were surrounded by very large families and ate and ate and ate, because that is what Jews did on holidays, though I was to learn so did Greeks, Italians, Filipinos, Germans, etc.
Again, it wasn't the religion of the holiday that attracted me to attend Christmas midnight mass at St. Patrick's cathedral but the pageantry, the voices of the choir ringing out and the sound of the Latin language, again this was many years ago, echoing through the cathedral. I must confess--hey, it's a Catholic church--that years later, in the 60s, Ronnie, Joe and I use to go for 'camp' reasons--to see Cardinal Spellman all dressed up in his finery, his red robes looking like a gown and, we thought, in all probability, hiding his red, ruby slippers.
None of this is meant, or said, in disrespect of the Christmas holiday and its true meaning but looking at an aspect of it that was open to all children who had imagination and loved to see their world almost become magical for 4 weeks--not like now where by the time the holiday comes around you are ready to scream if you hear one more Christmas song because you have been hearing them since August when you started getting the catalogs and the stores were decorated with wreaths and holly even before Halloween.
NEXT, PART 2, A MAGICAL TIME/PLACE NEVER TO BE FORGOTTEN AND SHOULD BE EXPERIENCED BY EVERYONE AT LEAST ONCE--A MERRY, MERRY CHRISTMAS!