Growing up in the Long Island suburbs of New York City during the ’50s and ’60s, I always loved taking the Long Island Railroad (LIRR) into The City around Christmas time. We would wander the streets looking at the tableaux in the department store windows, eat roasted chestnuts we purchased from street vendors, watch the ice skaters at Rockefeller Center, and see the latest scientific explanation for the Star of Bethlehem at the Hayden Planetarium. Even though The City had its usual hustle and bustle, with everyone determinedly walking the streets at a brisk pace, most people were smiling and seemed happy. It was a great experience.
Once I left for college in Baltimore, Christmas was pushed into the background. When I came home, usually my only excursion into the city was to use my parents’ subscription to see an opera at Lincoln Center with my sister. In my memory, it seems as if the LIRR workers were always threatening to strike that evening, so my sister and I would drive in, use the underground parking and drive home, not experiencing New York City at all.
After graduation, I did not pay much attention to Christmas until I married my first wife. I am Jewish, she is Christian, and her family were very big into lots of Christmas presents. This was alien and uncomfortable for me. As I was growing up, our Hanukkahs were fairly simple. Typically we would receive one large gift, a few small ones, and some treats. That was it, and that was enough. Now I was plunged into Christmas shopping and I didn’t like it. I didn’t like the crowds. I didn’t like the pressure. I didn’t like trying to think of many things to buy, and frankly, I was not comfortable receiving so much stuff. Well, this went on for about seven years. Though I was sad when the marriage ended, I remember being relieved when Christmas rolled around and the pressure was gone.
After several years of ignoring Christmas and being a bit of a grump this time of year, I have gradually learned to once again love Christmas time. If I have to do any shopping, it is online, so no crowds, no pushing. Again, I see the happy faces, friendliness and good cheer all around me. I have now been married for many years to a Jewish woman and we do the traditional “Jewish Christmas,” i.e. a movie (or two) and Asian food (we have moved beyond only Chinese). If the weather is not too harsh, and neither one of us has a serious cold, we will take a walk in the woods prior to the movie.
One other thing I noticed between the movie and dinner this past Christmas Day was that, as we wondered around Bethesda, everything was closed, except for the movie theater and the Thai restaurant. That was nice. It is so rare these days that so many businesses close and give their employees the day off. Even though there was a chill wind blowing, there something warm and comforting about the quiet. It just seemed right.
My New Years resolution is to do more writing in 2015. So Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year, and I hope to be speaking to you soon.