I love the holiday season. And I especially loved it when I was in New York because it’s magical – there’s simply no place like Manhattan at Christmas time. When I traveled to Italy a few years ago at this time of year, I expected the festiveness to exponentially outdo anything I’d seen in the United States, and I was surprised that it was quite the opposite. There was very little public display – no giant lit-up Christmas trees, no mall Santas, no seasonal half-off sales, no last-minute shoppers pepper spraying eachother for home electronics. It wasn’t my Americanized vision of Christmas, but I could respect the understated sentiment, the private matter of holy celebration. And the utter lack of commercialism involved was quite refreshing.
I find it hard to relate Christmas as we do it up here with the origins of the holiday. It’s a massive retail marketing ploy to get us to spend money. Not my family though – being the “goddam foreigners” (old family joke) that we are, we’ve never totally bought into the American expression of Christmas. That said, we’ve celebrated it for as long as I can remember. At first, I imagine that to the adults, it didn’t mean much – America was new to them then and its traditions were not yet their traditions. Perhaps the whole thing didn’t make sense to them – the notion of a jolly fat man and reindeer and the sleigh and the North Pole…How that relates to the baby Jesus is, well, perplexing.
But for me (the kid), they abided. We had a plastic drugstore Christmas tree for most of my childhood, and only in recent years have I gained exposure to a real live (well, dying) pine tree. The excitement of it all has never been lost on me – I love the lights (so much that I’ve been known to keep “happy lights” up all year round), tinsel, stockings, warming drinks, and the spirit of sharing and caring.
We lived in a chimney-less apartment building and so I would tape my letters to Santa to the balcony sliding glass door. I don’t remember ever leaving cookies or milk out for him – or ever having cookies and milk in the house for that matter (we did, however have and abundance of tea and dates). My family did well in coming through on my Christmas list, but one year, “Santa” must have overslept because under our plastic tree was nothing. Nada. Zilch. My sobs awoke my mom who explained that Santa hadn’t gotten to our home yet (traffic, I guess?), and I had to go back to bed. When I awoke for the second time, voila, there were gifts! There were some other glitches along the way too, like when Santa brought me a generic Cabbage Patch Doll and not one with the requisite butt signature. It was all good fun though, and still is – celebrations with my family are certainly never lackluster.
As I’ve gotten older and joined the adult population, my presents have waned. I wish I could still make a list and tape it to the balcony door and have someone care enough to make my dreams come true. That’s the unique magic of childhood, I guess. On the bright side, it’s my chance to give back for all my family’s efforts on my behalf over the years. And so, I kind of like playing Santa’s elf.