I’ve always liked Christmas, and not just because I like Chinese food and movies. I like the spirit of it, the renewed focus on friends and family, the dedicated time to slow down and reflect on your blessings. There is a kindness and a generosity that people can’t help but exhibit this time of year.
It’s always a little funny to be Jewish around Christmas. Every Jewish kid has their stories, from being accused of killing Candy Cane Court in middle school because they questioned the candy cane symbol aloud to their teacher thus canceling that years festivities (only to see them reinstated after graduating from school), to caroling with their fellow Cub Scouts, and after singing multiple Christmas songs together, hearing the Cub Scout Leader say, “Now Michael is going to step forward and sing one of his Jew songs.” (Okay, so maybe those are just my stories, but everyone has theirs!)
I don’t mind when people wish me a “Merry Christmas,” and I laugh whenever I’m in a group and someone says “Merry Christmas” and then momentarily gets flummoxed and singles me out to say, “Oh, oh, and Happy Hanukkah to you too, Michael!” It’s thoughtful for sure, but there’s also a weird feeling to being singled out as a Jew.
Look, if you know me, you know I’ll take any reason to celebrate. I’ve long found that the walls between us crumble when we participate in the celebration of each other’s lives and cultures. That’s why I’ve always invited non-Jews to my annual Hanukkah party. I want them to participate in my traditions, to feel they have permission to learn, honor and enjoy them. I want to live in a world where people wish everyone a Happy Hanukkah during Hanukkah, a Merry Christmas on Christmas, Happy Diwali, Ramadan Mubarak, Habari Gani, and all the rest.
So in the spirit of inclusion, I’m happy to write this note next to my first Christmas tree. Gosh it smells nice. Merry Christmas, my friends. (And since it’s still Hanukkah, Happy Hanukkah too.)
AROUND NEW YEARS
What are the little things you’ve noticed this year?
Perhaps by spending so much time at home, with the same people, walking the same streets gasping for early evening air, you’ve come to look differently at some small things in your life.
When I look back at 2020, I’ll remember nights of uncertainty, loneliness and claustrophobia, but I won’t pay them much mind. I’ll remember city wide cheers at 7 pm. Writing letters to swing state voters. Digital Dance Parties, Cinema Club, and elaborate home-cooked meals. I’ll remember the teachers and parents, health care professionals and essential workers, each of whom inspired me with reverence and awe.
And I’ll remember these two trees. I don’t even know their species, but from our rooftop, they look to be the tallest two trees in Brooklyn. They loom large over our deck like ancient guardians, protecting our tree house, our secret escape. I’ve photographed them every day this year, watching their leaves die and flowers bloom. I’ve witnessed them stand tall as storms billowed through their trunks. I’ve closed my eyes and listened to their branches rustling in the wind. They stirred my heart and gave me comfort. They even inspired a new ending for my book, one that feels truer and colored with hope.
The tree on the left keeps its leaves longer. It doesn’t sway as much. It’s heartier, more lush. The tree on the right houses a small plastic bag. I’ve watched this sad sack toss and stretch, balloon and swell. It’s shredded now, flapping in the wind like some war torn flag from an enemy that won’t surrender. For most of the year I hated this damn plastic bag. Now I can’t imagine the tree standing tall without it.
In a few months, we’ll move. I’ll miss the rustle and the shade, the dead leaves and plastic bag. The comfort now is knowing so many new trees await, anxious for my attention, ready to be seen.