“Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love.” –Hamilton Wright Mabie
I grew up with a single mother, a live-in nanny (Nana), and my older brother in an apartment on East 79th Street between Lexington and Third avenues. I remember the metallic and Mylar silver tree being pulled out of its cardboard box, but no longer can see where it stood. I remember decorating a tree at school with other girls in our uniforms, all the Christmas shows, from being a frozen snowflake in first grade to singing in 10th. Presents magically appeared Christmas morning, arranged around the dining table. No family gathered at our home, just the four of us. We made a requisite morning visit to my grandmother’s on 58th Street, where we’d make up skits with stuffed English toys with our uncle on the floor, and read his 1920s childhood books, play the 1914 board game Mensch Argere Dich Nicht, eat a couple of sugar cookies, roll around on the front hall carpet with basset hounds Roly and Poly, then walk home. Nana left for her own daughter’s family in the afternoon, while we drove in a rented car to Roslyn, L.I., to my mother’s eighth grade best friend’s home, our adopted holiday family (where we always went for Thanksgiving too). I started going to midnight Mass with Nana at St. Jean Baptiste Roman Catholic Church probably around age 11, while lobbying to light Hanukkah candles on a family menorah.
We moved without the silver tree to a much smaller apartment on the corner of Lexington and 72nd Street, where holiday cards were set up on a table outside our apartment with a fat red candle that was never lit and some nylon greens around it. Some decorations sat atop stacked wood in the unused fireplace, and a fat white candle with some fake greens around it adorned the dining table. When I had my own children, I bought my first live tree and adorned it with homemade decorations from miniature toys and yard sale finds, hung needlepoint stockings from the mantle with presents appearing near midnight under the tree, each year making new ornaments.
Now I no longer have a tree, happy to admire nature around me. My favorite decorations get strung along doorways and windows, cards are taped to the front door and windows, no longer celebrating a specific holiday but a season that begins on December 15th with my younger son’s birthday, and is made special by so many community events, including Lia Kahler’s three offerings of Music and Light, Roberta Kirn’s Community Chorus and SING, from library parties and solstice celebrations to gatherings of neighbors and friends. This year I’ll be spoiled to have both my sons home for nearly a week, burning candles together, cooking our Thanksgiving turkey and celebrating Festivus for the Rest of Us, though not on that official day either.
It is a time to quietly recognize and be grateful for being home with a fire going in the wood stove, family all healthy, our dogs still with us, the many ways friends and acquaintances have been supportive, lent a hand, and given without ever being asked, and feeling safe when so many others can and do not have the very basics. Wishing all the prayer in the world could upend greed, dishonesty, and those who choose destruction, deceit, and inhumanity. Praying for balance and harmony while trying to bring those same qualities home. Bob Hope said holidays are “very simple: loving others. Come to think of it, why do we have to wait for [holidays] to do that?” Wishing everyone peace of heart, and a very Happy New Year.