Sunday, January 07, 2007
My friends were asking me what I was doing for Christmas, would I go visit my parents or my sister. No. I would be spending Christmas in a Catholic Worker house. I grew up in Jewish house. And we barely celebrated any Jewish holidays. My dad would say we were food Jews – only celebrating holidays that included food like Passover and Chanukah. Maybe because we were barley Jewish was why I craved some sort of real holiday tradition. I ached for a Norman Rockwell Christmas. Until my teens, my dad was involved with his plastics company, and every winter holiday time, he’d drag us to some South American company to sell plastics. It also made for a nice vacation. But it’s hard to celebrate any winter holiday when it’s 90º out and you’re in some weird country.
I eventually married a Catholic man with a big family. He took me to his mom’s house in St Paul and there in the living room was a huge tree with those big old-fashioned lights on it. They even had a fireplace. My eyes welled up. It was perfect. I celebrated quite a few Christmases in that house. The one downfall was seeing the ton of gifts each kid got. They’d get all wound up, tear open the presents and cry about the ones they didn’t get. I’ve seen that scene repeated in many different family occasions. I’ve seen some really cynical kids tear open the wrappings, give almost a yawn and go on the next present. No excitement, no glee, they’d add it to their monstrous pile. Great.
For the past few years, I’ve been going to a Catholic Worker house. It’s a sort of homeless shelter. They invite past guests, their kids and people of the community. There’s a big dinner with all the trimmings. Then a great Santa, with a real beard comes from upstairs. He rings his sleigh bells and descends the staircase. All the children gathered there look up in awe. “Santa, Santa, Santa!!!” Each person there gets a gift. The volunteers try to find something the guests really need or want. And the looks on everyone’s faces are priceless. Everyone enjoys the few things they get and doesn’t lament the things they didn’t. I saw two women drape the new handmade blankets they received around their shoulders like super hero capes. “Is this mine? Is this really mine, do I really get to keep it?” They asked this over and over – incredulous. They told stories of sharing only one toy or of having nothing. And they’re amazed at this bounty of riches. And they get to keep it. I think that’s what Christmas is all about.