Wednesday, December 24, 2014

A little Jewish Girl's Tribute to Santa

My eleven and a half year old daughter figured it out.  I'm not sure when she did, and she's not really letting on that she knows. I'm happy she hasn't made any loud proclamation, because Santa is alive and well as far as I'm concerned.

I was probably about six years old.  We lived in New Jersey and would visit my grandparents' red brick row house in Brooklyn on a regular basis, but especially on holidays when school was out.  I don't remember much detail about the visits at that age. I do, however have fond memories of being a baby and taking baths in my grandma's huge sink. I remember their really cool gas oven where bagels were toasted to perfection. I remember a Murano glass chandelier in the kitchen and pretending to play the upright piano in the living room with the crinkly plastic covers on the couches.

So, I was six. We were at Nona and Papou's house for a regular visit during winter school break.  I knew all about Hanukkah and was aware of Christmas. Very aware of Christmas, in fact, because my friend, Valerie had the whole megilla at her house. Huge tree, decorations, and lots and lots of gifts. Mind you, she had a large family, so you can imagine the amount of gifts under the tree.  I would visit Valerie's house wide-eyed, slack-jawed, and a little green with envy as I took it all in.

Ok, back to my grandparents' house.  It was Christmas Eve and I remember going to sleep in Nona's huge bed with my sister.  I woke up hearing my mom and Papou announcing that Santa had stopped by. Santa? This house?  We didn't have a fireplace. How'd he get in?  We were Jewish. What would make him stop here?

My next memory is walking up to the kitchen table and seeing four wrapped gifts there. Santa had come! We had no tree, no Yule log, no boughs of holly, but Santa had come?  "How did he get in the house, Papou?"  "He came in through the kitchen window. I saw him leave!"  I couldn't believe it.  They were such simple gifts: a big set of Magic markers and coloring books, but Santa came!

I remember Santa coming to our house again the next year, this time in New Jersey.  My Nona and Papou were visiting that Christmas.  I remember receiving a train that blew real steam and lit up. It was fantastic!

A week later, I remember being woken up, in the back seat of the car on the Belt Parkway at night, and my mom sniffling and trying to stifle her crying.  I remember being in my grandparents' kitchen and then for some reason I was sleeping over at a neighbors' house.  I was really, really confused.

We were at my grandparents' house for what seemed like forever, with no sign of Papou.  Mirrors were covered with cloth and soap and there was a lot of crying. No one told me what happened. It wasn't until we were on the way home that I said aloud, "Papou is dead."

And Santa stopped coming to the house on Christmas.

It wouldn't be for another seven years that I would learn that my Papou took his own life, in his own house. My cousin told me, in secrecy, because no one ever talked about Papou's death.

When I was sixteen, I bought a three-foot-tall Christmas tree, some crappy decorations and put it up in my room. After all, we were Jewish and I doubt my parents would want to have a tree in the middle of the house.  To my surprise, my mom took one look at it and took me shopping for beautiful ornaments, and we started a tradition of exchanging small gifts on Christmas Day.

Over the years, I have collected dozens of Santa ornaments, dolls and statues.  And now that I have my own family, Santa lives on in this household. It's still extremely painful for me to talk about Papou, who died when I was too young to fully appreciate him.  The greatest gifts he gave me, however, is my love of Santa Claus, the spirit of giving and knowing that every time I think of Santa, the image of my Papou appears in my mind.

What better Christmas gift is that?

No comments:

Post a Comment