At a very young age, I remember celebrating Chanukah even though we were non practicing Jews. I’m not sure if we lit the Menorah or if we even had one. What I remember most is looking forward to receiving a gift every night. My favorite year was the boxing glove one when my brother David and I would stop fighting long enough to put them on before we lit into each other. Each year after that there was one less gift until there was one and then none. I’m pretty sure we had a small tree once or twice but nothing special. It was set up in the corner of our playroom, and it was adorned with some silver tinsel wire without a single ornament. I never knew I was missing the smell of gingerbread baking or latkes or even ham because my mother didn’t cook except for assisting our live-in housekeeper by tossing the salad. Of course there wasn’t any help on Christmas Day, so we would go to the country club, The Beverly Hills Hotel or the Beverly Wilshire.
I didn’t think it was different in anyone else’s home in Beverly Hills until I spent the night one Christmas Eve at my friend Mary Lynn’s house. She had the most beautiful tree — — the kind in magazines and in storefront windows on Wilshire Boulevard. And the presents! There were hundreds (at least that’s what I remember) all around the tree, and I was told I could stay a little while after breakfast to watch my friend open a few. Their tree was the centerpiece of the magnificent living room, and the Christmas Carols and laughter as both sisters took turns opening their gifts made the most joyous music.
I’m not sure if anyone noticed as I said my goodbyes and slipped through the back door where I would walk home across the alley to my house with no signs of it being a day any different than any other day. I think I’ve been sulking ever since about Christmas and all the other winter holidays that begin after Halloween. And when my daughters were growing up, they wanted so badly to celebrate, and I tried. But not nearly hard enough. There were several years of Christmas trees interspersed with Chanukah, but I never got into it. Except for Lawry’s every Christmas Eve for prime rib and yorkshire pudding. And those sides! Christmas Day there was always a movie and Chinese food. It was a Jewish Christmas.