Being Jewish at Christmastime was not much fun.
Every house in the city, it seemed, had a beautiful tree in the window, all decked out with shiny ornaments and a thousand colored lights.Many of the houses had lights on the outside too. The whole town took on a festive air.
But our house was dark.
Linda and I watched with envy as the entire block lit up and sparkled like jewels at night. It seemed almost unpatriotic that our house didn’t join in the celebration.
On Christmas day, the city was still, as kids in every house unwrapped their presents.
New bicycles and roller skates, hula hoops and footballs poured out of the houses on either side of us and across the street.
But Linda and I had nothing. We stayed indoors and jealously watched the parade of riches from the window.
Except on the rare occasion when Hanukkah and Christmas overlapped. Then we were the lucky ones.
We got presents for EIGHT days, not just on Christmas day.
The presents were all stacked on the dining room table.
Each day of Hanukkah was a torment, because, unlike our neighbors, we didn’t get to open them in the morning. We had to wait until after sunset, when the Hanukkah candles were finally lit.
The days went by SO slowly. Waiting was an unspeakable agony.
And then we were allowed to open only ONE gift each night.
The gifts themselves were modest. We knew we didn’t have a lot of money, so there would be no new bikes and fancy dolls and big Erector sets, but Mom and Dad had a knack for finding things that we would enjoy.
Choosing the right one was another torture. What if we left something on the table we wanted more than the one we picked? What if one of us picked a way better one than the other one did?
It was SO hard to choose. The bigger ones or the smaller, the heavier or the lighter?
Mom pulled two from the pile and suggested that I might want to open them first.
Linda was furious. How come he gets TWO?
Hush, Mom said. Don’t worry, there’s plenty for you, too. Dad pulled the biggest box from the pile and handed it to her. It was bigger than both of mine put together.
I unwrapped the first package, the small one.
It was a box of pencils.
I was pretty sure the other one was a book. It wasn’t.
It was an entire ream of beautiful, glorious, white unlined paper. 500 sheets!
I don’t even remember what Linda got. I spent the rest of the night drawing.
It was the best gift anyone ever gave me.