I love the Christmas season and wish we could stretch it out longer. I love the lights in people’s yards and the glimpse of a Christmas tree all lit up in the window. Friends line the rooms of their homes with poinsettia and decorate trees with ornaments collected over a lifetime.
I prefer tiny white lights and live plants that bloom indoors for just a short amount of time. I fill our house with amaryllises and paper whites, and relish the time when everything is in full bloom and the scent of paper whites hangs in the air. I was introduced to paper whites by my good friend Lisa Stout who is an artist and an amazing person. Walking into her home in Connecticut years ago, I was greeted by the smell of paper whites, a smell I had never encountered before, and I couldn’t get enough of it. She had a large bowl brimming over with the white flowers and their unruly leaves on the counter between the kitchen and the family room, and they dominated the space. Ever since then I have had to have paper whites for Christmas.
Growing up we didn’t celebrate anything. We were Jewish, but my parents were raised without religion, and they passed their nonobservance on to us. We never attended services or celebrated holidays. My mother’s family were American Communists and labor organizers, and they felt that religion was frivolous. My father called religion “The opiate of the masses” a la Karl Marx, and they scorned any acknowledgement of religion.
I was that weird kid who would sneak out of the house on Sunday mornings to go to a Presbyterian church with my best friend. Later in high school I would enjoy going to Catholic Mass with its smell of incense and ringing of bells. My parents had a particular objection to Christmas. I felt so left out of life at Christmas: friends with cheerful decorated homes and presents waiting for them under the tree. When I was about seven or so, I closed the door of my bedroom and fashioned a Christmas tree out of wire coat hangers and made tiny ornaments to hang on it. My mother walked into my room and went nuts. She was “so disappointed in me!” and snatched the little tree away, carrying it to the kitchen where she jammed it into the garbage.
The following year she must have felt sorry, about throwing my tree away because she found a little tin menorah and lit candles for Hannukah. We ate potato pancakes and got a box of chocolates each from Barton’s on the first night, but the holiday lacked lustre, and I don’t remember doing it again. I vaguely remember at some point there was a tacky electric menorah placed in the living room window, but there were no gifts and no celebration.
Now as an adult and a Jewish Quaker, I can do what I want, and decorate to my heart’s content. This time of year is about love, and I refuse to be left out of it.