I had a perfectly good Christmas Eve. My husband and I went to see Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, a troupe of talented men who dance on toes and perform spectacular ballets with just enough of a comic edge to keep the audience, consisting mostly of dance aficionados, roaring. Then we had dinner at The Gascogne restaurant, which served a pleasant meal ending with a traditional Buche de Noel (Christmas log) cake flown in from Paris. Still, I am sad. I cannot help reminisce about all the Christmases of my life and the people, many long gone, who were part of it. Holidays can be depressing, and the glitter that blankets the land increases one’s obligation of having to join the general insouciance and merriment.
My mother was a Christmas junkie. Her German Jewish ancestors had never celebrated Christmas, but she felt assimilated enough to have a magnificent tree, hung with chocolates and cookies and lit with real beeswax candles. She had spent weeks assembling gifts. Like in the Nutcracker ballet, the doors to the room where all this magic had been assembled were opened on Christmas Eve.
Actually my mother’s enthusiasm for Christmas was misplaced. Hitler had come to power in 1933, and assimilation for us was wrong. Even though I was very young, I instinctively knew that this was not really my holiday. Actually, a celebration to mark the winter solstice is probably as old as mankind itself. Long after we stopped having a tree, mine included a skiing trip to Vermont soon after my husband and I became engaged and bathed in our young love, another one to Austria, and another still to Sanibel, FL, where the tinsel and Santas on their sleighs looked particularly odd amidst the palm trees. After we had children, I transplanted my mom’s candles into a menorah and my offspring were happy with the gifts we proffered, though in my eyes they never seemed as good than those I had received so long ago.
I also still pay respect to the Christmas of my childhood by attending a candlelight carol service at a church and listening to a retelling of the birth of Jesus, a poor Jewish baby, born in a stable because “there was no room at the inn.” In hindsight, one wonders whether the inn was really full, whether Joseph lacked the appropriate “credit card,” or whether his family was the “wrong color” or social class. After Jesus grew to adulthood, he went about preaching about injustice and corruption. He also asked for reforms and forgiveness, and performed some miracles. He did not live very long, because he was perceived enough of a threat to the authorities to be put to death.
Ever since, his martyrdom has been used to fight the most atrocious and bloody wars. Other wars were fought on behalf of his father or another prophet. Our own age is especially bloody with people brandishing swords, explosives, airplanes and suicide bombers. Basically, I have concluded, all this violence has nothing to do with religion, but is due to humankind’s rapacious nature. No wonder that I hanker back to my childhood when I was too young to understand all that.