We usually had about a month off school for Winter break when I was a kid. I imagine my mom got pretty tired of me after a while and was probably relieved when she could ship me off to stay with my pop for a week or two.
We never had a tree at my dad’s place, and usually I spent those holidays with him and my paternal grandparents in Brooklyn. If there was overlap in dates, we celebrated Hanukkah. I got yummy melty chocolately gold coins, scarfed grandma’s homemade matzoh ball soup and stuffed myself on latkes.
One of my favorite things to do during those holiday visits was to get in the car with pop to go look at the decorated houses. We would drive up one street and down the next, commenting and oohing and ahhing at the lovely, sparkly Christmasy homes.
It never occurred to me what a Jew from Brooklyn felt about these ecstatic displays. I am Jewish by birth, but not so much by practice, and at my mom’s we had a big Christmas tree and went caroling each year. My dad, however, was raised in a fairly traditional (non-Orthodox) Jewish household.
During those tours he and I did through the neighborhoods, I wonder if he felt like an outsider, peering in to someone else’s philosophy, stealing visions of another’s ritual?
My memory is that he loved the Christmas lights as much as I did. The lit-up houses were wondrous and sentimental, festive and enchanting. We were two kids with big eyes thrilled at the beautiful spectacle.