Christmas of 1965 was spent in Kfar Orah, Israel. It was an ordinary day, since everyone around me was Jewish. From the hill where I was staying, I could see Bethlehem. There was a star sitting directly above it, and I thought hmm, stars don’t move much in two thousand years; maybe that’s what the three wise men saw. But most of all, I didn’t see any people who looked like Santa Claus, no Christmas trees, and certainly no snow or reindeer. Our Christmas wasn’t invented by people from Bethlehem, but rather by people of the North.
Many Christmases were in Greece, where Christmas is a
secondary holiday, Easter being their cardinal holiday. For my first few years
there, I was part of a Greek family, and Christmas was a holiday but nothing
like our Christmas. So I concentrated all my enjoyment in the services at the
Anglican Church. The minister looked markedly askance at me because I was
singing the Christmas carols too enthusiastically, read, too loudly. Some later
Christmases were spent with people from the UK, which meant they celebrated the
next day, Boxing Day. I brought them homemade cookies and they looked at me
strangely; I don’t think cookies meant Christmas to them, though maybe I was
Visiting Munich over Christmas was Christmas overload. There
was a huge Christmas market with trees, lights, church bells, snow. It was like
living in the snow globe Christmas represented in Christmas stories and
Christmas carol books.
But the strangest Christmas of all was in 1960, on one of my
first visits to a foreign culture—California. There were lights strung along naked,
dry hillsides, the sun shining warmly. We ate Beef Stroganoff.
As a peripatetic adult, each Christmas has been different, but
when I was a child, all Christmases felt the same. Ma-Maw and Jean arrived with
a station wagon filled with presents. We
ate pancakes for breakfast and then opened them under the tree. Later, we went
to Ma-Maw’s house for a feast, followed by board and card games, with crackers
and cheese for supper. I fell asleep in the car on the way home, and one
childhood memory is my father lifting me out of the back seat and carrying me
into the house. Sweet memories.