As for Christmas in my own household, it involved an evening meal at House of Chang and some ungrateful tinkering with the toys I’d received for Hanukkah a week or so before. The problem was simple: no matter how many perfunctory potato latkes my marginally-observant family ate, no matter how many times my parents reminded me that there was more to religion than sweets and swag, the entire holiday season always seemed like a terrific party from which I’d been excluded. This mentality was what must have led me one December Saturday, as my Christian friend and I strode through the mall several paces behind my mother, to inform her that the fat man in the red suit with children sitting on his lap was not a saint from the North Pole but a hired hand.
I’d like to say that dashing the illusions of that little girl who, for one month each year, got to live in a house decked with white lights, having her belly filled with candy sprinkles as piles of presents accumulated around the tree, didn’t make me feel better. I’d like to say so, but I can’t. So thick was my resentment that I felt not a tinge of remorse as her face registered first a look of anger, then doubt, then a sullen irritation that I knew would fester in the weeks to come into downright disbelief. She was a nice girl, a good friend, and no matter how I tried to rationalize this exchange later on, the fact remained that I seriously screwed up that seven-year-old’s Christmas. And so this year, more than two decades later, in an effort to inoculate my two-month-old son, Roscoe, against future bouts of Santa envy, I’ve decided that snug in our cozy, secular home, my non-observant Jewish babe will be celebrating his first Christmas.