Growing up Jewish, I didn’t have Christmas envy, but I had unmistakable Santa envy. My sister and I were always well taken care of come Hanukkah, so it wasn’t as if I was lacking in the gift department that time of year or any other. But I always felt like I was missing out on the fun of having a large stranger break into my house in the dead of night, eat my food and leave me a token of appreciation for allowing his herd of animals to rest for a moment on my roof. The only animals we ever saw on our street were a few stray cats and the occasional peacock. Reindeer on the roof would have been big news.
On Christmas Eve we used to schlep out to Long Island to my great aunt and uncle’s house. Uncle Buddy celebrated Christmas, so they always had a big party. I used to think because we were at their house, and they celebrated Christmas, that I might catch a glimpse of Santa Claus, that it would be my only chance. They didn’t have a big, live tree, but they had a little ceramic one that they parked on top of the TV or on the bar. It was delicate and pretty and I used to imagine the tiny presents that Santa would have to custom-make just to fit underneath it.
We ate Christmas cookies, played hide and seek with our cousins and ate more Christmas cookies. And every chance I got, I’d break away and retreat to the kitchen where I’d press my nose up against the window and decide that the sparkling stars in the cold night air were signs that Santa was at or nearing the eastern end of New York.
Even though my parents would have me change into my pajamas and brush my teeth before we got in the car to go home, assuming I’d fall asleep, I’d hold my eyes open on the drive home so I could stare into the sky. I thought the magic of Santa from being in Uncle Buddy’s house would stay with us until we got home, so it was always my last chance to see the big guy that year.
With the technology available today, namely tracking Santa so closely on NORAD’s website — now with Google Earth! — I imagine the difference that would have made if I had access to it when I was a kid. Then I could have known exactly when he was in my neighborhood. I didn’t need or want any gifts from him — seeing him and his crew would have been a present in and of itself.
I would have raced outside when the radars indicated he was on my street, given him and the reindeer a handful of treats, cautioned them that my neighbors’ German shepherd had a tendency to bite, and then let them know that the family across the street celebrated Christmas, but were really Jewish, too. And then I’d have given Santa and Co. a wink and a wave and let them go on their way.
Who knows, maybe I’ll keep my slippers handy and take a quick glance at the computer tonight. You know, just in case I’m awake at the right time. I can sneak outside and give him the scoop on a few people who’ve been more naughty and nice.
Image: Wikimedia Commons