|Tuesday, December 21, 2010. Very cold in New York and the slight possibility that we will have a white Christmas. A good snowfall will provide all the beauty that always promises peace, no matter how fleeting.
Two days before Christmas Eve, we’re in the mode. Swifty’s last night was packed. There were large groups of friends, small groups of couples, a large table of family – ten or twelve – and the sense of these being the last hours before the holiday. A neighbor of mine told me with much pain and distress that his business had got so bad that he had to file bankruptcy. He was understandably very upset. I made light of it, as if to assure him that it’s a solution many people and many businesses have had to take. I don’t think that made him feel better, but I didn't want to depress him more, and besides, I believe he will find a solution. I invited him to dinner but he was going to have dinner with his family – wife, children, etc. I thought that was a better idea.
This is a difficult time of the year, historically, for many of us. It is the time of expectations rising and the time of disappointments materializing, all in the guise of celebration. When I was a child, I thought its nature was peculiar to our house, that next door, anywhere else, things were bright.
Learning that things often were not so bright elsewhere, came long after. However, I continue to tend to believe that the potential for brighter is everywhere and remains within reach, even easy reach.
I wrote the following for my New York Social Diary column in this month’s Quest magazine.
Dreams Come True. Once upon a time this was the month of Merry Christmas. You don’t hear the greeting much anymore, its having been replaced in the parlance with “Happy Holidays” -- words you used to see on festively packaged bottles of whiskey, champagne, and cigarette cartons that people would buy as gifts (and end up using themselves).
It was a brilliant marketing idea that I am told was invented by a packaging manufacturer named Bill Green who was a best buddy of a couple of the Bronfmans as well as Frank Sinatra. Bill Green’s widow, now also passed, Judy Green, for many years lighted the lives of many here in New York with her almost raucously festive Christmas cocktail party that brought out a most eclectic list, making the holiday quite happy for us adults, at least for a moment or two.
The politically correcting change of terms for the holiday doesn’t much matter to me. What began a couple of centuries ago as a religious celebration ended up as an economic bonanza which has all but dispelled the religious aspect from our consciousness. The change actually made me aware of the religions in a way that I had not been before, and how equality is the best policy for living well together. If possible.
As a kid growing up in what was a difficult household of a troubled marriage, the words Merry and Christmas meant Santa Claus. Which meant relief, a break from the storm; plus an evergreen tree with lights and ornaments, a lighted angel on the top. It also meant a Wish List of presents (always toys) influenced by the lyric from Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town: “he knows if you’ve been bad or good.”
I understood enough about the meager family finances, since the subject was loudly and dramatically discussed frequently between my mother and father. I always kept my list down to the basics. They were in the order of age – a sled when I was six; a dollhouse at eight, an electric train at nine, pair of ice skates at 11, and lastly, with childhood ebbing, when I was 12, a typewriter – a Smith-Corona portable – so that I could start writing down those dramas I had stopped conjuring up with my toys.
Looking back, I can see that Merry Christmas always meant hope – hope for all of us – and an abundance of something, if not always gifts, and – may God grant it – peace. In retrospect, I was blessed to have a mother who despite her own hardships saw to it that the kid got that something that he wanted, something to enhance his imagination. Dreams come true.
Naturally I believed in Santa Claus. I can clearly recall, when I was four or five, hearing the heavy thud of his boot against the snowy front doorstep very late on Christmas Eve. It was so loud, I still tell myself, that it must have waked me from my sleep. It was, of course, Santa leaving (through the front door since we didn’t have a fireplace) after having placed our gifts under the tree.
It never occurred to me until this writing many decades later that the “thud” of a footstep was probably my father coming from the snow-covered street, no later than ten or eleven, and hitting his boots on the doorstep to loosen the snow from them.
However, the notion of Santa’s departure remains the preferred explanation. And by the time I found out that Santa Claus was my mother who hid the presents still unwrapped in the bottom of her closet before putting them under the tree, it didn’t matter. The whole tradition was a beauty.
Christmas morning I was the first one up and down the stairs. I’d plug in the lights of the tree, stand back squinting, to get the effect, surveying all the gaily wrapped packages set out in a festive mass glowing from the lighted branches. It was the land of plenty, however brief -- always fodder for a child’s hopes and dreams.
All these years later, the ideal Christmas, the greatest gift, is the day off and the time to read, to contemplate, maybe enjoy the company of others. I do believe, however, that Santa Claus does all of us a big favor by continuing to ply the dreams of the little ones among us. They need those dreams, those hopes, no matter their circumstances. That’s how they’ll get their futures.