It all started when I had the starring role In The Twelve Days of Christmas, my senior year at Mount Saint Joseph Academy. In head-to-toe brown polyester, I was theatrically camouflaged behind a sweet tall girl, wrapped in butcher block paper, who was my pear tree. Each of the last three times I appeared in front of my pear tree flapping my grocery bag wings, I received a standing ovation. I was the only Jew in my class and I had exquisite timing and stage presence that night.
I came to the Mount from a Jewish Day School. The only thing I wanted after my middle-school graduation was single sex education–a place where I could wear long skirts and go by my Hebrew name Yehudit. I scared my parents with my piousness and ascetic diet of cold food—the only way I would eat in their non-kosher kitchen. But my parents were unwilling to send me away from Hartford to Brooklyn or Providence. If I wanted to go to school with only girls, the Mount was my only local option. No one thought I would last through that first September.
The school was a maze of a place—24,000 gloomy square feet where the student body was down from 1000 girls to less than 200. I loved that the Mount looked like a haunted mansion since I felt like an apparition when I got there. I’d wander the halls staring at the crucifixes. Sister Angela once caught me and said, “I’d love to walk the Stations of the Cross in Jerusalem while you pray at the Western Wall.” At the time I thought she was kind and eccentric. All she wanted was for the Mount to be my school.
I was both a figure of curiosity and pity when my classmates discovered that I didn’t celebrate Christmas. No tree, no presents, no ham. But there were the movies and Chinese food and that sounded pretty good to some of my friends. By our senior year those same friends had seen first-hand that menorah was a blazing beacon of light in cold December.
And yet I’m just as excited the first time I hear Jose Feliciano’s “Feliz Navidad,” as I am when Sarah Silverman’s “Give the Jew Girl Toys” comes on the radio. And I love Christmas lights. The first December that my son could put two words together, we’d ride around just to get him to scream, “Oh my gosh” every time we’d pass a colorful shower of Christmas electricity. When he was a bit older, he’d ask me to drive slowly because he loved lingering on a lit-up, star-topped Christmas tree in a window.
On the other hand his sister, a born skeptic, almost got me beat up in a mall when she walked up to a little girl and said that Santa Claus was made up. “He’s just a fat guy wearing a costume.” We slowly backed away from an irate mother as I stammered that my girl had confused Christmas with Halloween.
One day on our way home from kindergarten, my son gushed that he wanted to be a Christian.
“And why is that?” I asked cheerfully.
“Because I love the ‘oh my gosh.’” The name had stuck.
“And I loved being a Partridge in a Pear Tree,” carefully explaining that there was no conversion on my part to get the role.
Adam’s quest to become a Christian was short lived, but for years he waged a forceful, yet ultimately unsuccessfully campaign, to string blue and white lights on our bushes. A very American Hanukkah decoration he argued when he was older.
No December dilemma for my boy and his partridge mother.