Christmas was not an important day for me. As a Jewish child, growing up in a small Connecticut town, I was certainly aware of the holiday and of its significance, but early on I knew that it was not my holiday and that my role in this season was that of onlooker. To say that I didn’t envy my friends’ excitement and anticipation every December, or that I didn’t wake up on Dec. 25 feeling somewhat empty and isolated would be untrue. But, like every other Jewish child from that era, I became something of a philosopher at an early age. That was theirs, not mine. It was a bit sad but not tragic. I would enjoy this holiday vicariously, admiring my friends’ trees and lights, and helping them play with their new toys.
At the same time, Hanukkah was not widely celebrated. Where today many parents treat Hanukkah as a Jewish substitute for Christmas, in those days, in poor rural towns, it wasn’t directly compared to its Christian counterpart. It is a minor Jewish celebration, important in its affirmation of freedom of thought and religion, but not the occasion for massive gift-giving modern American parents have made it today.