A Christmas Lesson


Written by Grinchella Grincherstein.

Rated PGHere is how I remember my first Christmas:

It is 2006, and I am 18 years old. I am en route to JFK airport, an enormous suitcase in the back, bulging with flannels and thermal underwear and several woolen socks.

The roads, uncharacteristically empty, are cracked and bleached, and the car is rimed with salt and frost. It is letdown weather, day-after weather. There is no snow on the ground.

My father is annoyed at having to drive two hours to the airport—“they couldn’t have left out of Newark?”—but he is proud, I think, that his teenage daughter has chosen to spend her winter break touring the death camps of Poland. The hollow, ravaged places of our history.

I fiddle with the radio, and then I remember. December 25th. No wonder the streets are so apocalyptically empty.

“Hey, it’s Christmas!”

My father looks at me, confused. “So?”

Christmas registers as an absence.


It is 2007, and I am 19. A girl I like has just informed me that she doesn’t think that what we’re doing constitutes dating. I am wandering Times Square, hating the bright lights, hating myself. There are no tourists massing the square, no one to bump into and jostle against. The shops are closed and the lights blink and flash for no one.

Christmas registers as a silence.


It is 2009, and I have threatened to festoon a Christmas tree with Jewish ornaments. “How about a Magen David as a tree topper?” I suggest. “And Herzl’s face on all the ornaments? Guys, it’s ironic.” (College was bad for me. It made me annoying.)

I desist when I realize how much it costs to buy and bedeck a fir tree. I’m moving to Israel next semester, anyway. I’ll have to clear all my stuff out of my apartment for my subletter; no sense in adding a tree to the list.

Christmas registers as a joke I didn’t play.

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  • An interesting and poignant progression.

    I remember my first “Christmas season” in Israel when I was living and studying in a religious seminary at 18. I loved the fact that I didn’t see a single Christmas decoration nor hear Christmas carols anywhere around me.

    I returned to Israel for my second “Christmas season” when I was studying at Haifa University at 21. I was itching for culturally diverse experiences and trekked over to Nazareth with friends to witness the celebrations and cheer on the Christmas parade which featured little Christian Arab children proudly marching through the streets in red and white Santa outfits.

    I am now back in Israel for my third “Christmas season” at 27. Though I toured the Old City and visited the Church of the Holy Sepulcher for the first time yesterday, I found myself thinking of my black gospel choir in Austin and missing what would have been a first fascinating Christmas experience back home.

    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year (or just Happy Tuesday) to all of our readers around the globe!

  • vashti

    I love these graphics!

  • Banana

    Every time a christmas season rolls around I’m amazed at how many jingles I know by heart.

  • I really coul have used this a few days ago ahah.