For my mother (a Jew from the suburbs of Philadelphia), Christmas meant getting out her bags and boxes of Christmas ornaments, which she had begun collecting in her 20s. Untangling and then testing strand upon strand of twinkly lights which, no matter how carefully we put them away the previous year, still wound up getting tangled and having loose bulbs, which caused the entire strand not to work. Putting on a stack of classical music records on her old but serviceable portable stereo. Pouring herself a glass (or two) of good red wine. And then spending the evening (and possibly the next) decorating the enormous (to me) tree she picked up somewhere on Lexington or Third Avenue.
To this day, even though I have not decorated a tree with my mother in well over 20 years, I have fond memories of Christmas -- and not just because it was the one day of the year when I received a pile of presents and could wake my mother up before 9 a.m. (though that didn't hurt).
For my father, a near-scratch golfer (and also a Jew), Christmas meant going someplace warm to play golf with his buddies. It was also the holiday I was assigned to spend with him. So typically as soon as I had finished unwrapping and admiring my hoard of Christmas goodies, I was whisked off to the airport to spend the next six or seven days on or a near a beach someplace, either alone (as my father played golf all day then had dinner with friends) or with the "mother's helper" who would accompany me when I was younger.
And I hated it, even though I love warm weather and palm trees. Not only was I horribly lonely at a time of year that's supposed to be about getting together with friends and family (both of which were in short supply in my life), but Christmas, at least to me, meant a nip in the air, snowflakes falling, people skating at Rockefeller Center (or Wollman Rink), and singing Handel's Messiah with a group of strangers -- not palm trees, pina coladas, and Reggae music (though I have since come to love all three of those things). Also, the crowds and lines at the airport were enough to deter any sane person from traveling at that time of year.
That is probably why, after I graduated from college and no longer had a winter break, I stopped spending Christmas in the Caribbean or Florida -- even though I start pining for warm weather as soon as the temperature dips below freezing.
Then, this weekend, while strolling the beach on Sanibel Island (while the teenager was away at the Yale Model Congress) at sunset, the spouse and I came across this little Christmas tree, all lit up, just a few feet from the water.
Wishing you comfort and joy this Chanukah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa....