Friday, December 9, 2011

A Christmas Story

They were selling poinsettias at Wal-Mart today, $3.47 for a basic, potted, 6-inch, red-leafed flower associated with Christmas.

I admit it. I was a real rube when it came to poinsettias (and lots of other things) when I left the sheltered confines of Brooklyn in September 1972 to become a reporter for the New Haven, Conn., Register. I had never heard of poinsettias, much less actually seen one. It’s not the type of plant one finds around Jewish homes.

Yet one of the big stories of 1972 in New Haven was the poinsettia scandal. I was too embarrassed at the time to ask anyone what a poinsettia was, too timid to delve deep into this religious crisis. As best I can remember it, one or more people in the city administration took advantage of the municipality’s annual poinsettia purchases, intended for public distribution, to spruce up their own holiday surroundings at, shall we say, less than cost.

Who knew there was more yuletide foliage than a Christmas tree, some holly and mistletoe?

I consider myself fortunate I don’t celebrate Christmas. Not from a religious reason. I’m sure it would be nice to be part of the majority, for a change. No, my reason is far more practical. If I were Christian I would have to decorate a Christmas tree and set up an elaborate outdoor light display. I have no doubt Gilda would mandate it. She’s told me I lucked out not being Christian. I'd have a real problem fulfilling her wishes. No way I would be able to string those lights across our bushes and doorfront, much less get up on a ladder to hang lights from trees, eaves, gutters and other points higher than six feet. I'm fortunate to get our electric hanukkiah to light up on the window sill, though too often I get the number of candles to be lit each night wrong. No, I'm much better off not having been chosen to hang Christmas decorations.

But that doesn't mean I don't enjoy them. In fact, riding around looking at Christmas decorations is one of Gilda’s and my favorite December jaunts. We used to have full cul-de-sac decoration-participation on Briga Lane and surrounding streets a few blocks from our home, complete with bumper to bumper gawkers every night. Over the years, however, many of the homeowners moved, replaced by families who are a little less effusive about their holiday light treatments.

Ah, well, there’s always Dyker Heights in Brooklyn. An area just southeast of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, Dyker Heights was unknown to me as a child. But since Ellie has lived in Brooklyn for the last few years we’ve made an annual pilgrimage to be overwhelmed by the creative, large displays set up on the porches and fronts of the row houses that dominate the mostly Italian neighborhood. It might cost you a few bucks to feed the charity kitty of some of the homeowners, but it’s well worth the donation.

Rather than bring out peaceful thoughts among mankind, Christmas has a way of igniting controversy. Too much of it is politically tinged with liberal vs. conservative doctrine. For a somewhat humorous take on the war on Christmas, here are two clips, one from Jon Stewart of The Daily Show, the other from Bill O’Reilly of The O’Reilly Factor (I’m sure you can guess which side each falls on. FYI, the O'Reilly clip reprises some of Stewart's commentary before getting to his response.). Enjoy: