My Blue and White Christmas

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My heart races as my car slowly turns into the expansive driveway. The wiper blades swoop back and forth: “swoosh, joosh, Jewish, Jewish…”

“Great, I’m hallucinating,” I think. Wiper blades are not anti-Semitic.

The “Christmas mansion” appears through the trees. The culture clash is underway. “What’s a nice Jewish boy doing in a palace like this?” I can almost hear my grandma saying as I ring the bell and reminisce.

The difference between main-stream American Christian culture and my Jewish family circle has always been most apparent at Christmas time. At best we are the silent outsiders; at worst, “Christ-killers.” When I was a teenager, many spirited religious discussions were resolved by the obligatory punch in the nose — emphasizing the superiority of Catholic doctrine over Jewish protests. My peers were verifying my grandma’s message. More than two thousand years of persecution, expulsion and execution…Christians were brutal zealots. Be wary of them.

Now I am in love with one.

The door opens and Katharine stands there smiling. In the candlelit room, she radiates seasonal goodwill with a subtle undertone of private warmth. Our chemistry could have dazzled the decoration-drenched house.

Katharine has recently parted ways with a millionaire male model (the catch of the century) to spend time with me — a short, older Jewish guy who is crazy for her. Good news for me, but not for her parents.

I am in their house. It is Christmas. It is Chanukah back in New York. We embrace and hold each other close. I don’t want to let go. She is safe and warm.

“I’m so glad you came,” she whispers.

“Wouldn’t miss it,” I assure her. Actually, at the airport I considered getting back on the plane and skipping town.

Her Mom glides down the grand gilded staircase — all smiles and looking like Hollywood royalty. The entrance hall is bigger than my apartment! I stumble through an air kiss from Mom, which leaves me off balance.

“We are thrilled to have you here, Morris,” she says.

“It’s Myles,” Katharine corrects.

“Of course it is, dear. Well, I’ll leave you two and attend to the appetizers. I hope you’re hungry, Mor … uh, Myles.”

The glow from the next room is unearthly as we enter to behold the biggest Christmas tree in domestic captivity. It fills the room and touches the ceiling. I must have gasped.

“A bit much, eh?” Katharine whispers in my ear.

We hover at the edge of the room because the floor is filled with brightly wrapped silver and red packages. I sigh.

“Are you OK?” Katharine asks.

“Sure, great, never better.” Can she detect my clenched jaw and shallow breathing?

I take her hand and the electricity between us travels up our arms to our hearts. We smile. I relax, reaching into my pocket for her gift. My hand halts mid-purpose and I leap to my feet as the Major appears across the room.

Major Burke commandeers any room he enters. Ever the quintessential leader, graying temples, tanned face…he loves his daughter.

“I’ll meet you in the library” he says. Apparently the family is used to circumnavigating the gift room.

“Yes sir!” I croak.

“Hello, son. Merry Christmas.” Our hands meet.

“Happy Chanukah to you, sir.”

The Major clears his throat. “How’s my favorite middle girl?” He lifts Katharine off the ground, hugging her tightly.

“Merry Christmas and Happy Chanukah, Daddy,” replies Katharine, with perfect inflection. She must have practiced. I am impressed … again.

A tinkling bell announces dinner; we assemble in the grand dining room. A banquet table covered in white linen holds silver for every culinary task. It sparkles with enough candles to light a cathedral. The family eyes me warily. They can see how I feel about Katharine. Our loving manner with each other has touched them. I relax. “They really want her to be happy,” I realize. I begin to like them.

Dinner is followed by an opulent gift-opening ritual. I begin to sweat. The room soon looks like a retail war zone. Three-feet-deep red and silver paper explosions are piled everywhere.

Katharine and I peer at each other across the holiday shreds. It is our moment. We eagerly exchange gifts. Our cards affirm our love and gratitude to Jesus for bringing us together.

He has become the center of our hearts, teaching us with the grace of His salvation. We are enjoying the fruit of unity in the Spirit, believing the testimony of the apostle Paul, who wrote to the Ephesians that Jesus abolished the wall of separation between Jew and Gentile. By dying for our sins, Jesus made us into “one new man,” a unified body of believers. I am free to celebrate the feasts of the Lord as a Jew who follows Messiah. Katharine has been “grafted” into the olive tree that symbolizes the family of Israel. We read our cards aloud and explain to her family that without Chanukah, there would be no Christmas. Chanukah celebrates God preserving the Jewish people by miraculously defeating their oppressors in the century before Jesus’ birth. A day’s supply of sacred oil for the temple supernaturally lasted for eight.

I open my present from Katharine — a handcrafted silver and gold menorah. I breathe deeply and thank her. Her eyes well up.

She opens her gift. The pendant reads, “Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.” The words from the book of Ruth come alive. Ruth, a Gentile who married into the family of Israel, became an ancestor of Jesus.

Peace settles on us all. We sit in silence. Centuries of conflict seem to melt away. The Major smiles, dabbing at his eye with a napkin.

“Happy Chanukah, son” he says clearly.

“Merry Christmas, Major.”