In recent years, many schools have decided to finesse the volatility of the social mix and forego the traditional Christmas holiday assembly.
I might even agree with this decision, but it gives me a profound sense of loss.
For, though Jewish, I experience Christmas somewhere closer to a holy day than a holiday. I am deeply moved by the trappings of its magnificence and a slave to its rituals. It is, in some ways, for me, sacred.
The explanation is simple and deep.
Spawned by a childhood desire to emulate her Christian friends and have a Christmas tree as an adult, this December 25th, my mother will host the same family Christmas party—with members of the original cast—that she and my late father have hosted every single year for the past two-thirds of a century.
And, as always, I'll find a way to catch Alistair Sim's Scrooge on the eve of that singular day. And when Tiny Tim says, "God bless us, every one," I will be wrapped with a communal solitude too great to hold in silence; and hence, a private, "Merry Christmas," ritually uttered from my window, well into and beyond the age of embarrassment.
And always, amid the bountiful food, a humble plate of beans, mainstay of the first party, when money was tight and survival uncertain; and suddenly I feel all of Eastern European Jewry passing through my living room on their varied, often heartbreaking journeys; the grief, hopes and joys of a marked people.
And then the relatives, shedding reassuringly bulky overcoats, their shields against the hostile elements (they made it!); the shrieks of mutual greeting, the rapture and relief of reunion, the surreptitious head counting. How late we come to understand our importance to one another.
As the generations move through that apartment—silently touching base with their private rituals and balancing their year-end emotional books—past, present and future blend. For each Christmas party carries the seeds of the first. And each may be the last. It is a history of threatened connection, a fragile continuity.
That is the power and universality of Dickens' story; it is that we all play Scrooge to one another, especially to our families. We go away and are transformed, perhaps redeemed. But it is never certain who we'll be or what we'll find when we return.
Tiny Tim's final blessing is not, then, the special pleading of any one religion. It is the articulated echo of a sigh that spans cultures and time — a collective sign of relief; the joyous cry of survival:
"Another year for us.