Since 2006, authors and illustrators have been sharing their favorite stories of the season with SLJ in our annual Holiday Memories series. This week we hear from actress and author Julie Andrews and her daughter, Emma Walton Hamilton, along with author Liz Levy. Next Tuesday, look for stories from Jarrett J. Krosoczka, Rita Williams Garcia and Mac Barnett.
Growing up in Buffalo, New York, during the 1950s in a very tight-knit Jewish community, Chanukah was a big deal. Not because it’s such an important holiday, but because in the 1950s, Jewish families like ours— second-generation immigrants—wanted their children to feel that we really belonged in America. They didn’t want us to feel left out at Christmas time. Yet they wanted us to keep the Jewish traditions.
So note the tinsel hung across the fireplace with care, and I must have cut out the letters and glued on the blue and white tinsel. At our Chanukahs in the 1950s, my cousin Robie and I and our families all got dressed up in our finest. We didn’t get Christmas presents; we got CHANUKAH presents, a holiday not particularly connected with gifts until the 20th century.
In the picture above, I am obviously happy with my present, which says “First and Only Record of its Kind.” I wish I still had it. My nieces Erica and Dana have given me a magnet: “I may be old, but I got to see all the cool bands.” I did saw Elvis live in 1957 in Buffalo when he was still skinny. And yes, I screamed my head off.
Back to Chanukah. The festival of lights, it is still one of my favorite holidays. Those same nieces have given me a wonderful “feminist” menorah, and they now have children of their own. I still light the candles and make potato pancakes (okay, with help from my goyish friends who are better cooks than I am). My cousins and my family and I are still close. We all left Buffalo decades ago, yet I am as close to them now in the 21st century as if we never left our hometown. And that is a miracle worthy of Chanukah.
Julie Andrews and Emma Walton Hamilton
Our latest poetry anthology, Julie Andrews’ Treasury for All Seasons: Poems and Songs to Celebrate the Year (Little, Brown, 2012), highlights several family memories and traditions relating to the holiday season. One favorite that has been passed down through three generations is our tradition of the “Tree Gift.”
Though most of our gift-giving takes place on Christmas morning, we always save one small present for each member of the family, which gets hidden on the tree until Christmas night. At the very end of the day, long after all the other gifts have been opened, meals have been enjoyed, visits have been paid, walks have been taken, we enjoy a last cup of tea, cider, or spiced wine by the fire, and, as one, we each open that last tiny offering. We find it helps to balance the day—forestalling the inevitable letdown after the excitement of the morning and giving us one more thing to look forward to at the end of all the merry-making.
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