As a small boy, I loved that time of year when cheerful music emanated from seemingly everywhere and most all the local street lamps, storefronts, and homes were adorned in various colored, blinking lights and tinsel.
 
Except for my own home.
 
We watched all our neighbors go through the apparently delightful routine of putting up their holiday decorations and somehow miraculously squeezing huge green-needled trees through their doorways. But we didn’t participate in these community rituals. And I wanted to know why.
 
So I asked, “Mommy, why don’t we put up lights and get a big tree too?” My Mom, unprepared for such an incisive question blurted out by such a young child, said something to the effect, “We are different from them. We don’t believe in those things.” Then she went through a long (and hard for me to follow) explanation of the difference between us being Jewish and them being Christian. I didn’t really digest or understand most of it. We all lived next to each other, the kids all played with each other, and I didn’t notice any difference between us. I just felt heartbroken that we weren’t going to have lights and a tree like everyone else.
 
After a few days of seeing me moping around with a downcast expression, my Mom wisely decided to do something about it. “Philip" (that’s what my Mom called me, rather than Phil, when she was really serious!), "we’re going to visit the neighbors’ houses and see their trees!”
 
And immediately off we went.
 
I remember the first neighbors we visited, who lived right next to us, were an older couple who I had rarely ever seen (because they didn’t have any young kids). I was amazed how good their house smelled, a delicious gumbo of fir tree and recently baked gingerbread cookies. And when I saw their tree, they turned on its lights and even let me put some silvery string on the branches. In the midst of all this fun, I spotted with curiosity the beautifully colored boxes beneath the tree and before I spoke they said “They’re presents and one of them is for you!” Was I ever overjoyed with this thing called Christmas!
 
As we continued on to walk around the block, we received the same warm welcome from all the neighbors, even ones who were pretty much strangers to us. We were taken to view each family’s tree and examine the many unusual ornaments (sometimes with too lengthy a history of them, which I didn’t mind because I always got a sugar cookie to eat or a toy to play with while I pretended to studiously listen!)
 
When we returned home, I plopped down all the small gifts I had received onto the kitchen table. I felt so happy after such a wonderful time at all the others’ houses. But I quickly became sad again when I looked around our house and it was noticeably devoid of any beautifully wrapped boxes. “Mommy,” I asked, “where are our family’s presents?”
 
Frankly, I was expecting to be disappointed by this Christmas thing again, since it was clear we were not getting any lights or a tree.
 
But I was joyfully surprised when my Mom responded, “That’s the best part of our holiday, Hanukkah. All those other children only get one day of Christmas gifts, but you’ll get gifts for eight days in a row and it begins tonight!”
 
A big smile came across my face as I thought, “Wow, I get to enjoy everyone else’s Christmas and our Hanukkah too!”
 
When I now look back at such times of my youth, and as an adult now see so much fighting, fear and distrust between people of the world - - often in the name of religious differences - - I feel compelled to implore us all to open our hearts and our doors to share with others the spirit of generosity and true meaning of this holiday season.
 
Happy Holidays to you and your loved ones (and your neighbors too!) from all of us at Kavesh, Minor & Otis.

Philip J. Kavesh
Nationally recognized attorney helping clients with customized estate planning guidance for over 40 years.
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