I have been experiencing a wave of nostalgia – it comes with age and recent losses of dear friends and our beloved little kitty Pepper. For me, the holidays seem to inspire reflections on the past – thinking back to how much New York City used to mean to me at Christmas. I have been digging up wonderful Christmas-related NYC photos from the Library of Congress and decided to delve into my own archives to see what I could find. When I was a child and up through about 2004, my parents would visit NYC every December for an annual psychiatric meeting at the Waldorf Astoria. While my dad was attending lectures, my mom would go window shopping with some of her friends. As children, my sisters and I always looked forward to my parents coming home with intriguing presents. My dad would also visit Russ & Daughters and purchase obscene amounts of candy that he had shipped home. Chocolate covered coffee beans, pastel chocolate mint lentils, and chocolate covered raspberry rings are the candies that I remember most. He would tell me stories about buying pretzels and roasted chestnuts from street vendors, shopping at B. Altman, Gimbels, and other now defunct stores; telling me tales that made it sound so magical.
Every fall, just after Halloween, I begged my mom to order the Sears Wish Book. I spent hours poring over the book, making a list of the toys I wanted most. My parents always let me pick out one really impressive toy for the first night of Hanukkah and a few small “stocking stuffer” gifts for the other seven nights. My kid sister Janet and I would fight over the book and had to take turns, until my mom realized she should order two copies. Yet even with eight nights of celebration, I suffered from Christian envy and was a bit jealous of my best friend Joan’s beautiful large Christmas tree with colorfully wrapped gifts underneath. I fondly recall when her parents graciously invited me over for a few hours before their Christmas eve celebration. Thus, via a scaled-down version, I experienced the joy of Christmas along with my potato latkes, chocolate gelt, picking hardened dripped wax off the menorah, and my eight gifts. The best of both worlds, you might say.