Christmas, one of my favorite times of the year! A season wherein lie my fondest recollections. As we now are into this holiday time I enjoy drifting back to memories of my teenage years.
My father and I were Jewish, my step-mother, Lil, and her daughter Elaine were Irish Catholic. So we celebrated both the Chanukah and Christmas holidays.
Dad and I lit Chanukah candles, and Lil put up a Christmas tree.
I slept on a folding cot in the livingroom, next to the tree. The blinking lights and the delightful scent of pine had me mesmerized. To this day, the smell of pine stirs up my memory of that time.
In the late '30s my father owned an Italian-American grocery store in the Wakefield section of the Bronx, (223rd Street and White Plains Rd.) a predominantly Italian neighborhood consisting of mainly private homes. We lived in a 3 family house in the area.
The store was part of a market that also contained a fruit and vegetable section, and a Kosher butcher shop. The LaCatina family were the fruit and vegetable owners. Son John was my closest friend. As partners, we sold pine trees for Christmas use, as did most of the other shop keepers. Our trees were lined up at the street curb in front of the market. When it was very cold, we warmed ourselves standing close to the fire we had made in a 55 gallon drum.
When I came home from school, I would have dinner and then go to my father's store. He would then go home for the day, and I remained in the store. At about 6:30 Johnny would bring dinner to the market. Mr. LaCatina would go home, leaving Johnny and his brother Frankie to stay until closing time. As the brothers ate their dinner. (Guess who joined them!)
At 9 p.m. nightly, we would close the market, and whenever there was,snow Johnny and I would go down to the Bronx River Parkway, where we joined others for sled riding, or ice skating when the river was frozen.
During this holiday season almost every house was decorated with Christmas displays. Some had Nativity scene statuettes on their lawn. Beautifully decorated Christmas trees could be seen through the windows in most of the homes. In the Jewish homes, menorahs could be seen in the front windows, lit with the appropriate number of lights, indicating the numbered day (1-8) of the Chanukah festival.
On Christmas eve, John, his brother "Cheech" (Frank), and I would visit the homes of our friends, taste some delicious goodies, and wish everyone "Buono Natale et Buono Capo D'anno (Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year"), and go on to the next house. By the end of the evening I was stuffed with food, and a bit groggy from sampling pieces of pastry which had been dipped into everyones favorite Anisette, or from sampling their homemade "vino's"
My Christmas day memories are also of my wife and myself, and later on with our daughter, doing our "Christmas Time in The City" ritual.
(Although there are 5 boroughs that comprise New York City, New Yorkers
generally refer to the borough of Manhattan as "the city".)
Early on Christmas morning, we would drive into the city. Usually, because of that we were able to find a parking space, not to far from Radio City.
We would begin the day by going to see the special Christmas stage show, and a movie at the Radio City Music Hall. No matter how early we would arrive, we always had to stand in a waiting line with hundreds of other people. This theater, part of the Radio City complex, is a favorite tourist attraction, especially at this holiday time.
Radio City Music Hall
This theater built in 1932, has a seating capacity of nearly 6,000.
The Radio City Rockettes
A world renowned dance group.
After the show and the movie were over, we would go to lunch at one of the many restaurants in the Times Square area, which was several streets away. The lights of the numerous movie houses and theaters, the additional holiday decorations, music eminating from the various shops, and the crowds of people strolling along, was delightful to us.
We then would walk back to the Radio City area. There we could see the famous Christmas tree, standing above the ice skating rink at Rockefeller Center. Every December, a tree, approximately 100 feet high, is brought to this site and erected as their Christmas tree. Decorations consist of almost 30,000 light bulbs, using about 5 miles of wire!
The ice skating rink at Rockefeller Center.
On a level below the tree is the open ice skating rink. Crowds of onlookers are lined up at the railings above the rink, watching the skaters and
listening to the Christmas music being played there. As we watched and listened I would be chomping away on roasted chestnuts that I had purchased from a street vendor.
A stairway leads to the rink level where watching the skaters is also possible. Here we were able to purchase containers of hot chocolate, which we were greatly in need of. All of our walking in Times Square, and the time standing and watching the skaters, had us beginning to feel the nip in the air.
Having been warmed by the hot chocolate, we now proceeded to 5th avenue, which was only one street away. Here we joined the crowds of other sightseers that were photographing and admiring the holiday window displays of all the stores on the avenue.
Holiday displays are seen in all the store windows.
By now we were pretty well tired and beginning to feel the chill of the evening air, so we walked to where we had parked our car, and then drove home. There we hungrily attacked our dinner, which had been prepared before we left for the city. The rest of the evening was spent rehashing the events of the day. This ritual of Christmas day continued for many years. Eventually we changed it to New Years Day.
These are the memories of the Christmas season that I remember so well.