Latkes and Candy Canes

If you walk into DeCicco’s or ShopRite this time of year, you’ll notice Christmas wreaths and other pine-scented greens displayed outside. Whenever I can, I touch one of the wreaths, hold my fingers to my face, and inhale the fragrance, remembering.

More than half a century ago, my father and I were walking through the Botanical Gardens on a scorching August Day.  I was perhaps eleven, the last born of a large Catholic family.  We strolled into the Ross Arboretum, where more than 200 pine trees, the first specimens to be planted in those gardens,  stretched mightily above us. Immediately, the hot August day was ameliorated by the delicious shade of those trees.

We took a walk every Sunday,my father and I, either to the Bronx Zoo, or to the Botanical Gardens. On this occasion  he taught me to pinch the end of a pine branch, and then carry the scent of the tree to my fingers. “It smells like Christmas,” I said. 

He hesitated. “You're a big girl now."

I waited, having no clue as to what was coming.”

“Your mother and I are getting older. We won’t be putting up a tree this year,” he continued.

No Christmas tree? I couldn’t believe it. We always had a tree, a beautifully shaped fragrant presence in the living room that excited me throughout most of December with the thought of Christmas.  

It got worse. Christmas presents were going to be limited too.

Then and there, I made a resolution. No matter how old I got, Christmas would be Christmas, with a tree, and presents. And now, so many years later, I lavish my grandchildren with gifts at Christmas time, buy each of them an ornament inscribed with his or her name. And if the holidays coincide, I heat up the latkes as my Jewish husband lights the candles on the menorah before passing around the candy canes.  And somehow, it smells like Christmas.

Jacqueline Goldstein