43: Merry Christmas, Harry Hanukkah!

43: Merry Christmas, Harry Hanukkah!

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Christmas in Canada

Merry Christmas, Harry Hanukkah!

Being considerate of others will take your children further in life than any college degree.

~Marian Wright Edelman

My son Benjamin was eight years old when he announced that he hated Christmas, especially Santa Claus. “Why is that, Ben?” I asked. We’re Jewish and have always taught our kids to respect other religions and holidays. Ben, being the most sensitive of my gang, had really taken this advice to heart, so to hear he hated Christmas was quite a shock.

“Well, it’s the Santa thing. What about the kids like my friend, Adrien, who spend the whole year being good so Santa will bring them something? You know what he got for Christmas? Nothing! His dad said they were broke and Santa only visits rich kids. He’s so bummed.”

I could almost see the wheels in his young brain whirling. “And what else are you thinking?”

“I think kids who keep getting disappointed like that are gonna be so angry that by the time they’re teenagers they’ll do rotten things like stealing or maybe even murder somebody.”

That was an interesting thought process that seemed to hold an element of truth. “So what do you think we should do about this?” I asked.

“Give agnominal gifts!”

My eyebrows rose. “Um, do you mean anonymous?”

Ben sighed in frustration. He loved big words and tried to use them whenever he could, but he hated it when he made a mistake in pronouncing the word.

“Yeah, anonymous, only we give them to kids like Adrien.”

“How do you propose we do that?” I said.

“I’ll think about it,” muttered Ben. “I’ve got a year.”

The next Christmas I met a single mother whose welfare had been cut off, which meant no money for food or Christmas for her three-year-old daughter, Marya. As we sat at the supper table that night I told my family about Marya. No one had anything to say. Or at least that’s what I thought.

Ben called an emergency family meeting later that night. “Mom, we want you to use the money you would have spent on us and buy presents for Marya. And I figured out how we’ll do it. We’ll sign the card Harry Hanukkah! Eight presents from Harry.”

“There’s no such thing as Harry Hanukkah,” said my husband, William.

“Well, there is now,” said Ben.

A few days later, the kids and I knocked on Marya’s door, eight gifts in hand — along with a brisket, a turkey, and a fruit basket.

My friend cried as she watched her daughter open her presents. Marya, on the other hand, was very suspicious.

“He’s Harry Hanukkah?”

“That’s right,” said Ben.

“Why not Santa?”

“Because some children are so special that Santa asks Harry to give them presents,” piped in Miriam. “Harry is Santa’s cousin.”

“Where does Harry live?”

“Jerusalem,” said Ben. He was enjoying this. “And instead of a sled, he has a magic carpet with camels pulling it.”

Miriam groaned and rolled her eyes.

Marya looked at Ben. “Does he have a red suit like Santa?”

“No,” said Miriam. “It’s blue with white fur.”

“In Jerusalem?” I asked.

“Yeah,” said Ben as he glared at me. “It gets cold once in a while in Jerusalem.”

When Marya’s inquisition ended we had discovered that Harry lived on a mountain in Jerusalem, Mount Scopus, where he taught students during the day so no one would know who he was. Kind of like Clark Kent and Superman, who just happened to be Ben’s favourite hero that week.

Harry was more practical than Santa. He bought the toys and clothes from Sears and Toys “R” Us, just in case he misunderstood Santa on sizes and the gifts had to be exchanged.

Marya was satisfied with Ben’s explanations — for the time being.

Harry visited Marya for four more years. Every year the questions about Harry and Israel became more intense, with more demands for “facts.”

Ben had answers for every question.

There were twelve camels: Asher, Dan, Gad, Joseph, Benjamin, Issachar, Judah, Levi, Naphtali, Reuben, Simeon, Zebulah. Judah didn’t really fly with Harry. Someone had to stay in Jerusalem and pick olives.

Apparently Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer was not needed to guide the flying carpet. Joseph and his brightly coloured saddle blanket led the camels when they flew. There was glow stick material in the blanket and the darn thing lit up like neon lights. Who knew? The camels preferred gefilte fish and falafel to hay, and a Bedouin family just south of Jerusalem tended to them during the year.

Harry preferred latkes and wine to cookies and milk. He was fatter than Santa. Much, much, much fatter. Sour cream and latkes put on a lot more weight than the average sugar cookie.

Since Marya, there have been others helped by Harry: six-year-old Jocelyn, who had to move in with her aunt because her single mother died of cancer at the age of forty; Andrea, whose mother was a drug addict and gave her to her father when Andrea was five. And then there were Adrien and his brother.

Fortunately, our city, Windsor, has been blessed with several charitable organizations that help out families slipping through the Social Services bureaucratic red tape. We are a city that truly has a huge heart. The Goodfellows organization alone gives out over 40,000 turkeys at Christmas. During the year they provide over 25,000 breakfasts to underprivileged school children. It is an amazing feat, considering Windsor only has a population of 200,000.

It’s now very rare to hear of a child in Windsor being forgotten during the holidays, but Harry has not retired. My daughter has a friend working in a little village in Tanzania with a Canadian charitable organization. Harry has donated enough funds and books for all of those children to have at least one year of education. Something tells me he’ll be doing that for a while. Harry has also donated books to one of the local grade schools where English is the second language. Arabic is the first.

Ben still plays piano for charities’ fundraisers and Miriam recently ran in a marathon to raise money to clothe and improve the housing conditions of those children in Tanzania.

As for the kids we helped?

There’s the true gift. Marya is studying to be a teacher and helps Aboriginal children. A certain First Nations Chief helps Santa, north of Ottawa, find kids who need special attention.

Adrien is a social worker in Vancouver, British Columbia. He created a “Papa Noel” who visits kids from broken homes. He figured out who Harry really was when he turned thirteen and thought it was an awesome idea.

Adrien’s brother is studying to be a child psychologist and lives in Montreal. He and his buddies have developed a “Neiges Bonhomme,” a snowman who leaves baskets filled with food, clothes, and toys on an underprivileged child’s doorstep in the middle of the night. I look back on Harry’s first visit to Marya and smile with fondness. Good old Harry.

Merry Christmas to Harry Hanukkah, Papa Noel, and Neiges Bonhomme.

~Pamela Goldstein

Amherstburg, Ontario

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