- - Tuesday, December 23, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Like other newspaper columnists, I always look forward to writing my annual Christmas column.

My story is a bit unusual. I’m an agnostic Jew who has celebrated Christmas since I was a wee lad. There’s a Christmas tree in my house, wreath on the door, garland wrapped around the bannister and Christmas music in constant rotation on my stereo system.

While my Christmas columns have similar themes, I always take different approaches. They have been personal, humorous, serious and occasionally reflective.

This year, it’s all of the above.

I have another annual tradition that I’ve never written about before. Once or twice a year, I go back to my old neighborhood, park my car next to the house where I grew up, walk a few blocks and head home.

I’ve always made the trip alone, and have never invited anyone.

Why? To wax philosophic about my childhood, I suppose. To gaze at the house where I lived for the better part of two decades. To retrace my steps on the streets I walked countless times. To see the small park (or island, as we called it) where I played ball with my friends until it was dark.

In other words, to remember. Always to remember.

I finished my annual walk down memory lane in November. Yet I felt compelled to do it again this past weekend. For the first time, I broke my cardinal rule and brought some company: my 6-year-old son, Andrew.

My little buddy had absolutely no idea why I took him on this excursion. It was just an opportunity to go outside and take a short walk with his Daddy. The big, happy smile on his face warmed my heart, and he squeezed my hand tightly as he walked, skipped and hummed a merry tune.

The neighborhood has changed significantly since we moved out. There’s a huge amount of construction in my old area. Most of the homes, which were large to begin with, have gone through massive renovations, extensions and upkeep. This includes our old abode.

Even the tree that my father and I planted many years ago, which we affectionately called “Little Red,” had clearly become a “Big Red.”

Andrew and I also looked at the Christmas decorations. This was the reason for my second trip: I hadn’t seen my old neighborhood during the holiday season in many years, and I was curious to see how different it looked.

Sadly, it was exactly what I expected.

When I lived there, the vast majority of families were Christian. There were Christmas trees, wreaths and beautiful light displays, both inside and outside. Carolers went door to door. Neighbors wished everyone good tidings as they walked by.

My family didn’t celebrate (the Christmas tradition started with me), but enjoyed it. I helped neighbors trim their trees and sang carols with my friends. We wished everyone a “Merry Christmas” without giving it a second thought.

We never feared or hated Christmas. Rather, we embraced this wonderful holiday — and participated in it as we saw fit. (My father and I never persuaded my mother to bring a Christmas tree into our house. Not for a lack of trying, mind you.)

There are still Christmas trees, wreaths and decorations in my old neighborhood. Our old house has a wreath on the door. One Jewish family even has a wreath in the shape of a Star of David. Alas, the majority of residents are non-Christian — meaning the colorful lights, decorations and sounds of my childhood have been replaced by vast patches of darkness.

It’s their life and their choice. It’s still a shame, however.

I’ve always believed Christmas is for everyone. My family found a way to celebrate this important holiday — and so have many other non-Christian families, both religious and nonreligious. Placing restrictions on a person’s enjoyment of religious or cultural events helps create an unhealthy environment of ignorance and intolerance.

Is that what we really want to happen during the Christmas season? I hope not.

As Thomas Wolfe once wrote, “You can’t go home again.” Fortunately, the fond memories you have will last a lifetime.

I hope Andrew always has good feelings about Christmas. I also hope he remembers the special walk he took with his father. It meant a great deal to him to share old memories and build some new ones with the most important person in his life.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Michael Taube is a contributor to The Washington Times.

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