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What’s important at the holidays

December 24, 2011
By KATHRYN SPIRA , The Leader Herald

So guys, you are reading this near Christmas, a holiday I didn't celebrate as a child. Even now, as an adult, I only experience it peripherally through Herman.

Growing up in Cleveland, we always celebrated the Festival of Lights, or Hanukkah, which started its eight-day run this past Tuesday evening.

Back in Cleveland, specifically in University Heights/Shaker Heights area, we didn't see a single house decorated for Christmas because the community was predominantly Jewish. I was raised as a conservative Jew and my parents were raised in the orthodox tradition in Europe, in Germany and Poland. It was not a material-oriented holiday, or even especially religious, it was more a tradition and way of life for us. In Hebrew school, I did learn about the miracle of lights when the temple light burned for eight days with only one day's worth of oil.

We also lit candles, sang songs every night and exchanged gifts, but it just wasn't the commercial excess the holiday seems to have become these days. So I still am somewhat subdued about the whole Christmas thing, even though I now live in a part of the country that is much more Christian-oriented.

My best friend, Jacques Lorenzo, was the one who introduced me to the whole concept of the beauty of the Christmas holiday through some of his favorite Christmas films. One film that stands out for me is "It's A Wonderful Life," and Herman got me watching "A Christmas Story," which is his personal favorite.

Recently, "Home for the Holidays" has become a personal favorite - although that film highlights Thanksgiving more than Christmas, which also was more of a huge holiday in our family. I remember Mom hosting a gathering of more than 30 people when we got together for Thanksgiving, and it was all family members and all very religious where Yiddish was spoken.

When I lived with Jacques in New York City in the 1980s, I remember going down to the Hudson River tree lot and Jacques lugging home a tree that was a struggle for his slight frame. Sometimes I and one of his boyfriends would have to help him get the tree home. My input was decorating the tree with white cloth bows and red velvet bows, but the whole experience was all brand new to me and it wasn't my tradition at all, but I was happy to celebrate his tradition as he was happy to celebrate my Jewish traditions.

I haven't had a tree in my home since Jacques sadly passed away some years back and have no interest in having one today. I'm happy to say Herman feels the same. The only holiday decorations we hang are the cards we get from friends and family that help us remember what the holidays are all about.

So, whatever your personal traditions, I hope family and friends are gathered around to help you celebrate and remember what any holiday is really about; those close to us that we care about.

Kathryn Spira, a native of Cleveland who pursued an acting career in New York City and Los Angeles, now pursues freelance writing from Caroga Lake in Fulton County. Previous columns and contact information may be accessed at her website at



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