A few years ago when money was tight and we were scaling back on holiday gift giving, my insane husband, Mark, happened upon a giant inflatable polar bear playing “whack-a-mole” with two little penguins. Like any adoring husband, he thought, “I just have to spend the money and buy this inane decoration for my Jewish wife for Hanukkah.”
I remember walking into the house and hearing this loud whirring noise, which turned out to be the pump he bought to blow up the whacking polar bear and penguins. This monstrosity was in the center courtyard of our house when I came home to Mark and our two boys standing there, beaming upon my arrival.
“This is a joke, right?” I asked, looking at the giant arcade-like phenomenon. Then, realizing that it wasn’t, I tried to lighten up and smile as I queried about the cost of this newly acquired modern art. “We’re Jewish,” I said. “You do know that we don’t celebrate Christmas, and I’m really not OK with a huge Christmas display in the middle of our house.” In spite of the red and green holiday scarf and Santa hat adorning the polar bear, Mark argued that it really wasn’t related to Christmas at all and was merely a celebration of wintertime joy. “He’s beating two penguins,” I countered. “There really is no joy in this scenario.”
Mark nicknamed the Antarctic birds “P and B,” and dubbed the big white Ursus “Jay.” While I acknowledged that the names were cute and clever, I couldn’t wait to rid my home of their presence. Finally, when the New Year rolled around, I insisted on packing up the polar trio and stuffing them into a cabinet in the garage. I admit I agreed to letting them come out again the following year. But truthfully, I had no intention of honoring that accord.
Last year as the holiday season roared in I had a real heart-to-heart with my husband. I told him how sweet it was that he had purchased such a unique gift for me the year before and that I couldn’t think of a single wife who had gotten as unusual a gift as I had received. But I felt very uncomfortable displaying the wondrous gift, as I was proud of our heritage and felt like Jewish people needn’t decorate their homes with Yuletide paraphernalia. He was slightly downhearted but understanding as he neatly packed up P, B and Jay and readied them for their journey to Goodwill.
But then an idea came to me. We have a nearby neighborhood that goes all out at Christmas time. They create a magical winter wonderland and invite a steady stream of visitors to enjoy their extensive fantasyland. We go with the boys every year and had planned to drive through the Christmas oasis that very night.
As our car slowly crept down the sugarplum-laden road, I readied my family to be on the lookout for a suitable home for P, B and Jay. We knew it the moment we saw it: one house on the street that was lit up brighter than all the others, with a slew of polar bears gleefully interacting with passersby. This was a home where our Arctic creatures would feel happy, chilled and welcomed as part of the family.
We went home and wrote a deeply personal note explaining why we could no longer care for our beloved trio. Like despondent parents leaving their baby on a neighbor’s doorstep, we waited till the crowds dispersed and snuck back to leave our package and note at the front door of our new host’s home. We felt sad and our hearts were heavy as we said our final goodbyes and departed.
We checked back a few nights later, but there was no sign of P, B and Jay. We wondered if they would ever see the light of Christmas again. It was a painful holiday season as we mourned their loss, all the while remembering the joy they had brought us the year before. I felt guilty and ashamed of giving them up. Perhaps the new family had too many mouths to feed already and had simply tossed P, B and Jay onto a trash heap without ever even meeting them in full holiday inflatability.
We grieved their loss for months, and when this holiday season arrived we all pretended that we had no expectations. I couldn’t actually bring myself to visit the magical street this year. I couldn’t face it if P, B and Jay weren’t there. At least I could live in denial if I stayed away from the street altogether.
My eldest son, Levi, was bolder and insisted on facing off with reality. He went on an evening Christmas light excursion in search of our threesome. I could barely await his return. “Did you see them?” I asked with fervent anticipation. He looked at me with a stone-cold stare. Then he slowly raised his phone to my eyes. It was our trio! They were there! Front and center. P, B and Jay were alive and well and celebrating Christmas with their polar bear brethren in the most prominent spot on the front lawn of the house where we had left them.
I was elated. Seriously. I mean, it was truly as if my beloved offspring had been given a second chance at life. I haven’t stopped smiling for weeks. And as we celebrate another year of light and joy, I realize that Hanukkah miracles are all around. You just have to look in the right places.