I'm not sure if it was a growing sense of guilt, or just a cultural tide shift, but the winter before we moved from St. Louis, we stopped celebrating Christmas. Instead of weaning us off of it, my parents quit cold turkey. No tree. No wreaths. And certainly no presents. It was awful; the house felt empty and depressing, and there was no holiday cheer to be found. So with the Christmas-related Jewish guilt becoming unbearable and a dark cloud hanging over our house, on Christmas Eve my dad went out to find a Christmas tree. All the tree lots were already closed.

Not long after that, we moved to Phoenix, where it was decidedly weird to celebrate Christmas if you were Jewish. I know that the ornaments made it to Arizona in our move, but I haven't seen them since. They're probably still in a box, tangible reminders of my confused Judeo-Christian past.

Nearly 30 years have passed since the Schaefer family last celebrated Christmas, but we've found a new Christmas tradition. We now spend the day at the home of friends who go all out for Christmas. A beautiful tree, decorations in every nook of their lovely home, and all of us there to celebrate as family. They are not technically related, but they have become an irreplaceable part of our family. My kids open presents around their beautifully lit tree while the adults wait for something far more important: a standing rib roast.

Brandon Huigens

Location Info


Crescent Ballroom

308 N. 2nd Ave.
Phoenix, AZ 85003

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: Central Phoenix


7 p.m. Tuesday, December 17

Covered in salt and herbs, tended to with the level of care usually reserved for a precious newborn (except you shouldn't put a newborn in the oven) and prepared precisely one time per year, Aunt Jan and Uncle Larry's standing rib roast is what I dream about starting on December 26th of each year. There's nothing complicated about it. It's just roast beef. But there's something about a standing rib roast that makes it . . . an event. Much like the carving of the Thanksgiving turkey, when the roast comes out of the oven we all ooh and ahh at it. We poke it and prod it and Larry obsesses over whether it's done right, and then the serving begins. A standing rib roast is all that is right about beef: fatty, juicy, American gastronomic indulgence. And though it cooks all day and is the subject of discussion for pretty much the entire year, we're done eating in about 15 minutes. I usually pass out shortly thereafter, my body expending what little energy it has left on digestion rather than consciousness.

And so it ends; another year, another Christmas, and 364 days of waiting for another standing rib roast. Merry Christmas!

by Judy Nichols

On Christmas Eve, the faithful in Hanover, Kansas, gather in their churches, the light shining out through the stained glass windows into the icy night.

At my grandparents' house, we put on our Sunday best — dresses and Mary Janes — and run through the dark to the car parked by the cornfield, breaking through the crust of the new snow, crystals slipping into our shoes and melting.

We squeeze in, my grandmother, mother, and father in back, holding my big sister. I sit in the front between my uncle and grandfather.

The headlights shine down the road, illuminating the grain silo by the railroad tracks. We turn at Ricky's Café, where farmers linger longer over their coffee this time of year, waiting for the ground to thaw again.

North Street is decorated with candy canes on the light poles and twinkling garlands that stretch from one side of the road to the other. The frost on the sidewalk sparkles.

We climb past the school where my grandfather is the principal and my grandmother works in the lunchroom and turn on Church Street, headed toward Zion Lutheran. The bell rings in the steeple.

My grandfather carries me from the cold car up the steps toward the wooden door, hugging friends along the way. I sit on his lap in one of the pews near the front as we watch children act out the nativity.

Near the end of the service, volunteers pass out small white candles with cardboard circles around the bottom. The lights go out and someone lights the candle of the person standing by the center aisle. One by one, in each row, the flame is passed from person to person, candle to candle, until the entire room glows.

My grandfather helps me hold my candle straight, so the hot wax drips on the cardboard circle, not on my hand.

Gently, the organ begins, and everyone sings: "Silent night, Holy night. All is calm. All is bright." I can pick out my grandmother's voice. Grandmothers, grandfathers, mothers, fathers, babies, sisters and brothers all sway in time. The last note fades, and there is a hush.

As the pews empty, each child is handed a small paper bag folded over at the top and stapled. I hold it carefully in my lap on the way back. When we get home, my sister and I pour the treasured gifts onto the dining-room table: an orange, nuts to shell, and a handful of Christmas candies.

Later, lying on the cot in my grandparents' bedroom, watching the moon through the window and waiting for the chill to leave the sheets, I sing my favorite carols: "O tidings of comfort and joy. Comfort and joy. O tidings of comfort and joy."

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