Universal Joy


As is the case in most Italian families, my mother’s Christmas cookies are essentially the sweets of legend.

So when she asked me many years ago to hand-deliver a tin of them to our neighbor on Christmas Eve, my 10-year-old self beamed with pride. This was a responsibility and one that I, as a “big girl,” accepted readily. The fact that it included a solo journey on foot up our nearly 600-ft driveway to drop them off only added to the trustworthiness of my job.

I walked the cookies up to Carol, a widow who lived alone, who opened the door both figuratively and literally with open arms. She pulled me in to a welcoming embrace as her face lit up at the offer of the cookies and the confectionary gold that they were. As I ran back down the driveway to my house, I remember thinking that I had done good.

Back inside our home, I faced a typical interrogation from my mother about the exchange of the cookies. She wanted me to paint the scene for her from the minute Carol opened the door. I was happy to recount it. I told her I rang the doorbell, exclaimed “Merry Christmas!” when Carol arrived, and then was given a big hug by our warm and grateful neighbor.

I can still hear the gasp that followed from my mother’s mouth. “You said ‘Merry Christmas?’” she asked, incredulously.

I looked to my father for clarification, who had a bit of a smirk on his face. I was obviously missing something and started to fear immediately that I somehow had failed at my job.

“But she’s Jewish!” my mother exclaimed, complete with a slap of her hands to her head that only added to the drama of the situation.

There I stood, coat still on from my trek up the driveway, fixed to the floor as I processed what I had done. And while my cynical, smart-aleck self was very tempted to point out to my mother that she should have provided this context before she sent me off to gift the woman with Christmas cookies, I bit my tongue. There was, after all, still hours before Santa was scheduled to come.

Assurance followed from my father – to me and my mother – that my slip of the tongue was harmless. They began to laugh, yet I didn’t see the humor in the situation. Always someone who found joy in pleasing others, I couldn’t help thinking that I had offended Carol with my holiday greeting.

As the night went on, and the house filled with family, I struggled to shake the guilt of my misdeed. But then at some point, I remember recalling the smile on Carol’s face when she greeted me. It wasn’t forced or contrived, and furthermore, as I continued to mentally relive the interaction, I remembered that she actually wished me a Merry Christmas before I scurried happily out the door.

So there it was. I deemed myself absolved by the big guy upstairs as well as by the big one who would soon park his sleigh on our roof. Phew.

Reflecting upon this story now, decades later, I can’t help but think of the humor in it. And yet the significance it imparts in its simplicity, too. That regardless of what someone does or does not believe in, they will always find joy in freshly-baked cookies. That the joys of the season are universal, and speak not only to our religion but to our soul.

So it is my Christmas wish for you today that you’re able to find this common ground around you, from the checkout clerk at the store to the family member who has different political beliefs than you at the table. Despite – or in spite – of our differences, of what we believe, of what we celebrate, there will always be things we can agree on.

Like the fact that cookies are delicious. That twinkling lights are beautiful.

And that the true magic of the season is that it has the power to bring people together who may have never felt connected before.

Wishing you all a wonderful day and a week worth savoring.

And please – eat the cookies.