I’m Jewish but we celebrated Christmas growing up. My dad was in the toy business, and to a man in the toy business, December 25th is a holy day no matter who you pray to the rest of the year.
Imagine: it’s Christmas and your dad is the EVP at one of the top three toy companies in New York City. Imagine the sight under the tree. Nah . . . double that. Practically all of FAO Schwarz was under our tree (the tree, by the way, was five feet tall, plastic, pink and decorated with pink and silver ornaments.)
We had a rule in our house: no matter what time my sister and I woke up on December 25th, we couldn’t wake up our parents until 6 a.m. And then, painfully, excruciatingly, agonizingly, we had to wait until my mother made coffee and my sister and I each drank down a full glass of orange juice before we could start opening presents.
And then it was a wild free for all.
When the dust and the ribbons and the wrappings settled, no matter how many Barbies and Barbie clothes and doll houses and stuffed animals and games there were under that fashion tree, my favorite presents were the books. It is because of those books, that my love of reading began and that led to me eventually becoming a writer.
To this day I still have almost all those books and none of the toys. But my favorite is ELOISE AT CHRISTMASTIME. And every year on December 25, at some point during the day, I pull it out and read it again.
Of all the characters, in all the books I had, I related to Eloise the most. She lived in the Plaza Hotel on 59th and Fifth — — only twelve blocks away from where we lived. I got into same kinds of trouble she got into. She had a turtle. I had a turtle. My school uniform was a carbon copy of what she wore. My hair was just like hers: stringy and messy. And she was always with her nanny, never her parents, because they were always away. While my mom was there, my father wasn’t around as much as I wished he was.
Part of that toy business job required him to travel constantly, and I missed him so very much so very often. Somehow, because of that, there was a special bond between us, and starting when I was 7, every year at Christmas he gave me a special book— just from him to me.
The very first was ELOISE AT CHRISTMASTIME
On its first page, the illustrious Hilary Knight drew Eloise holding up a giant-sized wrapped gift with an overly large gift card tied to it. On the card are spaces for the giver of the book to fill in the appropriate inscriptions.
My copy says: To Melisse With Love From Daddy.
Every year I give my father a book. On the title page it always says:To Daddy With Love from Melisse.
And for the last 15 years that book has been a novel I’ve written.
We don’t have the pink tree anymore, but this year I’ll be giving my father yet one more book and I hope it means as much to him as my copy of ELOISE AT CHRISTMASTIME still means to me.