Growing up, I never attached any special significance to the so-called holiday season.
We didn't celebrate Christmas, and Hanukkah was just another in a string of Jewish holidays that was festive, but not really noteworthy. We would light our menorah, eat our latkes, and get chocolate gelt. A crisp dollar bill or two might arrive in an envelope postmarked Miami Beach. But there was no "official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot range model air rifle." No nights rendered sleepless with anticipation. The Christmas season was mostly special because we got off from school.
The most special time of my year was always...this one. It was the first two weeks of November that I looked forward to. They were positively electric.
Why? Because of Halloween. God, how I loved Halloween. I loved dressing up. I loved trick or treating. I loved giving out candy. I loved eating candy, which was otherwise essentially verboten. I still maintain that the smell of a trick or treat bag -- not the smell of any one particular candy, mind you, but the sweet smell of the mingled wrappers -- is one of the best aromas in the universe. Yankee Candle needs to get on that one. (And noodle kugel, while they're at it.)
But it didn't stop there. November 1st is my brother Eric's birthday. So there would be more celebration. And a Pepperidge Farm layer cake, the Mendelsohn family standard. There's a photo of one of Eric's parties where he's blowing out the candles at the kitchen table and you can see all of our trick or treat bags hanging from the doorknob behind him. Now that I'm a parent, I cringe for my mother, wondering how she managed the collective insanity of five small children completely hopped up on sugar.
November 7th is my brother Andrew's birthday. More celebration. More cake. (You're feeling the frenzy by this point, no?)
And then came the jewel in the crown of my year: November 11th. Why, it's Veterans' Day, for God's sake! Is there any holiday that has a bigger hold on little girls' imaginations?
I mean, it is Veteran's Day. But it's also my birthday.
And I'm a firm believer that the world can be neatly divided into people who don't make a big deal about their birthdays, and people who do. Count me firmly in the latter group. I take after my friend Maggie, who believes the celebration of one's birthday should extend to the entire month of one's birth. Hear, hear.
I always loved being the birthday girl, having my moment in the sun. Waking to find the kitchen festooned with decorations and presents. Having the day off from school. (That was for the veterans, not me, of course, but it only added to the mystique.) Getting to choose my favorite dinner. And of course, the cake. I've never outgrown my passionate love of birthday cake, though I've long since moved on from Pepperidge Farm. I find it virtually impossible to attend a child's birthday party and pass up a piece of cake -- the more icing, the better. (Read about last year's birthday cake debacle here.)
Even now, the crackle of burnished leaves underfoot and the smell of the air at this time of year makes me incredibly wistful and nostalgic, for a time when Halloween signaled the start of all the magic. You can have all your chestnuts roasting on an open fire and your sleigh bells jingling. Just save a Kit Kat and some birthday cake for me.