We invited some current and former Baltimoreans to share their favorite Holiday Memories

December 25, 1997

The Rev. Joseph Gallagher

Retired Baltimore Archdiocesse priest

Realizing at the last minute on Christmas Eve that no one had bought a Christmas tree, several nurses at a home for disabled chidren scrambled to get one.

The only ones left were scraggy, misshapen and rejected. The nurses picked the least ugly one and returned to decorate it.

The next morning the nurses were apprehensive as the children limped into the lounge to see the tree. After a moment of silence, one youngster piped up: "That tree's just perfect! It's all crooked, just like us."

Hearing that child's response was the best Christmas gift I ever received.

Barry Levinson

San Francisco

As a kid, I never knew Christmas had anything to do with religion. Santa Claus delivered gifts because he was a nice guy. Period. But for Santa not to be real . . . frightening. On Christmas Eve, when I was 4 years old, my world turned upside down, briefly. I heard a thump in the night and I went to the top of stairs to see what was going on. I was completely deflated to find my father bringing in gifts. My Dad was great, but no Santa? I quietly went back to bed. No one knew of the devastating information I had learned.

The next morning, I went downstairs before the rest of my family got up. Gifts were all around me in the living room, the gifts my father had brought into the house. But there in the corner with a ribbon on it was a bike. A RED BIKE. My father hadn't brought a bike inside, I was sure of this. And, suddenly, I realized the truth: Dad got the little presents, but Santa got the big one. Yes! Dads were just Santa's helpers! Ah, it's good to be a kid. Although at that age, I didn't know the significance of Christmas, I knew Santa didn't look Jewish.

Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend

When I was 13, my Uncle Rush Skakel gave me a sea lion for Christmas. Uncle Rush was a hunter who loved to capture large animals. I loved Sandy, the sea lion; I fed him lots of fish and trained him to fetch balls and jump through hoops. By the summer, Sandy was getting very hot, so I gave him to the Washington Zoo, where he lived and played for many years.

Jeffrey M. Landaw

A Sun editor

A small room in the Jewish Community Center on Park Heights Avenue two years ago. A tumbling, roiling mass of children, of all ages and colors, all celebrating Hanukkah.

This was a party organized by Stars of David, the national Jewish adoption support group. (Get three Englishmen together, the old joke goes, and they form a club; get three Welshmen together and they form a choir. Get three contemporary Americans together and they form a support group.) When my wife, our daughters -- age eight and four at the time -- and I had first known these kids, most of them were onlies or had at most one baby sister or brother. Now most of them had siblings old enough to play with.

Most Jewish observance revolves around the family; unlike other religions, Judaism has no mainstream tradition of celibacy or of solitary contemplation. That fits surprisingly well with the concentrated -- sometimes the word seems more like ghettoized -- nature of Baltimore's Jewish community, which someone once called an extended cousins' club. You can never go anywhere in the northwest quadrant without expecting to meet a friend or relative. But the other side of this often maddening intimacy is a sense of connectedness I can't remember feeling anywhere else.

Michael Jackson

Wide receiver, Baltimore Ravens

Four years ago, I received my favorite Christmas gift of all time -- the birth of my son Michael Elijah. He was my first child, and I had wanted a boy. After he was born shortly before Christmas, I said no one would have to give me anything else ever again for Christmas. He is my present every year.

Rep. Robert Ehrlich

R-2nd District

Probably my most memorable Christmas was when I was 5 or 6 years old. I opened a Christmas present, and instead of finding a shiny new toy, I discovered a lump of coal and a switch -- the proverbial gifts for bad children. Fortunately, that was not my real gift, and my parents quickly produced a more traditional present.

That experience taught me first, not to take people around you for granted. The love and respect of your family and friends is a precious gift that should be reciprocated. And, second, you generally reap what you sow in life, so you should treat people the way you want to be treated. I definitely got the message.

Marc Steiner

WJHU-FM talk-show host

My father is Jewish and my mother was a Baptist who converted to Judaism. We always celebrated both Christmas and Hanukkah. We would have a small paper tree that turned on a spindle around a light bulb. It was set in front of the fireplace, where our stockings hung.

One day shortly before Christmas when I was 10 years old, I looked out the window and saw the rabbi of our orthodox synagogue walking to our door. I loudly announced, ''Rabbi Shapiro is here.''

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