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December 13, 2009

'Ella's Eyes'

Special thanks to Veronica Walsh for this week's illustration.

December 13, 2009|By Jacqueline Seewald
(Veronica Walsh. )

Ella had dark eyes, almost black. Yet they sparkled as brightly and intensely as if they were stars. Ella did not give glancing looks at the world around her. She watched and she saw with her deep, dark eyes. Mama called them Armenian eyes. Mama was Armenian by birth and had lived in Armenia for a good part of her life.

After school, Ella's mother took her downtown to do some shopping. They stopped in front of a department store window and saw a Christmas tree decorated with shiny tinsel, painted ornaments, and angels. Beside it was a silver menorah twinkling with lights. As the sky darkened, snowflakes swirled around Ella, forming patterns on her coat.

The beautiful lights danced in Ella's serious eyes, but Ella was troubled. Weren't her parents going to celebrate the holidays? They never had a Christmas tree or a Hanukkah menorah. Why should her family be different?

At dinner that evening, Ella turned to her parents.

"Why don't we have a Christmas tree or a Hanukkah menorah for the holidays?" she asked.

"We observe the holidays the way I did back in Armenia," her mother said. "Armenia was dominated by the Soviet Union then, and such symbols were forbidden. We celebrated the New Year instead, and that is when we exchanged presents. We would have our friends and family over at that time. Visiting began on January 1 and lasted through our Christmas, which is January 6." Ella's mother smiled. "Don't you remember all the wonderful food we made last year? Wasn't it wonderful?"

Ella did remember how good everything tasted. Her mother cooked and baked so well. Still, she wasn't satisfied.

"But why must our Christmas come after everyone else's?"

"We have a different calendar."

"Daddy is American. I'm American too. I don't want to celebrate Christmas after everyone else does," Ella said.

"You are also part Armenian," her mother said.

"You became an American," Ella said. She knew her mother was a naturalized American citizen. Ella was proud that her mother had studied for her citizenship.

Ella's mother smiled and kissed her cheek. "I will need your help to prepare all the fine foods for our friends and relatives. Will you help me?"

"I'll help," Ella promised, pleased to be asked.

"It will be fun," her mother assured her.

"Just as long as we can celebrate American traditions too," Ella said. She could be just as stubborn as her mother. She could not forget the beautiful lights twinkling on the department store Christmas tree.

"You can be an American and still be proud of your cultural heritage," her father said. "We'll celebrate all the holidays. America is a melting pot of many races, religions and cultures. We should honor all of them."

Ella's mother agreed. "This year we will put up a Christmas tree and a menorah." She gave Ella a big hug, and her father kissed both of them.

Ella's eyes shone with gratitude and understanding.

Jacqueline Seewald is the author of "The Drowning Pool."

Special thanks to Veronica Walsh for this week's illustration. To see more of her work, visit

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