December 18, 2011
Or should I say “Oy Christmas Tree? You just don’t know what a Christmas tree means until you’ve never had one growing up.
When I was growing up in my Jewish household I was far from deprived. But, I was certain that I was totally neglected because I thought I was deprived, and cheated out of having a Christmas tree.
Every Christmas, we would go to my mother’s brother’s house where there would be a huge tree. My uncle’s wife – the gorgeous Ziegfield Follies dance goddess—was of another faith, and threw the best Yuletide celebrations ever. Old German ornaments, cookies, dinners, poker games and Scotch were always on the menu there.
As I dutifully celebrated Hanukkah, and was told I was lucky to get one present a night for eight nights, I still drooled and hankered for that Christmas tree. “No” was always the answer from my father. He relented once and brought home the silliest cardboard office Christmas tree ever seen. I loved it. I put presents under it like it was the most gorgeous thing every year until it fell apart.
My mother’s friend Ellie would say to my dad at their 1960’s customary afternoon cocktail hour, “Harold, why don’t you get that poor kid a Christmas Tree?” His answer was typically wry: “Eleanor, when YOU put a “Hanukah Bush” up in your window, I’ll get a Christmas tree!” Pretty smart old man, right? That was that. I got over it soon enough and after the sacred day, my brother and I went about decorating the outside Blue Spruce with tarnished tinsel from people’s discarded curbside trees.
When I was young, in lieu of that almighty tree, I stuffed myself with old Christmas stories. I devoured the old legends of the Christmas tree. That was enough to keep me satisfied. I read stories in a tattered blue Grimm's Fairy Tale book about the “Little Fir” who couldn’t wait to grow up until he found himself cut down, decorated for Christmas, plundered by children, and finally burned and discarded. That took me away to places and thoughts I had never imagined. .
The Christmas tale of St. Boniface, the monk who saved a child from being sacrificed in front of an old oak tree, and saw a small fir tree spring up to honor the event, delighted me. Visions of ancient Druids celebrating eternal life under the moonlight and reveling under the spirit of evergreens and mistletoe was enchanting. It gave a good Jewish girl the satisfaction of Christmastime. I sang loud at the school’s Christmas concert, made sloppy Christmas cookies, tried to wrap presents, and cut out stars, snowflakes and the occasional menorah for my bulletin board.
Now, in defense of my own selfish need for that long wished-for tree, I have to say that the Christmas tree is a universal symbol. It may not be in every household, but it’s a warm inviting icon of the holiday season where everyone seems to be happy and generous of spirit.
Now, I’m coming up on my own family’s 31st Christmas Eve party. I always buy a huge, Frasier Fir that makes the house smell divine. For 30 years I’ve hosted family, neighbors, and a gaggle of folks with no place to go. I always get the biggest Christmas tree I can fit indoors. We have a menorah for Hanukkah, dreidels, and golden covered chocolate coins too. The more the merrier, the bigger the better, and everyone and everything is included.
If you’ve bought a fresh tree, you’ve bought not just a tree, but a legacy. You’re helping a farmer somewhere earn a living, helping open land stay open, and aiding the preservation of green places and earth-friendly practices in the farmer's domain. Even your local farmer, Mr. Sickles, keeps his land invigorated because you’ve helped him and all of us by buying a tree here. I know I would be more than sad if our farm wasn’t here. It’s a peaceful vista right smack in the middle of mad suburbia.
After the big day is done, and New Year’s has come and gone, a Christmas tree does double duty in the yard. Don’t be afraid to keep it perched outside for awhile. Birds will take refuge in your tree during the snow and cold, and the branches can be cut and spread around for a good, protecting mulch against the harsh winter winds that often kill plantings.
If on your tree journey, you’ve found a bird nest tucked away in one, it’s good luck. It’s possible that a song sparrow or a warbler from up north just might have raised a family in your family tree. For me, my tree is my wish come true. I’ve still got the feeling I’ve sneaked quite a bit from the old cookie jar.
Merry, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Happy Kwanzaa to all!