Susan's Blog

Friday, November 11, 2005

A Christmas Tree for Jewish Me

It’s that red and green time of year again. I know because I go to the mall a lot and the change-over has already occurred. Lights, trees, fake presents, carols.

I am Jewish, in sort of a mostly-assimilated, suburban-American kind of way, where Jewishness has few actual outward definitions (it is kind of a state of mind, a cultural affiliation, and of course, certain beliefs in God and how best to live one’s life that I won’t go into here). I was raised to believe that Christmas trees and Christmas decor, and pretty much everything Christmas, is the domain of the Christian, meaning, “not for us.” No problem; as a child, I would watch my neighbor’s rooftop waiting for Santa to land there, knowing he did not come to my house. When I tell Christian friends that story they feel sad; I just smile, however, because I really did not ever feel the lack, even without Santa. My family made holidays very special, whether they were Jewish holidays, or relatively non-denominational holidays, like Thanksgiving or New Year’s Eve. For Chanukah, we had our tinsel Jewish stars and dreidels, our candles, potato latkes, chocolate gelt, one present a night for eight nights, and our electric menorah in the window. I was happy with all that.

The one common denominator for me and my Christian friends were the three Christmas T.V. shows that aired at that time (the late 1960’s): The Grinch, Rudolph, and A Charlie Brown Christmas. There were really only those three, (well, there was also Frosty the Snowman but that was a bit lame), and my parents watched them with us, which told me that these must be high quality shows, stamped with that special “K” for Kosher. They each had their great parts: The Grinch had its tense moments of theft, when Mr. Grinch was stealing stuff from all the unsuspecting Whos; Rudolph had the extremely scary Abominable Snowman (Dad would cover my eyes to protect me); and Charlie Brown had his wonderful friendship with Linus. Linus, the loyal friend, who stood up for Charlie Brown, who braved his bitch sister Lucy’s anger and the rest of those bullies to show everyone “what Christmas is all about!” And to me, that was the coolest thing: Bible-quoting Linus, and then, the tiny pathetic tree that becomes a vivid, fully green tree after he wraps his blanky around it, and gets everyone, even that faithless dog Snoopy, to help decorate it. It was at that moment that I would have pangs about this holiday that everyone but my family celebrated.

And then there was the color. Christmas would spring up overnight, sometime after Halloween disappeared from the stores, and the world would be awash in color, mostly green and red, the ultimate in Goyishe* decor. And that was where the real envy set in. Even as a child I was sensitive to the fact that Christmas decorations were way better than Chanukah. The colors were rich jewel tones, whereas how much can you do decoratively with blue and white? Even if you cheat a little and use periwinkle and cream, it seems wrong for that time of year. One year, a few years ago, I made these garlands of periwinkle silk flowers and ribbons, and festooned them from my porch roof. I wove them through with little white lights. But guess what? When nighttime came, mostly what you saw were — lights. And that made my home look like it was a Christmas-celebrating home, which it could not be.

My Christian friends don’t understand this. “You can have lights, Sue.” No, I just feel like I can’t. Lights on my house, when not emanating from a menorah, signifies Christmas to me, which is a beautiful holiday, but not my own. It just doesn’t feel like me, and I can’t explain it more than that.

Until today. My husband showed me this tree from Urban Outfitters!

We may have found the perfect solution for Jews of a certain age suffering from Christmas Envy.

*not meant to offend, but merely to describe something as “non-Jewish.” As Seinfeld said, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that!” đŸ™‚

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