A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the struggle I have as a Jewish parent when my children express a wish for a beautiful Christmas tree. I confessed that their pleas awaken my own desire for the smells, creativity and splendor the annual entrance of decorated greenery welcomes into one's home. But in the end, I explained how my personal resolution to the dilemma involved appreciating our Hanukkah tradition of celebrating the magic of light, especially after its absence during Hurricane Sandy. I decorated our fireplace with cards, sparkly blue and silver tape, silver-painted branches and icicle ornaments. I observed that for us, the light of the Hanukkah menorah candles would refract all colors, including red and green.
I want share how friends and readers responded to that blog -- and the gifts I received after writing about my conflict.
In the center of my fireplace we now light a pine-scented candle, infusing the fragrance of the country into our living room as the candle burns. My friend Claire, who is Catholic, pounded the pavement to find this perfect gift of candlelight for us, which was accompanied by five different kinds of homemade Christmas cookies. My friend Maureen (also Catholic) delivered a magnificent box of assorted pinecones, branches and a perfumed ball carrying desired bark and pine smells to our home. On strings hanging from columns on the sides of the fireplace we have clipped holiday cards that arrive daily in the mail with angelic faces of friends' children wishing joy and peace. It's not a tree, but a feeling of love, friendship and giving surrounds our hearth. My yoga teacher, Lisa, shared my blog with her friends and helps me celebrate "the light within" as she disseminated it without. Thank you, my friends, who give with full hearts.
While writing about my conflict ruffled some feathers -- one reader found it offensive to interfaith couples -- other readers graciously shared their experiences and ideas for resolving the dilemma. I was heartened to observe respectful and enlightening conversations emerge between commentators of different faiths eager to learn about and communicate aspects of different traditions. One commentator, who happens to be my friend Molly, reminded me of the special, non-religious place of the tree for her as a symbol of winter and the cycles of nature. One of my new friends, Shokee, a reader from Pakistan, teaches me over and again about the gift of writing. She responds to my blogs with thoughts about her own experiences with writing, also full of heart.
How we read and approach the stories of others is all-important. How can we interpret with a reflective heart? We can simultaneously celebrate our own traditions and welcome the beauty of those of others. My daughter and I eagerly await the arrival of the Alvin Ailey dance company at New York's City Center during the holiday season. We make sure to pick a performance that includes the Ailey classic, "Revelations." The piece profoundly moves us both, connecting us to African American history and culture. For my dancer-daughter, the modern Horton techniques she learns in dance class are embodied with vitality and dynamism. Revelations includes many Christian allusions from the first "Sorrow" section of dances with the song "Fix me Jesus," to the middle section, "Take me to the Water," that enacts a baptism, to the final section celebrating gospel music. We leave clapping, dancing and singing "Rocka my soul in the bosom of Abraham," the last song set in a southern Baptist church.
"Revelations" never fails to be one of my most spiritual experiences every year. It makes my holidays happy, even though I am neither African American nor Christian. And this year and last we ended up seeing the Ailey company also perform a piece called "Minus 16" by Ohad Naharin, an Israeli choreographer. "Minus 16" includes singing a traditional Passover song in Hebrew and a dance that brings members of the audience of all ages, creeds and religion onto the stage. What better way to celebrate the joy of the holiday season?