It began as a request and evolved into a mandate from my wife over our twenty-nine year marriage: no Christmas trees in our home. It wasn't an unreasonable expectation. After all, we are Jewish. Still, the holidays never seemed complete to me without the smell of fresh pine and the flicker of tiny lights reflecting on garlands of tinsel and festive ornaments. I'm mindful and respectful of the season's religious significance. Still, unlike many people succumbing to the politically correct and somewhat benign greeting of "Happy Holidays," it always felt both right and comfortable for me to wish others a "Merry Christmas," whether I formally celebrated the holiday or not. In fact, when I was a child, I did. Our annual purchase and decoration of a Christmas tree was a celebratory tradition in my home. Plus, my memories were shaped by yearly television specials of Charlie Brown, the Grinch and Scrooge and none of them celebrated Hanukkah.
This year, the pleas of two of our three children were unusually persuasive, "Couldn't we finally, get a tree of our own?" My wife's arguments against the idea were no less passionate than in the past. It was disrespectful to our heritage she maintained, and particularly to her own parents, who had long since voiced their disapproval of such a public acknowledgement of Christmas. Plus, my wife added, our son was terribly allergic to every type of tree used to commentate the holiday, so bringing one into our home was asking for trouble.
I then suggested a compromise: an artificial tree, perhaps aluminum, pre-decorated with lights. Our twenty-two year old daughter answered the challenge as would any modern woman, by immediately searching the Internet. At this point, our quest took on a comical tone. We narrowed our search to pre-flocked, pre-lighted and decorated artificial trees no taller than four feet, convincing ourselves that the smaller the tree, the less the sacrilege. The exercise was incredibly enjoyable. We laughed and occasionally felt our spirits lift until a price check revealed that, when it came to trees, fake often costs many times more than the real thing. Finally, after the better part of an hour, victory seemed within our grasp. Not only had we found a reasonably priced and respectfully diminutive "tree," but it was silver with blue ornaments, the raditional colors of the Jewish holiday. We are picking up our find this morning, an outing that feels more like a clandestine criminal endeavor than a new family tradition. If only we can convince mom that it is actually a Hanukkah bush, that would be a true Christmas miracle.