Sunday, December 24, 2006

Call me an artificial sap

So there's this odd foreign object taking up real estate in our foyer these days. It's bushy and almost green, and in all seriousness, I have no idea what it's made of. It has a bunch of lights embedded in it, like so many CNN correspondents within a Sylvan Army. And what will soon be my daughter's annual December haul is strewn underneath it, atop a round red piece of felt at the object's base.

Yeah, it's a Christmas tree.

After never giving trees much thought through a Jewish childhood and early adulthood, and successfully skirting the issue through the first six years of an interfaith marriage (thanks, largely, to an apartment too small to accommodate anything larger than a ficus tree), I was prepared to weigh the arguments on either side of the debate this year.

But I got sick, and between CT scans and holiday shopping, I figured I had successfully circumnavigated the Christmas tree debate for another year.

Then, the package from my father-in-law arrived mid-week. Contained within was a well-loved, artificial Christmas tree, and three strands of multi-colored lights. My wife called me at work to apprise me of our foyer's new tenant.

I thought about it for roughly four seconds.

"Sounds great," I startled myself by saying. "I'll help you with the lights when I get home."

Somewhere inside me, I knew I was eventually going to have to decide whether having a tree was actually going to be an issue, or just another in the long list of Things I Hope To Avoid By Inaction.

I choose not to make it an issue. Yeah, part of me agrees with writer (and like me, transplanted Milwaukeean with a daughter and non-Jewish partner) Lauren Fox, who wrote in the New York Times, that "a Christmas tree is the last lost battleground of the secular Jew." Part of me worries that it's a slippery slope from here... next stop - Vacation Bible School!

But most of me looks at my wife. My Lutheran wife, who knows - and recites in Hebrew - the blessings when we light the menorah at Chanukah. Who taught our two-and-a-half year old the words "Baruch Ata Adonai" so she can join in saying the Chanukah blessings. And I think: You know, neither one of us is especially religious. But she's embraced this part of my tradition to the extent that she knows almost as much about it as I do. (For example, the first Chanukah blessing translates to, "Blessed art thou, o Lord our God... something something something... Chanukah." And, she knows that we light the menorah from right to left, as Hebrew is read. Or we light it left to right, despite how Hebrew is read.)

So rather than - passively - not minding the tree peeking out the window at us as we cruise up the driveway, I'm planning on fully enjoying the experience of one of her traditions.

And, as a side benefit, it's helping me feel that much more Jewish. Like, when I wandered into the Christmas section of Walgreen's to look for our tree's one ornament (an Eastern Bluebird with an authentic Cornell Lab of Ornithology chirp), and had to ask a salesclerk whether I had, in fact, located a Christmas tree ornament, or whether I had picked up one of those Christmas knick-knack decorations whose purpose was never explained in Hebrew school. Also, as a 37-year-old Christmas tree novice, I had no complaints with the fact that each of the strands of lights was approximately 730 feet long and managed to knot - and reknot - itself with every turn of the tree. Whereas an authoritative gentile would have ceased whistling "Sleigh Ride" and taken the name of someone's lord in vain.

So that's my rationale.

As for the string of lights in the window over the Christmas tree... well, they just look sort of nice.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

If you're looking for decorating ideas for next year, you might try

(With thanks to the Wellington, NZ, Dominion Post)

A reader in Maryland