Tuesday, December 21, 2010

'Tis the Season: Part 2

Jake said, “The fake tree was a good investment, Mom.”

Wednesday we decorated the Christmas tree at my house, and yes—it’s a fabulously fake white one. The fact that it’s fake—and white—means it’s as far from my family’s holiday tree tradition as you can get.

That tradition—which I’ve failed to carry on—is one of my absolute favorite childhood memories. My dad would wrestle a fragrant Frazer Fir into a stand and string it with lights. When I was in my teens, I was allowed to help him arrange the fat colored bulbs, backed with cookie-cutter shaped aluminum reflectors, so that the colors were perfectly balanced.

When we went to bed Christmas Eve, that’s all that was on the tree. Next morning we awoke to find it transformed by Santa and his elves. It’s branches hung with ornaments, sugar cookies and candy canes, then layered with a shimmering veil of carefully placed tinsel. It set the tone for many a magical morning.

I married a Jewish man who was anti-holiday to boot, so until Jake was born I dared do no more than put up a tiny tabletop tree. Until I reached my parents’ house on Christmas day and sat in the glow of their big tree with the fat colored bulbs, I never felt that the holiday was really complete.

Jake’s arrival changed that. We became fast friends with a couple that made annual excursions to Pennsylvania to cut down their tree with a saw. And we tagged along. Our trees were never taller than what our golden retriever could knock over with a strong swipe of her tail. But I loved stringing the lights, hanging the ornaments and tossing the tinsel.

Divorce put an end to the tree-cutting, but Jake and I created a new tradition of venturing to the same nursery each year, picking out a tree, and decorating it together. One year his stepsister Carly, who only celebrates Hanukkah, asked to help. She brought Jake an ornament to hang on the tree—and a new tradition was born. Then came the December when, overcome with the desire to knock tradition for a loop, I bought the white tree during a post-Christmas 50% off sale. And began collecting blue, white and silver ornaments to decorate it with.

Which led to Wednesday night and Jake’s blessing. Funny that he came out with it in a year when I’ve found myself missing the smell of evergreen. And second-guessing my impulsive purchase. But after Jake and Carly had gone home, and I sat in the glow of the white lights admiring their handiwork, I realized that it’s not the tree that symbolizes Christmas to me. It’s the ritual of decorating it. Jake and Carly are my elves...making holiday magic.

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