Not that there’s anything wrong with Christmas trees. Even though I’m Jewish, I take delight in the holiday decorations at this time of year, with all its glitter and charm. And when my daughter would squeal in delight at the Christmas fare, I always smiled right along with her.
The tree, however, became a source of an tree of life meaning ever-increasing obsession. She understood that we had a Jewish home and did not adorn a Christmas tree. As a bright and delightful child, she never argued the point with me.
But there was always an unmistakable tone of sadness and regret in her voice when she’d say;
“Mommy, I really like Christmas trees.”
I had briefly considered the idea of a Hanukkah Bush, the tongue-in-cheek satire on Christmas trees that found had its way into some secular Jewish homes. The idea didn’t sit right with me, though. A Christmas tree by any other name is still a Christmas tree.
I had been thinking of something our rabbi had written, about how homes filled with a love of Judaic traditions all year long eliminated the December dilemma. A beautiful sentiment, but for whatever the theory, the reality was that the apples and honey, the Shabbat candles and the sukkah, did not in fact eliminate Christmas envy in my child too young to appreciate the depth of Judaic tradition.
So I got an idea.
I picked up my daughter from pre-school that day.
“So I have been thinking about trees,” I said as I lifted my daughter into her car seat.
“Really?” she said expectantly. It was nearly December, after all, and obsessive four-year-olds are adept at jumping to conclusions.
“No, not a Christmas tree.” I felt the need to make this clear.
“Oh?” If she felt any disappointment, it was masked by intense curiosity.
“I thought it would be nice if we got a Tree of Life.” I explained.
“Like on Shabbat?” She was remembering a metaphorical song of the same name, sung by our cantor when the Torah emerges from the arc.
“Sort of like that,” I continued. “It’s a tree we’ll have in our house all year long. We’ll decorate it for all the Jewish holidays, and maybe even important days for our family too. Like birthdays. Or Mommy and Daddy’s anniversary.”
I don’t think I had ever seen a bigger grin, and my daughter grins some big grins.