Do I have a true Christmas tree story for you!
But first, the Christmas and Hanukkah holidays are right around the corner. In my beautiful Chicago, branches and tree trunks are covered with sparkling, white lights. High rises are decorated in their finery, and the storefronts are a marvel. You cannot help but feel a burst of joy as you walk down Michigan Avenue. Shoppers of all ages fill the streets, holding hands and carrying packages bursting with presents for their families and friends. There is one word to describe the city…radiant! This is the reason December is my favorite month of the year. It is the month of ceremony, history and love.
During each holiday season, my mind wanders back to a few of my favorite holiday stories. I hope that you enjoy this true story about a little Jewish girl and a Christmas tree.
Through the Eyes of a Little Jewish Girl -A Christmas Tree Story
Years ago, our family lived in a homey, two-story house on Kahala Avenue in Honolulu, Hawaii. With two dogs, two cats, and two daughters, our home was constantly filled with noise and laughter. Our daughters’ numerous friends, of all nationalities and religions, ran in and out of the house, leaving mountains of flip flops at the front door. I ran a loose ship, not because I didn’t care about the mess, but rather because I did care. I wanted my girls’ friends to feel welcome at our home. Knowing they were under my watchful eye gave me a sense of ease. So, I made our Kahala home inviting to children.
Unfortunately, there was one time of the year when our home was relatively quiet. Christmas. Our family celebrated Hanukkah while our daughter’s friends all celebrated Christmas. This was a problem for one of my daughters and made her feel separated and different from her friends. As a little Jewish girl, she was not a part of the holiday spirit of Christmas.
As much as I explained the significance and difference between the two holidays, this daughter of mine would not be consoled. She wanted to be like the rest of her friends and to celebrate Christmas with a tree all aglow with lights and presents underneath.
So began a three-year saga with my little Jewish daughter and her Christmas trees…
The First Year
The first year, my tenacious daughter removed photos from our family album and taped them to the wall in our den in the shape of a Christmas tree! This “picture tree” was affixed very low on the wall, with real presents she had made, even for our dogs and cats, lying on the carpet beneath the tree. I could not believe my eyes!
We lit the Hanukkah candles that year with these photographs of us smiling and holding hands in the background shaped like a tree. We told our traditional Hanukkah stories, sang our Hanukkah songs and passed out presents. All the while, I was smiling to myself. I allowed my daughter to leave her “picture tree” on the wall, praising her creativity, but again trying to help her understand her four-thousand-year-old Jewish heritage.
The Second Year
As the Christmas tree saga continued, the next year I was in for a bigger surprise. One evening as I drove into our driveway, I noticed red, green and white twinkling Christmas lights flashing on and off! My daughter stood on a ladder inside and was decorating our large, indoor palm trees to look like Christmas trees! Again, I was speechless. With a smile, I thought to myself, “This daughter of mine has determination, resilience and spunk — great qualities if channeled properly!”
I remember walking into our living room smiling and laughing, carrying Hanukkah presents and our Menorah that held eight candles. Jewish families around the world would light one candle each night, for eight nights, to celebrate the miracle reflecting this holy time. I explained to my daughter that differing religious beliefs did not set her apart from her friends, but rather made her the unique individual whom others loved. To put her at ease, I suggested she invite as many friends as she wanted the next night to watch us light our Menorah. I would tell her friends the story of Hanukkah and she could hand out little gifts. She was thrilled, as was I, when she happily agreed!
The next evening turned into a great night for everyone. I could tell by my daughter’s body language how happy and proud she felt as she lit the Menorah candles. This was her first experience in realizing how important it is to be true to yourself. Everyone was happy! The other children asked me questions, and everyone loved their little presents. I served potato latkes, a traditional Jewish pancake made with grated potatoes. All seemed well…
The Christmas Tree Story Continues
I thought the “Saga of the Christmas Trees” had been put to rest following our success with the Hanukkah party the year prior. I was mistaken, however, because the next year…
As December came around, at first nothing appeared lit up or out of the ordinary in our home that season. That is until one night when I went upstairs to tuck my daughter into bed and kiss her good night. To my surprise there was a tiny, live Christmas tree on her nightstand, all lit up and aglow with lights flickering on and off.
Thinking, “Here we go again!” I smiled inwardly as I sat down on the edge of her bed. My daughter looked up at me with her huge, green eyes and said, “I am proud of my heritage, Mom. I am proud of who I am. I just love how happy everyone is during the holidays and I also love my little, live tree with its flickering lights.”
Smiling broadly, I responded with tears in my eyes, “I understand my darling girl. I totally understand. For you see, the holidays are my favorite time of the year too with the joy of giving, laughter, and family togetherness.” And with that, my daughter and I gave one another an extra-long hug. As I turned off her light, my last image was of my little Jewish girl lying next to the tiny Christmas tree, all her own, all aglow in its special place next to her bed.
And the next year…there was no tree.
With that I’d like to wish you all a happy start to the holiday season!