I grew up in a secular Jewish household. Our immediate family celebrated Hanukkah and Christmas, but our Christmas tree was always tiny. Sometimes it wasn’t a tree at all, but just several branches of evergreen placed inside a large water-filled ceramic crock. The decorations were colored balls of glass and candy canes. I’d visit other people’s houses and admire their large trees with carved wooden ornaments, glass stars, and tinsel. When I have a home of my own, I told myself, my tree will be tall and I’ll have unusual decorations that I pack away to re-use and enjoy year after year.
Fast forward to Christmas 2020 the year of the Coronavirus. Eager to spread the positive feelings of Good Will and Peace on Earth, my husband Peter bought our tree early—before Thanksgiving. He intended to select a tree that would touch our ceiling, but to do that we’ve set it on a pedestal. The tree stands centered behind our large front window where it can be seen and enjoyed.
Decorated back and front with several strings of colored lights, as I unwrap my boxes of ornaments I relive the past. Many remind me of past Christmases and people who are no longer in my life. A tree ornament is a “safe gift” to give co-workers and during my years writing at various publications I’ve accrued painted glass birds, snowmen, and angels. My husband Peter collected sailboats, sheep, and Santa ornaments. One year, when friends from the church choir came for a party, they brought ornaments in the shape of musical instruments. A Napoleon and Josephine I purchased from the Nature Company, no longer in business, resemble small dolls. Stuffed butterflies and tiny Santa’s riding in sleighs are remnants of the inventory from a giftshop I once owned in the 1980s.
Smiling children’s faces look out at me from several of the tree branches. My daughter and two sons all made a series of ornaments in school, in theater productions, and in Scouts which I’ve faithfully saved. Added to those, are newer ornaments with the handprints and footprints of grandchildren.
While still in college I hosted “Decorate the Tree” parties. Everyone brought an ornament as a gift and in this way, I was able to quickly amass a large collection of ornaments, when I started with none. The handmade glazed cookie dough, paper, and cardboard creations did not withstand eventual decomposition, but one ornament from that era did miraculously survive. I still have the little miniature quilt stretched across sticks of wood with the embroidered “Merry” made by my artist friend Dena Blum. I’ve lost touch with Dena, but the word “Merry” still graces my tree.
The oldest item in my collection is a Huichol Indian God’s Eye I purchased in Mexico at age fifteen while traveling with my parents. The wool is disintegrating, but I like to wire it up on the top of the tree in place of a star. The Indians attach items as a form of prayer to their God’s Eyes, for example the might use a ball of cotton to symbolize clouds if they need rain. I’m still debating what symbol I could attach to my God’s Eye to represent healing and eradication of disease.
The entire tree, we currently call a Christmas Tree, represents everlasting life. To life or in the words of my Jewish ancestors L’chaim, Healing, and to Peace Among Us All in the coming year 2021, I extend to my readers a Holiday greeting.