To Tree, Or Not To Tree

This is our first official year as empty nesters. It’s brought some interesting changes, most of them positive. Our grocery bill has gone down. The house seems to stay a little tidier. Fewer loads of laundry and dishes being run. No concerns about privacy and discretion when it comes to…well, you know.

At any rate, we’ve adjusted to a quieter house. Which has been good for me, especially, based on the intensity of my academic load. A nice, peaceful house most weekends has been beneficial when it comes to studying and writing.

Of course, our kids are still frequent visitors. Jarrod will drop by every few weeks to see us, and Celeste (often with her hubby Tim and their two feline children) is home for at least a weekend every month or so. They visit just enough that I get a frequent kid fix, which keeps my Mommy heart from getting heavy. They seem happy to still hang out with their parents from time to time, and this makes me happy.

But a few weeks ago, while I was planning for Thanksgiving, I began to give some thought to Christmas, and how their now only occasional presence would bear on holiday preparations. Mostly what I was thinking about was how nice it would be not to have to mess with all the Christmas decorations.

I know what you’re thinking. Why would a Jewish Mother like me even have Christmas decorations to put out in the first place? And that’s a perfectly reasonable question.

I am Jewish. I’m just not particularly devout. I’ve fallen away from practicing Judaism to the degree that I have been known to self-identify as “Jew-ish”, but regardless, I’m still a Jew. By the same token, my husband, although he no longer identifies himself as such, was raised Catholic, so we have observed and celebrated Christmas with his family for our entire married life.

My kids grew up knowing that they were born to parents from different faiths. Despite the confusion this seemed to cause for their friends, they had no problem juggling their interfaith identities. Celeste told me once that she explained it this way: “I’m a hybrid. My mom is Jewish and my dad is Catholic. We get to celebrate all the good holidays.”

So we’ve always had a Christmas tree. And usually a menorah, as well. I think it’s a nice blend of rituals. We love the holiday CDs by Pink Martini, and the Barenaked Ladies, because they both include Hanukkah songs. We blend food traditions too; For me to bake Christmas cookies while Jarrod fries up potato latkes is not unheard of. I like to think we have struck a nice, mixed-faith balance. You might say it’s unorthodox, but it’s always worked for us.

But this year, with work grinding along, finals looming, and a Congressional campaign in full swing, the prospect of decorating for Christmas was overwhelming. I wondered if maybe we could just skip that part. We could still exchange gifts, but would it be so bad to do that without all the hoopla? We could leave all eight tubs of decorations and lights and the seven-foot pre-lit blue spruce in the attic this year. Did anyone really care about all that?

After all, as the kids have gotten older, it’s become more and more difficult to get them fired up to trim the tree. Even when I did the lion’s share of the work, fed them dessert, along with heavily spiked eggnog, and insisted only that they put all their own hand-picked ornaments on the tree when the rest was done, I still felt like they were just doing it to appease me. And when it came time to undecorated and put the house right, I was the Lone Ranger.

The longer I considered it, the more appealing NOT decorating became.

But I wanted to be fair. So I ran the idea past Mark and the kids the night before Thanksgiving.
If I was expecting a strong negative reaction, I couldn’t have been more surprised. A few shoulder shrugs, nods of approval all around, and that was the end of the discussion. Decking the halls at the Interfaith Casa Verde had just been cancelled.

This left me relieved, and slightly puzzled. But I had food to cook, papers to submit, and blogs to write. So I didn’t dwell on it. Until a day or two ago, when finals were over and I resumed normal breathing patterns again.

The house seemed a little too still. And completely un-festive. Then some of the gifts I had ordered online started appearing at the front door. And I wondered; if we didn’t put up the tree, where would we put the presents? If I put a vase of cut flowers on the mantel, would that suffice as a tree? Should I just slide them under the TV cabinet in the den? It was the focal point of the room, after all.

Then I opened a closet and saw the four beautiful needlepoint Christmas stockings I had made for us years ago, hanging neatly on padded hangers, and covered with plastic bags from the dry cleaner. Each one, a labor of love. Together, they had taken me hours and hours to complete.
Back in the days when I wasn’t working full-time and going to school and writing a blog and planning how to make my dream job a reality, I used to do needlepoint in for fun. Of all the decorations I’ve acquired or created over the years, these are by far the most special to me. I couldn’t imagine not displaying them. In fact, Celeste and I had already discussed making a trip to our favorite stitching shop and finding a stocking canvas so I could get started on one for my son-in-law.

I’ll admit it. Even though I’m usually a pragmatist, sometimes, I’m just a squishy, sappy, marshmallow. My practical self was shoved aside, and the marshmallow took over. Seeing the stockings made me think of all the special ornaments that we collected over the years, like the 10 old-timey toy ornaments that Mark and I bought the first year we were married. We still have them all, even though the little reindeer with Cowboy Santa on his back is now missing an antler, and the circus clown has lost a foot. There are many ornaments that I hand-stitched. Christmas art projects from the kids’ school years, a cross-stitched wreath that I made when Celeste was a baby, my collection of Santas. All of them are in those tubs.

And I realized that as much work as it takes to unpack, and display, and then put away, I’m really happy to see it all every year. Those tubs aren’t filled with Christmas memorabilia. They’re filled with memories. It’s my little family’s history. And sometimes, it just feels good to look back at the road you’ve traveled.

We’re putting up the tree this Saturday night. I’m glad I bought eggnog. I wonder where I can find a Foo Fighter ornament…

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