It’s the weekend after Thanksgiving and I’m pushing a three-foot Christmas tree around my local Whole Foods. I’m totally uncomfortable and I’m not sure if it’s because people are staring at the lady pushing a tree around with her eggs and bread, or if my Jewish guilt has gotten the best of me.
It’s that time of year again: the season of my forbidden pine tree.
For most of my adult life, I’ve turned my cheek to religious “rules” and allowed myself a tree as soon as they were propped up along the sidewalks, enticing me with their sweet, forest smells. When I first moved in with my Jewish husband, I placed a six-foot Douglas fir decorated with blue and white lights and a small menorah in the center of our living room.
“It’s a Hanukkah bush!” I declared.
“This is so wrong,” he shook his head.
I handed him his plate of bagel and lox and reiterated the fact that evergreens were used to celebrate winter long before Christianity bogarted the whole thing. It’s just a tree, became my mantra. “You’re a Jew!” It’s just a tree. “So you celebrate Christmas now?” It’s just a tree.
After some time, my husband learned to simply roll his eyes at my rebellion. It was innocent enough, after all. There were no Christmas presents or ornaments. There were no Christmas carols sung. My annual pine tree purchase is something we don’t mention to his religious parents, even though I’m sure they have caught a glimpse of it in a Facebook photo or two—a photo bomb in its own right. Not especially religious ourselves, we still make efforts to continue Jewish tradition by having a rabbi marry us under a chuppah, lighting our menorah during Hanukkah, and planning the occasional Shabbat dinner with friends. Though I feel slightly naughty indulging in the tree every year, the guilt has never stopped me.
But this year, as my Hanukkah bush glided around the supermarket with me, I was more concerned than usual. I’m a new mother and realized that I had to consider, maybe not this year, but soon enough, what a tree would mean to my daughter.
Lila was born with the aid of a Jewish midwife named Esther who said the Shehecheyanu (a Jewish prayer to mark special occasions) as she held her above my battered lower regions. We held a naming ceremony that our family traveled from all over the country to attend. Gathering in our backyard, we watched a rabbi bless her, welcome her into the Jewish faith, and give her a Hebrew name—Josefa in honor of my grandfather, Joseph.
There is a strong sense of Jewish pride on both sides of our families, and my husband and I would love for our daughter to keep the tradition alive as we have in our small ways. Now I must consider if this evergreen sitting in our living room will make Lila feel like less of a Jew.
I paid for the tree, awkwardly admitting to the cashier that I wasn’t even Christian, but loved pine trees. He laughed in a whataya gonna do sort of way, unsure of how he was supposed to react to a Jew buying a Christmas tree.
The tree sits undecorated next to our fireplace, simply a pine tree and nothing more. I battle with some guilt for bringing it into our home, and I’m a bit uneasy at the thought of what our family would say. But stronger than the guilt is the belief that everyone has a right to form their own set of values.
I do hope that my daughter learns to be proud of her Jewish heritage. I also hope that she feels confident in choosing her own path and deciding what is important to her within the standard practice of Judaism.
For now, I will continue to consider my tree a gift from nature, rather than a symbol of Christianity. If you strip off the ornaments, tinsel, and angel topper, it’s just as beautiful. At least to this Jew.