We’re an interfaith family (New York Reform Jew and California Presbyterian) and we usually celebrate Christmas in California and Hanukah in Brooklyn. When we don’t go to California it’s always that Shakespearean question: to get or not to get a Christmas tree. Last year we got one. This year, we’re not going to bother. Here’s a Smartmom from last year about our Charlie Brown Xmas tree.
Smartmom bought her Charlie Brown-style Christmas tree from the Vermont tree farmers who set up in front of the Park Slope Food Co-op every year. It was $20, which is a lot to pay for what was more like a branch. But the gangly tree caught her eye and seemed lovable in its own — slightly pathetic — way.
As Smartmom walked home, she knew her little tree was a far cry from the huge, tree that Hepcat’s mom always sets up in her humongous California living room and decorates with a lifetime’s collection of vintage ornaments. The fragrance of pine and hot apple cider permeates the house as a fire roars.
Christmas with Hepcat’s family is a Jewish girl’s fantasy, and Smartmom loves that her inter-faith children have such holiday’s in their memory banks of childhood.
Smartmom knows she could never match that level of Christmasness: she’s Jewish, for Buddha’s sake, and any attempt at Christmas is fraught with inexperience and ambivalence. But this year, the family is spending Christmas in Brooklyn.
This has happened three times before in her children’s lifetimes. Turns out, Teen Spirit is thrilled because all of his friends will be home from college and he’s excited to hang out with them. The Oh So Feisty One has mixed feelings about not being in California, but she, too, is glad to be near her friends.
Walking up Seventh Avenue with her tiny tree conveniently tucked under her arm, Smartmom remembered 2007 when they bought a huge Christmas tree and it was like Rockefeller Center in the apartment because the Oh So Feisty One kept bringing friends in and out to see it.
Now Smartmom worried that OSFO and Teen Spirit would feel cheated by this year’s tiny tree. But she tried not to worry about it. She was already stressing about how to make this as nice a Christmas as the one’s they spend in California. O the pressure, o the guilt, o the need to meet everyone’s expectations at this time of year.
When Smartmom got home with her tree, Hepcat rolled his eyes (it sure looked that way to Smartmom). He wondered how they were going to get the tiny tree to stand up in the metal tree holder intended for a much larger tree.
“Don’t worry I’ll figure it out,” Hepcat said sounding alternately annoyed and excited at a challenge that required a trip into the metal tool box. When he got his saw out, Smartmom knew things were getting complicated.
“Don’t worry. I just need to saw off a few branches,” he said.
“But there won’t be much tree left!” she told him.
“Calm down,” he said.
When he went out to Tarzian Hardware for more supplies, Smartmom realized that this project was becoming a real production. It might have been easier just to get a bigger tree.
Smartmom waited anxiously for Hepcat to return. Why did holidays feel like a referendum on her capabilities as a mother and a wife? Would this little tree be enough for Christmas?
Finally, Hepcat returned, and Smartmom watched as her handy (i.e. non-Jewish) husband, a genius at solving random engineering problems, made it possible for her tiny tree to stand. Smartmom gave him a big kiss as relief pulsed through her.
Smartmom found all their ornaments in a mildewed bag in the basement. It was like a reunion with old friends. Sadly, she had to throw out quite a few that were growing mold on them.
Later, Diaper Diva and Ducky came over to join in on the tiny tree trimming. Smartmom even made hot chocolate. The tree was exactly as tall as 5-year-old Ducky, and she had a great time decorating.
When Teen Spirit woke up (it was 2 pm), he came into the room and stared at the sweet little tree.
“I know, I know. It’s a Charlie Brown tree,” Smartmom said in anticipation of a snarky remark.
“I like it. I really do. I just think we should put a huge ornament on it so it’ll droop,” he said.
Teen Spirit felt moved to download some of his favorite Christmas songs: “Blue Christmas” by Elvis Presley, “Fairytale Christmas” by the Pogues and “Merry Christmas, Baby” by Otis Redding.
Smartmom sat on her new couch and observed the scene, which was like something out of a Frank Capra Christmas movie. Her interfaith family was having an idyllically good time decorating their tiny tree. Ducky was busy cutting out a paper star and coloring it with red and green crayons. Diaper Diva was alternately napping and supervising Ducky. Teen Spirit, inspired by his Christmas playlist, decided that he was going to write a Christmas song and was fiddling with various chords, melodies and lyrics. Hepcat found tiny battery-operated lights that fit perfectly on the tiny tree.
And OSFO she took one look at the scene and made a bee-line for a friend’s house.