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All the Trimmings

posted Thursday December 8th, 2011

We have a new babysitter starting tonight, and she’s Jewish. Not Jewish like me, but Jewish like I suspect she actually goes to synagogue.

So I’m feeling a little self conscious about the giant Christmas tree in our living room.

In our nearly 14 years of marriage, Ray and I have often had trees, but of the tabletop variety — and fake. One year we did get a live one but I didn’t water it enough and it died almost immediately, so I don’t count it.

Last night I asked a question on Facebook: Am I supposed to decorate the back of the tree? All my Jewish friends said yes; my friends who’ve actually had Christmas trees said no. I thought that was funny, that the Jews wouldn’t dream of “cheating” in this regard, and yet so many of us have such a sliding scale approach to the traditions and tenets of Judaism. Like how my grandmother would never cook a ham in the house, but she loved to eat bacon out. Or how in my mind, a tabletop tree is okay, but a real one from a Christmas tree lot is somehow over the edge.

For so many of us, it’s really all about family traditions anyhow. And that’s certainly the case this year. Ever since Ray’s mom died almost three years ago, his father’s been bringing her stuff over to the house. First it was her sewing machine, then a silver tea set, then boxes of random things, and finally, the Christmas decorations.

That one really hit me. We’d always celebrated Christmas at Ray’s parents’ house; each year they invited the girls over (alone!) to decorate their big tree — a full-size but a fake, the kind that’s pre-lit and folds up. I think the tree’s someplace in our house, too, but we didn’t get that out. Ray did show up in the living room the other day with the Christmas decoration box, and set it down next to our boxes of Christmas and Hanukkah stuff.

The year my mother in law died, I convinced my father in law to have Christmas at his house. We brought most of the food, he decorated the tree. It was nice; as nice as it could be under the circumstances. But obviously (and understandably) not for him – later he announced he wouldn’t be hosting Christmas again.  So that Christmas box hadn’t been opened for years, had probably been sitting in the hot garage, and when I tried to get it open, the duct tape covering it had hardened.

“I can’t open the box,” I told Ray. He accused me of not trying hard enough. Of course he was right.

I was afraid of the box, afraid it would upset the girls, afraid of that giant tree. What if it looked like crap when I was done? I stood in front of it and sang a little song in my head:

O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree, you kinda scare the shit outta me….

Eventually, the thing had to get decorated. Last night we lit a fire, kept the TV off for once, and Ray ran to the hardware store for lights. I was impressed that he knew to start with big ones on the bottom, putting the smaller up top. I had no idea that’s how it’s done. I got out the garlands I usually drape over the mantleplace and wrapped them around the tree; they looked pretty good.

Then Ray got out a knife and opened his family’s box of Christmas decorations. And you know what? It wasn’t as sad as I thought it would be. By bedtime (okay, a little past) we’d almost finished. (Above are the results, as of last night.)

It didn’t look perfect, like my  mother in law’s always did. The live tree tilts just a little, and there isn’t really enough room for it in our tiny space. When I asked that Facebook question about the back of the tree, someone joked that that’s where you put all the kids’ handmade ornaments. I’ll be honest, I hid some of the uglier ones back there. But most of them — including the ones Ray made as a kid — are front and center. And they look awesome.

I bet our babysitter will think so, too.

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Tags: Filed under: culture, family, holidays by Amysilverman

7 Responses to “All the Trimmings”

  1. We always do the back. It’s like editing. No holes.
    After my kids left home, I could not bring myself to buy a fresh tree because the memories of my little girls in the Christmas tree lot only bolstered my seasonal holiday blues.
    We bought a fake tree about three years ago. Now many of the pre-strung lights don’t work. And the thing smells funky.

  2. What a brilliant, poignant piece Amy. <3

  3. Does it mean that my conversion is complete because I say decorate the back? I would use ones where there were duplicates like gneric ball types.

  4. I love this piece, Amy! I voted for decorate the whole tree, that’s what we do. Your tree is beautiful, I’m envious! P.s. I have a recipe for “Christmas tree food” if you’d like it. You just pour it in the reservoir like you’d normally water.

  5. Your tree made me smile, while your blog made me suspiciously teary. A friend of mine recently turned me onto GIAPH, and I’m glad she did. You share a nice slice of your life with the rest of us, opening eyes and hearts simultaneously. Thank you, and Merry Christmas to you and your family.

  6. Beautiful piece! All of our handmade ornaments are front and center, at eye-level on the tree. The older they are, the higher up they go. All of the indestructible stuff goes along the lower half of the tree, where their durability will get tested by sticky toddler hands. The fragile stuff either is up near the top or not at all. As for the back, I use it for overflow.

    There were many years I did not bother with the back. Each year we all make at least one new ornament and accumulate at least one more, resulting in too many to fit on the front. The back is never decorated as heavily in front, which may explain why our tree also tilted.

    This will be the second year we use a fake, pre-lit tree. It is still packed in its box in my aunt’s garage at the moment, but soon it will be assembled and adorned and adored. The kids will think it is beautiful, and I won’t have to continuously forget to water it and sweep underneath.

    So many families we know celebrate both Christmas and Hannukah, we attend events for both each year as well. I have to say I certainly enjoy celebrating both, and I love watching my kids ask their friends about their traditions and then answer similar questions about their own. It is an extra Holiday treat to witness the kids become themselves amidst the sugar, plastic toys, and crumpled paper.

  7. And now, with all the authority vested in me from decades of open-minded Christian upbringing, I pronounce your tree “The Best Christmas Tree Ever.” It is so obviously full of love, and that’s what good living is actually all about. Have a blessed holiday season.

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