Well, it took all year, but I’ve finally fulfilled my 2014 New Year’s resolution: We’ve practically made it through the holiday season and I haven’t picked one fight with my husband about whether we can have a Christmas tree this year. (For the record, in case you couldn’t guess: I’m pro-tree, he’s anti.) I consider successfully making a conscious effort to avoid weeks of rancor and possible couch-sleeping mature of me. Besides, it wouldn’t have worked. It never works. He always wins. If the Maccabees taught us anything, it’s that forces of stubborn dissent are always stronger than those of modernizing assimilationism. Such is the true meaning of Hanukkah.
The tree question, and just what about it gets Jews in such a tizzy, has always been a tough one for me. I get why the overt religiosity makes it so you shouldn’t have a nativity scene, and, also, because it’s creepy to worship a baby. (To me! You may feel differently!) But a tree is just a… tree. Ashkenazi Jews traditionally hail from places where precisely such trees abound. Far from being an overtly Christian symbol (I know, I know, there’s something about the wood, but I highly doubt that the cross on which that baby would one day lose his life was made from a nice Douglas fir), they didn’t even become popular in the English-speaking word until Queen Victoria put one up at Sandringham, and she had a vaguely Jewish Prime Minister—or formerly Jewish. Or secretly Jewish. (The details are beside the point.) As for lights, Hanukkah is supposed to be the festival of them, but every time I suggested hanging a few strands of them on the outside the house, my mother used to look at me as though I’d just announced my intention to take communion.
And I do understand. The logic is perfectly clear: We don’t get to have these things, delightful and festive though they may be, because we are Jewish. But in doing so, we define ourselves by what we aren’t rather than what we are, a construction that has always felt problematic to me. I know who I am. I’m a Jew who has always loved Christmas. I love the seasonality of it. The celebration of a year winding down. The smells of pine and cinnamon and getting to drink champagne at odd times of the day. That’s who I am, and I don’t need to prove anything to anyone in the privacy of my own home.
But this is what I didn’t say this year. I’ve been filibustered out of my Christmas tree, and I don’t have the two-thirds majority I need to override it. (The dog is on my side. The cat, on the other hand, converted to Islam years ago in solidarity during the Ground Zero mosque controversy. It’s a long story.) And yet, today, a holiday miracle occurred. My husband, squinting in the Los Angeles sunshine, said apropos of nothing: “You know, it would be nice to have some greenery in the house. Maybe some pinecones. Not a tree or anything too flashy, but just something wintry on the fireplace.”
Longing for the cold this time of year, I smiled. Wintry is more than good enough for me.