An Inherited, And Now Embraced, Christmas Tradition

Dec 19, 2017

At my house, Christmas trees didn't exist to be decorated; they existed to be conquered.

It's a reflection of the exquisite and arbitrary taste of my mother, the wife of an art museum director.

Accordingly, skirmishes over light placement sometimes turned into heated battles.

One year, exasperated by my mother’s barked orders ("Bury the cords! Fill in that hole!"), my older and fully adult brother Robin, in a fit of pique, toppled the tree and stormed off.

Ornament placement was freer, but still had to conform to a laundry list of rules.

Glitter Santa, a favorite despite its tackiness, required precise placement by a light to best display its glittery potential.

Other ornaments, sentimental favorites among us kids, were tolerated by Mom, but relegated to less-visible branches. So I would stealthily move a precious Snoopy ornament to flank a front and center Angel, only for it to be later discovered and repositioned on the back of the tree, where it would languish in obscurity for yet another year.

Now I've risen from foot soldier to general of my own tree.

My mom’s voice ringing in my head, I always use colored lights. She frowned upon the white lights that are now so popular.

Credit pixabay.com/en/christmas-lights-focus-xmas-18106 / Creative Commons

These nouvelle, faux-Edwardian arrivistes were, to her way of seeing things, not legitimate. Colored lights were truer to Mom's vision, firmly set in the 1950s, of a traditional tree, one that struck the perfect hi-low balance: colored lights but no tinsel; Glitter Santas and classy abstract wooden ornaments.

Why so many rules?

Because we were breaking a big one. Jews weren't supposed to celebrate Christmas.

Did I mention we're Jewish?

As Jews, my family brought to Christmas all the zeal of the newly-converted.

Today, this version -- our version -- of Christmas, like all family traditions, no matter how kooky or when started, feels very, very real... and totally mine.

Julia Cafritz, a musician and teacher, lives in Florence, Massachusetts.