My First Christmas Tree

By Elizabeth Fishel

Are you Hannukah or Christmas? That was the December question a preschool buddy asked my sons years ago. “Both” was their answer.

As a Jewish mother of a certain age, I’ve always done an interfaith dance for the holidays. I’ve toggled between my Hannukah heritage and my husband’s Christmas traditions.

At home in Oakland, we’d light the Menorah with our sons, spin the dreydels, and present eight nights of socks and pajamas and Lego sets. For Christmas, we’d pack another bag of gifts for extended family and hop a plane to Boston to celebrate at my mother-in-law’s house. There we’d enjoy the fragrant tree she decorated with handmade paper angels and old craft projects from her kids who were now parents themselves.

Our East Bay home remained tree-free, like my childhood apartment, growing up. We considered it a badge of honor not to succumb to the Hannukah bushes that graced other Jewish friends’ living rooms. Instead, my family of origin white-knuckled our way through Christmas at the movies and Chinese restaurants. It was the right thing to do, but fighting the mainstream was not always easy.

Then this year, fate intervened — twice. My beloved mother-in-law died in February, and, well, of course you know the other one — Covid has put the Kibosh on cross-country travel.

This will be the first family Christmas I’ve had to make happen on my own. Even though my sons are now thirty-somethings, I hate to let them down. So I gave the greenlight to my husband to pick up a tiny, table-top Christmas tree in a bright red container.

We’ll string up some delicate lights and maybe some popcorn and candy canes, because this is the year we need all the rituals, harmony, and cheer we can muster to get us through the darkness.

But I can’t help it: we’re having latkes for Christmas Eve.

Our mini-tree and menorah peacefully co-exisiting
Our mini-tree and menorah peacefully co-exisiting

Written by

Elizabeth Fishel is a journalist, writing instructor, and author of five nonfiction books including Sisters; Reunion; and Getting To 30 (with Jeffrey Arnett).

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