When I was nine, my mother instructed my father to return our Christmas tree to the local Christmas tree vendor because it was too small and simply not Christmassy enough. My mother is Jewish. My father refused. She took me with her and brought the tree back herself.
In the history of Christmas, I don't think anyone has ever returned a Christmas tree, especially when the customer's predominant religion requires said customer to be celebrating Chanukkah at the exact moment that he or she is returning said hypothetical Christmas tree. In this case, however, my mother was a veritable Lucy to my father's Charlie Brown. Although this may have been my father's passive aggressive plea against having to erect a twelve-foot tree under our family room's vaulted ceiling, my mother would have none of it. Everyone driving by on Branchville Road needed to see our tree for miles in either direction from our massive bay window as if it were the light of Baby Jesus himself. An eight-foot tree was simply not enough Christmas for this half-Christian family.
So, with my mother I went to return our tree on a frigid December morning. I pulled my hat down over my face -there were no eyeholes- not in order to hide it from the cold, but rather to hide my embarrassment from the Christmas tree vendor whose expression bordered the line between frustration and disbelief. My mother was incredulous that the vendor would even sell this sub-par Christmas tree to a well-paying family such as ours. Not only did my mother return the tree but so hot was her fervor that she opted to take her patronage to a different vendor entirely, effectively conveying the message, "Your business, kind sir, sucks and, therefore, you will not receive our monies this morn. Good day."
Such is the wrath of a Jew on Christmas.
My mother and I drove to another vendor on the other side of town, carrying with us her refunded money and a complaint about the former vendor. The new vendor listened to our woes, confident that his inventory stored only the straightest, largest, and fullest Christmas trees. A superhero of Christmas tree sales, this vendor immediately led us to the plus-size models, all of which were ten feet or taller. My mother bought a twelve-footer and waited patiently and triumphantly outside the car as our new Christmas tree hero strapped our new new Christmas tree to the roof of our car.
Every holiday season, my mother made it her mission to Christmasize the house, right down to the empty wrapped boxes on the landing, the additional four-foot tree in the living room, and the Christmas menorah that once belonged to her father. She even hung a name-embroidered stocking for our very waspy terrier, Spencer. Spencer had his own holiday bow. Thankfully, I didn't. In her younger years, my mother even went so far as to paint her own wooden ornaments and hang one, in particular, that read, "Shalom."
I wonder what so motivated my mother to become such a champion Christmasser, being a Jew, and all I come up with is this: when we are no longer what we once were, we embrace something...anything. She saw the writing on the wall. Chanukkah had nothing on Christmas. It was popularized by a couple of rabbis in Cincinnati to make Jewish children feel better about their lack of presents in December. My mother had one son who half-heartedly embraced his bar mitzvah and one who would never have one at all. She was losing. Sons are supposed to be the religion of their mother, damn it! We didn't care. We wanted presents. Eight wasn't enough. So, what does she do? If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. And while we're at it, we'll celebrate Chanukkah, too!
Our holiday season was packed. That year, my father spent hours raising the twelve-foot tree my mother and I purchased, dropping countless f-bombs and sweating profusely from his Italian brow. After the fallout cleared, we lit a fire, blasted the Andy Williams Christmas Album, and chased the dog away from the lower tree limbs and rogue ornament hooks, as we leaned and contorted to decorate the branches we were too short to reach. Each year, we had the shiniest star, the classiest white lights, and coziest holiday dinners. We lit our menorah and donned our tree, opened the small gifts on Chanukkah and the big ones on Christmas. We liked Chanukkah but we admittedly liked Big Brother Christmas a little bit more.
And, no matter how big or awesome it was, we communally hated that f***ing tree.