One time in 2008, I was out for a fall walk in my Denver neighborhood. Had my headphones in, my sweater on, and was digging on the changing leaves. When, out of the blue, I had an olfactory rush of pine! It was intoxicating. I instantly followed the scent. Got stronger by the block, and the I turned the corner to see the source. A Christmas Tree Lot. I had literally never gone into one before. Such things weren’t done by good Jewish Boys. But I was 36 years old. I was my own man, and besides what could it hurt. I decided I would just take a quick walk through to see what all the fuss was about. Instantly, as I walked towards the lot, my mother appeared in miniature form on both of my shoulders. One of them was smiling, and the other, broken-hearted with a tear in her eye. “How could you?” the broken-hearted Mom proclaimed. “After all these years of devoted Jewish practice, not to mention what this will do to your father!”. I looked over to the other shoulder for some relief. “Eh, it’s no big deal. Your parents live thousands of miles away. Who’s even going to know?” whispered the smiling Mom.
Over the next few blocks, I started to imagine not only going into the tree lot, but getting one! I imagined picking out ornaments, and lights, and even a few cans of the spray snow just for kicks. It all seemed so magical. But it also felt wrong. Like I would be betraying my faith and my family. The tide turned, and I decided to go right past the tree lot. Maybe some other year. When it feels less weird. My Christmas Tree Fantasy would have to remain just that.
Until 2016, when I found my loophole in the system. I discovered my IN. I married the greatest woman I had ever known. Beautiful inside and out. Strong and sensitive. And most of all, a card-carrying Christian! I would have to celebrate Christmas now. It would only be right to get a tree and all of the fixins. Afterall, it was now a family tradition. Two months later, Christmas season was upon us, and I went with my sweetie to buy our first Christmas Tree. I will admit that the commerce of the whole tree franchise was a bit overwhelming, but when we got it home and dragged it into our house, my heart raced and my smile widened. It was awesome! The whole house smelled like a forest. The lights were awesome, and we had already collected some funny and special ornaments to decorate with. We also had the beginnings of one of my longest running dreams. A Christmas Village! I had always wanted one. It is so cool. I had friends growing up whose families had entire towns of mini houses, lit up from the inside. With little trees and mini people. It was so cozy. And Megan had told me that each year we could get another addition to our new village. I was in heaven.
Over the next 25 days as Christmas approached, I came to see that the act of having a tree in our home made me no less a Jew and no closer to recognizing Christ as my savior. What it did was to kick in the spirit of the Holiday season in a very tangible way. We would end most nights on the couch with the lights out, snugglin’ on the couch and enjoying the tree and the lights. Not to mention the tiny people making bread in the lit-up Bakery of Berger Village. The lights on the tree gave me the same special feeling as I had when I was a child and stared at the dancing flames of the Hanukkah candles resting in our family menorah.
You see, the symbols of each faiths’ holidays are just that. Symbols. Items to inspire some emotion and meaning. For me who has never been too tied to any dogma, Judaism included, these items are just part of the season. Part of the human experience. Part of taking a time of year to say that we can snap out of our routines and busy lives and simply enjoy each other. To stare at candle flames and lights on a tree, these are the expressions less of our specific faiths, and more of the joy of celebrating the beauty of life. I am proud to be Jewish. I am proud of my family’s traditions. I am proud to be part of a new family through marriage. And I am one happy camper that I get to have a tree in my home for a few weeks out of the year. Happy Holidays, no matter what that looks like in your home.