Visit me during the Christmas holidays and you will see that I live in a heavily wooded area. Look out any of the windows of the place my husband and I call home and you will see tall evergreens reaching into the blue-gray winter skies of December. Enter our family room warm with the wood-burning stove flashing its orange red heat, the French doors looking out to deer roaming the wooded paths, and a cathedral ceiling that makes everyone look up, and you just might ask what most of my guests have asked in astonishment as they look upon my artificial Christmas tree: “You don’t have a real Christmas tree?” That’s the question that even my sons asked while they were growing up. “Why can’t we cut down one of the trees in the back and decorate that?” they would reason.
Some polite guests assumed that I didn’t want to kill a living tree. Yes, that was part of the reason. Others thought that it was easier to keep clean. Yes, I certainly didn’t have to pick up pine needles every day. Still others surmised it must be because it was safer. After all, my husband and I had watched our business burn down to the ground. To all of these suggestions, I simply nodded my head and quickly changed the subject. However, there was a much better reason for this special artificial tree, which would never be replaced by a live tree. It all came about because of a premarital promise.
My husband and I are of different religious backgrounds. When we decided that we wanted to be married and couldn’t bear the thought of not being together, we approached our situation as responsible adults. Well, how responsible could two young people in love really be? We both respected each other’s commitment to our beliefs and agreed that we would never try to impose our beliefs on the other. We had to make certain compromises. One of those compromises was that we wouldn’t hang religious articles all over the house. That was something we could both live with. After all, our faiths were deep within us and didn’t need to be flaunted. It was my husband’s last request that made me pause — “And please no Christmas tree,” he said.
In the scheme of things it seemed that I could certainly live without a Christmas tree. That was until our very first Christmas. All of my life, my family had Christmas trees. I particularly liked to decorate them. I liked to make my own ornaments. One evening I got up the courage to ask my husband if I could buy a one-foot tree that I saw in the grocery store. “No one will see it but me,” I said, adding that I would keep it on my bedroom nightstand. I also said that I would keep my promise if he objected. He laughed and told me that if a little tree like that made me happy I should buy it. And so I did. Every night after dinner, he would retire to his office to focus on paperwork and I would clear the table for craft time. Each night, I would make a few very tiny ornaments. Some were origami birds; some were scissor-cut scherenschnitte creations. I spent hours making, painting, gluing, and fastening these miniature ornaments onto my personal little tree. I even made a very small garland of paper rings from scraps of paper. This went on night after night right up until Christmas Eve, when I carefully placed the completely decorated tree in its rather obscure position.
“I can’t believe how much time and effort you put into that little tree,” said my husband, who was truly taken with the amount of work that I had put into this. “I had no idea that a Christmas tree was that important to you,” he mumbled almost to himself and almost as if he couldn’t believe it. I pointed out that traditions are hard to leave behind. Surprisingly, he agreed. He went out to do some shopping and I began baking some traditional cookies. Tomorrow would be a big day. I would go to church and then we would go to my parents’. I went to bed early. Tired, I fell asleep thinking about what my first Christmas would be like with my husband. I wondered what kind of gift he would give me. I had a very special gift for him.
I awoke to a snowy Christmas day. It was almost perfect. I made my way into the kitchen and put on a pot of coffee as usual. My husband insisted I go into the living room. He wanted me to see something. I put down the dishes I had in my hand and made my way to the living room. As soon as I entered the room I started to cry. How could I not? There stood a six-foot-tall artificial Christmas tree. There were even ornaments on it. It was the most beautiful tree I had ever seen. “I had no idea this meant so much to you,” he said, and kissed my cheek. “This will be our own tradition.” When I gained my composure, I insisted that he open his gift, which I had placed on the kitchen table. He opened it, shook his head, and said that he knew why we would make it a good, long time. In his hand he held a brightly polished, shiny brass menorah. It came with a box of Hanukah candles.
I always liked the story “The Gift of the Magi,” but I never guessed I would live it. My husband was right. We’ve made it a good, long time, but every Hanukah when he lights the menorah and every year when we bring that tree down from the attic, the joy of remembering how they came to be and the amount of love they represent makes me truly happy. You see, that’s why only an artificial Christmas tree will do for me. Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukah!