Watching TV this week is making me really want a Christmas tree. Every episode of every show is holiday-themed, and each house and/or apartment looks like it had a team of professional decorators come in just to make the place holiday-ready (ok, it did. It’s TV. But still). On Facebook, friends keep posting pictures of their holiday handiwork — everyone from married friends with real fireplaces and children to the college kids with little decorated off-campus apartments. Even the Jews are doing it.
My family has a complicated relationship with holiday decorations. We are, as a unit, a half-Jew — my dad is Jewish and my mom was raised Catholic. And yes, I know, this makes my sister and I not TECHNICALLY Jewish, but still — despite the fact that he’s not my mom, my dad’s Jewish background has had a big impact on the way we do holidays. He has almost entirely negative memories of being a kid at this time of year: it was the 50s, and it was New Jersey, and he was the only one not going to visit Santa — and he hated it. He’s gotten over most of that now, but there’s still a sense of resentment that he shoulders in December.
On the other hand, my mom feels a huge obligation to Christmas. She’s a stressed out person in general, and Christmas decorating makes her insane. She WANTS to be the wife and mother who delights the neighbors throughout December with a candle in every window and that perfectly decorated tree visible in the living room. But she’s not.She’s the wife and mother who stresses herself out for weeks about whether or not to get a Christmas tree this year, ultimately decides ok YES, we will do it, gets the last one and brings it home, and then leaves it on the porch for a while. Finally, on Christmas Eve, she begs us to help her decorate it and I agree and my dad and sister mostly refuse and it ends up done, but only because my mother stays up late. Then, she feels resentful that no one helped her or appreciates it, and the rest of the family feels resentful of her resentment because they didn’t ASK her to get a Christmas tree, come ON.
We do have Christmas traditions that we uphold ever year: we get Chinese food on Christmas Eve, and we all watch a movie together; in the morning we open presents and then go to my Aunt’s house. I always look forward to these traditions, and then I always dislike them while they’re happening. We can’t agree on a movie, and my sister and I are texting the whole time anyway, and, as previously mentioned, my mom feels like she’s working and no one is helping. It’s never as good as I want it to be, or as any of us want it to be.
This is all much more complicated than the holiday decorations I see on TV and on Facebook. Still, when the tree is finally up (at midnight on Christmas Eve), and the lights are mercifully on the damn thing and it hasn’t fallen over or burned down, I feel something resembling a Christmas spirit. I like it. It’s like a good book or a cup of tea or a well-made sandwich. It feels nourishing, and I like to sleep in the living room next to it so that I can drift off under the colored lights.
As soon as I wake up, though, it has to be watered and it’s drying out and who’s going to help take the decorations down, huh? It’s almost New Year’s!
It’s a complicated thing, Christmas. I know that it’s manufactured, this feeling that we need the lights and the eggnog and the tree, that they will somehow keep us safe. The truth is that my family is wonderful, despite their individual and deep-set issues with Christmas, and that they are really all I need to feel safe and at home. But we crave something more around this time, something we have been programmed to crave.
I am not taking a stand against Christmas, or decrying the commercials and the forced cheer, or demanding that we cancel it and all just march through December like nothing’s going on. As I said, I like it! I’m just acknowledging that it’s difficult and confusing and can bring out the worst in us, sometimes. There’s so much pressure to bake cookies and to feel in love and at peace right at this specific, appointed moment — and there’s no way to force that. Forcing it only makes it crack, leaving my mom angrily up till midnight, my dad hiding out in the basement, my sister watching movies in her room, and me (let’s be honest) standing in front of the fridge eating cold Chinese food. We’re better on other days!
And still, I want a tree.