Oh Christmas Tree

by Fredrica Duke
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Christmas-Tree-DecorNo wonder I rarely got a tree. It’s just too much work. Going out to buy it. Schlepping it home. Carting it inside. Pine needles everywhere. Finding the box with the decorations in storage. Untangling the lights. Discovering that only some are still working.   I’m not that together.   I have zero organizational skills. Hey, if magical elves appeared in my home to set up the tree, and I didn’t have to go to the lot or do anything, I would reconsider.

And then, of course, there is the religion factor. To get a tree or not to get a tree. Since half of me is Jewish and the other half vague, it’s easier to just call myself a Jew. A tree never seemed to bother other Jewish families when I was growing up in Beverly Hills. This time of year, everyone became his or her own Hollywood set decorator. Each family outdid the next. Talk about keeping up with the Joneses --only in this case the Jimmy Stewarts.

Lets’ face it a Christmas tree is an indicator of taste. Pink-flocked ones seem a bit “Liberace” to me.  But I kind of dig a pink tree.   A very close friend growing up lived in a home with wall-to-wall white shag carpeting and lots of gaudy gold-trimmed fixtures. Her prematurely blue-haired mother always matched their blue-flocked Christmas tree. Each year I thought wow, everyone’s trees are getting bigger and bigger. Like bigger is better. They seemed to reach the ceiling in some homes and I would think, okay, we can see you have a big penis.  


These days, it’s a full time racket. I get tons of business cards from companies like Homes for the Holidays that will decorate your house for you. AND, each year the turn in seasons seems to come faster. This year was especially so. Literally, the day after Halloween, homes in my neighborhood were fully lit up in bright reds & greens & trimmed in electric candy canes. My street looked like a landing runway in Christmas colors.

pinetreeGoing to the lot to pick out a tree is a ritual many families really look forward to. If it were a ritual in my life, I would be a last-minute person. I’d head out on Christmas Eve in a complete panic to purchase one.  And the Jewish side of me, my father’s side, would want to get a “good deal” on it.  In fact, Christmas Eve would be the perfect time to get a good deal. The day after Christmas would be even better. Some people do the exact opposite of what they grew up with.  I knew Jews who grew up without trees, and when they got their first home, ran right out and started a new tradition.

My mom didn’t have that presentation gene needed to set the perfect table or decorate a tree. Her Christmas tree “tradition” was sort of schizophrenic – a one-year on, three years off sort of thing. I inherited my mother’s Christmas spirit. Only with me it’s one year on, fifteen years off.

I took a very informal survey on Facebook and got at least 75 quite passionate answers about getting a tree if you are Jewish. The word secular came up a lot. It means non-religious. But when I hear it, my eyes glaze over and I start having a math phobia flashback.   Another word that came up was pagan. That one loses me too.

Here is what I do love about a home with a Christmas tree. That pine smell. The fragrance is intoxicating.   And natural. Not a chemical smell like some perfumes. It brings back memories of childhood. In my twenties, I tried to be PC and bought the live trees. They were small and manageable and easy to decorate. The point of buying a live tree in a planter is to replant it. But I always ended up killing it. Months later, I would look across the room and notice how brown it was and realize I had forgotten to water it.

spiral-stylized-by-christmas-treeI am the laziest person.  So years ago I came up with this piece of modernish art that sort of resembled a Christmas tree. It’s a green felt spiral that stands a bit taller than me at just over five feet. It cost next to nothing because a store in my neighborhood was going out of business. I adorn it with blue lights for Chanukah to signify that I’m a little of both, and put presents at the base. It’s the saddest excuse for a tree. Yet, year after year, I pull it out of my storage room, take a lint brush to it and pretend I’m a real holiday enthusiast.  

I hate shopping so I don’t go into stores, then I scramble to get a few gift cards or even just cash for my kids. I think my husband’s bah-humbug mentality wore off on me. He gets depressed each holiday season and it doesn’t lift until January or at least Boxing Day (not that there is anything to box back up) when it’s all behind us. At first, I hated this doom-and-gloom attitude, but then the part of me that is lazy got right in synch. Now, we are Mr. and Mrs. Scrooge—not really, we’re not cheap. But when someone says they are dropping a present off, I say, “Please don’t because I have nothing for you.”  

My husband grew up in New York and is very anti-tree. I noticed Jews raised on the East Coast were a bit more militant about not having trees than the West Coast. Of all the Jews that answered my survey, it seems more than half had trees and a few had the compromise of a Chanukah bush. Some would put a Star of David at the top of their tree. One Christian friend, calling himself the token goy, said he rarely had trees in his home growing up.   That answer pulled at my heart-string-of-lights and made me want to get him one.

I think I’m retiring my bullshit tree this year. It will serve a much better purpose as my cat’s new scratching post. There’s always next year to get a real tree. Maybe a live one. And maybe someone will water it. And maybe after New Year’s we’ll put it in the car, drive it to Topanga State Park, and replant it. Yeah, right.

I loved my friend Linda’s answer. Her family never got trees. “One year before I’m gone I will have one. It’s on my bucket list.” Great idea. Me too!!


Fredrica Duke shares how she discovered her love of food while growing up in Los Angeles on her blog Channeling the Food Critic in Me.



#4 Joy Aroff 2013-12-21 20:14
Dear Freddie:i too enjoyed this particular writing of yours. It is so humerus, human, tugging at memories and ultimately a great deal about people handling Christmas. I grew up in Portland, Oregon, land of trees that grow as tall as the sky. My dear, handsome, lady-killer father, who adored me, felt buying a Christmas tree was maybe the most important function of the holiday season. We would walk through the lots looking for the "perfect" tree that was symmetrical, a fir, and just the right height for whatever we happened to live in. During the depression it might be one room for three people. Then meticulously he would trim his selection. Lights first, each bauble had
a specific place. Finally on each branch, many tinfoil strands of "rain". When finished, lights turned on, it was a thing of beauty to enjoy, dad was aglow and I felt loved all over.
#3 Debra Schellenberg 2013-12-20 20:13

I actually think this is one of your best. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, and as much of a pain in the butt it is to buy/light/decor ate a tree, I have to admit that it is really beautiful and lights up a winter night and since I am a summer person and HATE winter, it helps. I would love to get together, and I know it's tough but let's try!!
Merry Christmas, and Happy whatever, and blessings to you and your lovely family!
#2 jennifer dudley arbs 2013-12-20 18:05
HAAAAAAAAA. Fred. We continue to be kindred spirits. Exception. My better half IS SANTA CLAUS. Our homes look like a Hallmark Card.Inside and out. His ardor of Xmas has not, in 35 years, rubbed off on me. Truly. I try. Maybe this year? At least he has, with my loud insistence, stopped playing Der Bingle (Crosby) xmas tunes. Oh to be half or whole Jewish!

Jenn Going to Charlevoix for New Years
#1 pauli 2013-12-20 16:30
It is fun to think about getting a tree. Ultimately it IS a lot of work and yet I also debate the virtues of the wonderful fresh pine smell vs. the cleanup of all those dried out needles. We did the Christmas Eve tree thing when I was growing up - and not because they were cheaper - actually they were MORE EXPENSIVE - to punish procrastinators . Now we do a "Christmas Lights" drive to admire everyone else's front yard and stop in to see how The Hotel Bel Air and The Beverly Hills Hotel are decorated. It's not the same, but there is no muss, no fuss and it is our simple way of feeling connected. Pass the hot cider and gingerbread and put on the Christmas music!

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