JIM CREES: Oh Christmas tree...
No matter where it is or how its celebrated, friends and family are most important
“The best of all gifts around any Christmas tree is the presence of a happy family all wrapped up in each other.” - Burton HillsOne morning way back in the early 1970s, I woke up to the realization that I would be spending Christmastime alone. Oh, sure. There were lots of friends, but there was no family. I would be spending Christmas alone in a community and a country in which Christmas is a minority holiday. In Israel, where I was living, Christmas was about as important as Rosh Hashanna is in Big Rapids. Not so much. But to me, Christmas was all about family and the trappings of a good ol’ American Christmas. I decided I wouldn’t let things just pass. Considering that it is pretty difficult to find a Christmas tree in a place where nobody is celebrating Christmas, I built one. I took a thick cedar branch, and trimmed a bunch of evergreen branches as well. I stapled, taped and glued the smaller branches to the “trunk’ of this majestic tree. My then new girlfriend, Dina, got involved, (although I’m sure she thought this all was a bit odd.) She made a few paper and cardboard decorations, and strung some popcorn garlands and made colorful paper chains. I had my Christmas tree. I then whipped up a four-course holiday meal - on a one-burner camp-style kerosene stove. (It’s all about planning!) The Christmas tree didn’t last much through the holiday, but Dina did. The next year, I improved on the tree a bit, finding a cyprus tree sapling shooting up alongside our date orchard. It was almost a proper Christmas tree. Almost. The saved handmade paper decorations from the year before were recovered, and a few more added to the mix. Some pine cones and a few decorative balls purchased in Nazareth filled the tiny tree. Each year, the tree grew a bit, and the number of decorations increased as well. Friends and neighbors from throughout the community got more and more involved. Jews and Moslems with no intention whatsoever of celebrating Christmas themselves, donated things to hang on “Jim’s tree” not because it meant anything to them, but because it meant something to me. They didn’t care about the tree. They cared about me. When my ‘girlfriend’ and I married and had kids, the tree and holiday celebrations became even more meaningful. There was always a tree at Christmastime. The Israeli grandma and grandpa always knew they would be called on to watch the kids so Dina and I could attend services in Nazareth, or in Tiberius on the Sea of Galilee. And the decorations continue to arrive each year - from around the world. By this time, quite a good sized tree was being brought home by my son and I. The day before Christmas Eve, we would take my old Ford tractor up Mount Gilboa, find a tree, and hurry home. The tree was set up in our tiny ‘living room’ and a box or decorations was pulled down from where it was tucked away in the ceiling. There were decorations sent from England, and given us from New Zealand. There were handmade decorations from Mexico, and delicate blown glass from South Africa. Each year, a Jewish grandma in upstate New York, (the mother of a friend), would send one hand-turned terra cotta decoration she made especially for our tree. Ginger bread figures from Washington state, and German geegaws filled the branches. Our tree was more festive and more festooned each year, and on top, a beautiful purple glass spire sent to us from Frankenmuth. Every year, my daughter insisted on the spire being the last decoration placed, and I would lift her to do the honors. Today, we still put up our tree ONLY on Christmas Eve. We take it down the day following Christmas. It’s ‘The Rule.’ It’s what we’ve always done. It’s tradition. The best tradition, however, is filling the branches with the decorations we’ve made and collected over the years. Each one is a memory. Each one is a gift of love. Each one has a story. When we moved back to the States, one thing we never considered leaving behind were the Christmas decorations. They aren’t expensive, but they are dear to us. This year, we will put up a tree in Queens, NY. It will go up on Christmas Eve. And as we finish placing the decorations that have traveled around the world, and then some, my grandson will place the purple spire on top of the tree. (My daughter has it all planned!) The spire is a bit worse for wear. It is kinda beat up and has fallen two or three times so it’s a shadow of its former self. Still, when I considered tossing it out a few years back, my daughter grabbed it and asked, “Are you stupid?!!?” It will be a great tree, filled with expressions of love and caring from around the globe, and from dozens of years past. And still there, balancing in the branches will be a couple of old, somewhat shabby paper decorations my ‘girlfriend’ made for me quite a few years ago. She thought having a tree cluttering up the house was a bit silly, but she apparently thought I was OK, so ... “Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.”