Jews like trees and lights, too


With the holidays behind, I can breathe a sigh of relief. I no longer have to psychologically prepare myself for holiday song bombardment in public spaces. No more holiday cookies and cakes. No more worrying about finding the perfect gift for the people I love.

Yet, there is a certain sadness that comes with the passing of the holidays. Without the focus on lights and tinsel and presents to look forward to, the gray and drab brown pallet of deciduous tree leaves seem to come more clearly into focus.

Growing up with the Jewish tradition of Hanukkah (with so many spellings I’m never quite sure I’ve chosen the right one), there was a rush of excitement toward the end of November and into December. Eight days of presents. You would think this would be every child’s dream. Yet, in a culture where Hallmark decides which of the winter season holidays are en mode, being Jewish was lame in comparison to the kids who got to decorate trees and watch presents pile up, and display lights in windows, from awnings, and on the front lawn.

My family would celebrate x-mas with friends, and I would gaze at their stockings, wondering what was inside. in my college years, I had the opportunity to experience the early morning x-mas wakeup with the younger sisters of a fellow I dated. I got to open presents, too—wholesome holiday family fun.

At that time, I was determined to ignore my Jewish heritage. I did not want to be defined or limited by this identity. I wanted to just be me, independent of any labels.

Many Woody Allen films later, however, along with the fact that my thick, curly hair does not appear to be getting any straighter with age, and I am beginning to accept that I really am a 31-year-old Jewish woman from a long line of Jewish ancestors. And I am convinced that at least a few of these ancestors were traveling gypsies.

You do not have to belong to the Christmas club to enjoy lights and coniferous trees. In fact, I think that Hanukkah is the more sustainable of the two holidays, though both pale in comparison to a solstice celebration. I mean, Hanukkah is literally a celebration of lights and the miracle of a tiny bit of oil burning strongly for eight days and eight glorious nights. I think that we Jews definitely win the miracle competition, not that I’m keeping points. And we plant trees instead of cutting them down and then turning them into mulch when the celebration is over.

We are each the product of cells, liquids, and a whole mess of biological stuff, combined with lived experience and our own intentions. With that in mind, I am continuing to create and embrace my own identity without casting aside the hidden history that flows through my veins. I hang up lights wherever I live and enjoy their glow all year long. I collect elements of the natural world and place them around my home to remind me that first and foremost I am of the earth.


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