Growing up Jewish in Mexico City was never complicated. Like most parents, mine were extremely strict; I was expected to do well in school and do my chores at home. I was the youngest of seven, and by time I came into the picture my brothers and sisters were all grown up.
I was very much like any other kid with strict parents. Except when Christmas came around. As a very small child, I could not understand why we didn't have a Christmas tree. "It's not our holiday" does not make much sense to a four or five year old who wants to get in the action and get some presents from Santa Claus. And how was Santa supposed to find me without a chimney or a Christmas tree?
When my sisters were little, they believed Santa Claus was a bigot for not stopping at our house. So when I was born, my parents invited Santa to start coming by, not only for Hannukah, but he once even made a special trip to our house in June to bring me a bright, red tricycle, just because I was such a good little girl.
My mother explained that Santa Claus was a magical figure who brought presents to good little boys and girls, on the family's special holiday, be it Christmas or Hannukah. In our case of course that was Hannukah.
Still, I wanted a tree. And every year I would cry whenever we walked by a window proudly displaying a beautiful Christmas tree. I was not throwing a tantrum; I was honestly hurt and sad. And so it came to be that one year when I was five or six, my mother finally gave in.
We didn't say anything to my father or anyone else. One cold, crisp December afternoon my mother and I walked all the way to the market. I remember that day very clearly. The market was a few blocks away, but it seemed like hundreds of miles, as I was anxious to get there already!
When we finally arrived we went straight to the Christmas tree lot. There my mother purchased my very first Christmas tree. It could not have been more than a couple of feet tall - after all, my mother had to carry it back to the house; but to me it was the tallest, most beautiful tree ever! She also bought some ornaments and lights to decorate it. And off we went carrying our precious items. Every time we walked by someone, I would tell them excitedly "look, I have a Christmas tree!"
That was one of the happiest moments in my childhood. I had a Christmas tree and Santa Claus was certainly coming to town!
To my mother's surprise, my father was not upset. In fact, he proceeded to help decorate the tree. From that year on we always had a Christmas tree. Many other Jewish people had them in fact. In our circle it was never considered "politically incorrect", but just a beautiful thing to have once a year and partake in a wonderful tradition.
When I met my husband, many people told me he would probably not appreciate having a Christmas tree. So I gave away all my ornaments and decorations. I did not want to do anything that might upset or offend my husband.
I did miss having a tree though. I thought that if we ever have children, I would let them have a Christmas tree, or as some "paisanos" prefer to call it, a Hannukah bush, and Chris Kringleman would certainly pay them a visit.
When Neal (my husband) and I talked about this recently, to my surprise he said we should not wait until we have kids. Having a tree (or bush) would not bother him in the least. So I am happy to report that this year I once again feel like I did many years ago when my mother bought me my first tree! Neal and I have a small tree in our home, decorated in white and blue - the colors of Hannukah.
I am all grown up now, but I will always be grateful for my mother's decision not to let her little girl suffer and feel left out just to make a point. In fact, she taught me that just because we have a Christmas tree it doesn't mean that we are any less Jewish. I should mention that we also always have a Menorah.
As we light the candles this Hannukah, starting on the 15th, we will be celebrating the beauty of the season and thanking God for all His blessings.
We wish you all health, wealth and time to enjoy it! Happy Hannukah, Feliz Navidad and a very wonderful New Year!
Edie J. Adler:
Edie J. Adler is a free lance writer and comedianne, and the resident Mexican Jewish contributor to LatinoLA. She and her husband Neal live in the San Fernando Valley.