Out of the White: the Red and the Green

It was just around now—a few days before Christmas, only back in the 1960’s, when my father’s holiday office party turned out to be a total bust.  He had planned for everything… except a blizzard.  And so, out of the blinding night snow came my father’s black Lincoln Continental with the rear, backward-opening, “suicide doors,” loaded with the trappings and trimmings of the party that never was.

My brother and I watched, frozen in the force-field of our mom’s trepidation, as Dad, snow clinging to his overcoat, angrily carted in, one after the next, foil-wrapped roast beefs, boxes of cookies and treats, office gift-boxes of cufflinks and tie-clips and, lastly, a charming little dwarf of a Christmas tree, a Charlie Brown number, bedecked with tinsel and some ornaments—I even think it had plug-in lights.

It was the first time I’d seen a magical tree like this in my Jewish home.  Sure, I’d seen grand Christmas trees downtown at Marshall Fields, but we were children who did not sit on Santa’s lap and we certainly did not have a tree.  I remember looking at our first Christmas tree with wonder; it was something akin to my mom and dad spreading out Hershey’s chocolate bars on the table rather than overcooked fish—and doing it before dinner to boot. 

Slowly, my father’s anger subsided with the snow melting off his shoulders, and eventually there was much dark laughter across rosy cheeks about the waste of both food and potential Babbitt-business expansion as the taste of sardonic irony mingled in our mouths with plenty of rare red roast-beef. 

I had recently received a gift of a plastic ferryboat with little cars for Hanukkah, and I recall playing with it in view of the Christmas tree, as spent drifts of snow leaned solemnly against the windows.  Within a day or two, when the roads became passable once more, my Bubby materialized, seemingly out of the blue, or perhaps was it out of the Zhivago white, like a tugboat puffing in hard agitation against suddenly dangerous waters as my ferryboat navigated the windowsill and the lighthouse of a Christmas tree stood sentinel in the fast-gathering storm.  Bubby took one look at the tree, muttered some curses and epithets in Yiddish and I was summarily whisked out of the room as red-faced Rose Weiss took on the demeanor of Golda Meir.

I didn’t know exactly what was going on in the hurricane-swept harbor of our den—only that it was pitched, fierce and heated.  The ferryboat is a symbol of transport of souls to the underworld, or to other worlds, which span from Styx to Hesse’s Siddhartha.  Wherever that Christmas tree went, it didn’t go on my ferry, and it was never, in any form, to be seen in our house again.

And so, it was with visions of my Bubby spinning in her burial shawl that, years later, I brought my first consciously chosen Christmas tree into the Ravenswood Apartments to embark on the journey of married life and mingled cultures.  My wife’s dad was German Jewish—so assimilated that they had Christmas trees long before Gatsby entered the American psyche—while my own ancestors had usually been too busy running from Cossacks or Nazis to stop and decorate Yule-tide trees.

In the warm Babylon of Hollywood, however, I descended into the forbidden smell of pine, egged on by love and the traditions love can bring into our lives.  For me, a Christmas tree is as much symbol of the shamanic World Tree (the one Siberian shamans would plant, branches-side down, and “climb” to commune with the spirits of worlds upper and lower); the tree is also the Tree of Knowledge, and also the Tree of Life—the one Adam and Eve, we are told, could not return to because the way, East of Eden, was blocked by a spinning fiery sword.  Such mysteries suggest that there are places only spirit can enter, boney barriers that divide spirit from matter and us from each other.  After twenty-one Christmas trees (counting the short-lived one in the 60’s), the holidays just wouldn’t seem complete now without a tree (even if my hand-crafted Jewish star sits atop it like some bedraggled battle flag).

In my soul, I hope that my Bubby, a truly spiritual women and, in the end, a great fan of Martin Buber, nature and direct communion with the divine, a woman who, at the end of her life, cried at the taste of a fresh peach I brought one summer’s day, can understand, if not where I’m coming from at least where I hope we humans might all be going together—perhaps even, in spirit, smiling down on me while placing a pagan ornament on some tree older than the hills.

So, let’s dedicate today to trees—decorated or not, growing, dying, burning, sprouting, fruit-bearing, nut-bearing, mistletoe-hanging, moss-guiding, bird-nesting trees; old Indian dugout canoes and worn floorboards; the heart-chakra green of the wood element and the soul-nourishing red of the root chakra. 

Whatever your view of spirit, nature and culture, for this Holiday Season I want to wish for you to simply want what you actually have, for in that, in aligning what is with what we want, we find happiness.  And, in turn, we can dedicate that happiness, however much or little it turns out to be, gleaned wherever we find it, to the well-being of all our collective children.

Happy Holidays & Namaste, Bruce

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2 Responses to “Out of the White: the Red and the Green”

  1. Aleta Says:

    I love this homage to trees. Our plastic tree has an angel on top; yesterday I was thanking that angel for our reduced Christmas and trying to want what I have. It isn’t easy being 70, retired and the third wife to my third husband. None of our combined families are coming so we have a stocking for our dog and recycled cards for each other bought when the economy was brighter, as bright as the little lights on the tree. Keep up the good work. This blog us a joy each day that my daughter and I often discuss by phone or email.

  2. Katrina Says:

    Happy Holidays to you and your family, Bruce. Thank you for all that you share with all of us.

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