In Love with the Beauty of Christmas Trees
When I was four-years-old, my parents moved my three older siblings and me into a seven-room apartment in Roxbury, MA. It was located on Brunswick Street in between Blue Hill Avenue and Warren Street. Although both streets were main thoroughfares, surprisingly, our street was quietly nestled in between the activity that occurred on the main streets. On my side of the street were only apartment buildings. In each building, there were three apartments, one on each floor. We lived on the second floor. Across the street were all single-family homes. The entire neighborhood was made up of Jewish families with the exception of one non-Jewish family that lived directly across the street from our apartment.
It was because of that non-Jewish family that I fell in love with Christmas trees. At four years old I hadn’t any religious beliefs, I just knew that when I looked out my living room window at Christmas time, I could see a beautiful Christmas tree that was displayed in the front window of their living room. It stood tall and almost reached the ceiling. It sparkled with blinking lights and silver tinsel. The colorful ornaments only accessorized more beauty to the tree which lit up the entire street as well as my young life. That beautiful tree was like a magnet that drew me to my living room window every Christmas and I never tired of gazing at that magical illuminating sight.
When I grew a little older and was allowed to cross the street by myself, I waited for that family to put their tree out in the trash after Christmas. Making sure no one saw me, I would go over to the tree, now in the trash barrel, and bend off a piece of a branch, take some tinsel and bring it back to my entry and stand it against the wall. I felt an abundance of joy in decorating that piece of a broken branch. It had a short stay because the janitor of our building would take it away the next day, but in that fleeting moment, I did have my very own Christmas tree with its sparkling tinsel. Year after year even as a young teenager, I still went across the street after Christmas to gather a branch or two with the tinsel and set it up against the wall in the entryway and enjoy it for just that day.
As many times as I pleaded with my mother to reconsider having a tree, she would tell me that Christmas was not a holiday that our family celebrated. We were Jewish and as a family, we observed all the Jewish teaching and traditions. We celebrated Chanukah, the festival of lights for eight nights. I did receive little token gifts, mostly quarters, but nothing wrapped in pretty packages. Very often Chanukah would coincide with Christmas and in my mind, I too would be celebrating both holidays. I could enjoy Christmas as well as Chanukah.
After World War II was over, my sisters and brother, who proudly defended our Country, came home from the Service. We started to celebrate Chanukah in a more Christmas-like fashion. It became a more festive holiday. No tree, but beautifully decorated wrapped presents handed out to the entire family. The lighting of the Chanukah menorah each night for eight nights with its prayers, and all the delicious traditional food, including my favorite: potato pancakes with apple sauce, accompanied my mother’s Chanukah dinners.
I am indebted to my non-Jewish neighbor, who lived across the street from our apartment, for unknowingly introducing me to the beauty of Christmas trees. For 21 years, that is how long we lived in that apartment, I never stopped looking through my living room window at Christmas so I could see the beautifully decorated tree, with its flickering-colored lights, and all the tinsel and ornaments perfectly placed, that stood by the window in their living room.
As a very senior person today, I am still that little girl who remains in awe and in love with the beauty of Christmas trees. May the beauty from the lights of Menorahs and Christmas trees continue to shine upon us, brighten our lives and bring joy, happiness, and peace to all.
Rita Nathan Wolfson is a 93-year-old author, poet, and artist. For more than twenty years she created artwork and jewelry utilizing recycled paper, the profits of which were donated to charitable causes. Rita self-published a book that combined her artwork and creative writing: One Liner on Two Lines and most recently, during the pandemic, she has been sharing her poetry on YouTube as the Positive Poet.
Rita began her creative journey later in life, after raising her family. She earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Massachusetts, Boston at the age of 65, where she discovered her passion for learning. Upon graduation, she became a founding member of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute - taking countless classes and leading poetry seminars. She is tireless in her interests and has recently expanded her writing into the short story genre.