AN UNCOMMON HOLIDAY TRADITION by Rick Gilman
Some might call it ingenious
When I was 12 years old, my stepmom entrusted me with the job of watering our Christmas tree. Little did I know then how unusual her method was.
Let me explain. Growing up a nice Jewish boy in Brookline, Massachusetts, I never even knew Christmas trees needed to be watered. I never celebrated Christmas, believed in Santa Claus or went Christmas caroling – that is, until my parents were divorced, when I was about six years old, and my dad remarried.
My new stepmom, Glo (or “Gloria,” which she would sing every holiday party from the rafters), was Protestant but although she converted to Judaism for my dad, she still enjoyed some of her childhood traditions such as singing carols, making snow angels, having a Christmas tree and exchanging gifts. We weren’t a hugely religious family, but when I was with them, we would go to Friday night services and Glo would light the candles before dinner, and I would chime in on the prayers. We would often discuss, around the table, that evening’s sermon by the rabbi or challenging questions of an 8-year-old such as why we bow our heads when praying instead of looking to the heavens where God lives.
It was obvious what I loved most about this time of year; I was born on December 3rd, Hanukah always fell sometime around then, and Glo exposed my brothers and me to the “Christmassy” activities that were never meant as anything but fun – family times with wonderful memories: decorating a tree, waking up to a stuffed stocking “hung by the fire” and all that great food. For me, especially, all three events came with presents, so December was an entire month of opening gifts. What kid wouldn’t love this time of year?
Tradition in my family was hosting a Christmas Eve party and decorating the tree. Our home would be filled with friends, music, singing and eggnog, where the price of admission was one new or handmade ornament.
As I grew up, my tree decorating responsibilities increased. First, I was only allowed to adorn the tree with a few ornaments, individually unwrapped and handed to me. Then, one year, I was adding the tinsel, one strand at a time (no clumping on the Gilman tree), testing the lights and helping to set up the tree stand to make sure the tree didn’t fall (not something we had success with every year).
For me, the holidays always consisted of Christmas and Hanukah, so when my wife and I first started dating and spent the holidays together, she understood how much my family’s traditions meant to me. That first year, she surprised me in my tiny studio apartment in Brooklyn Heights, with an arrangement of white birch branches bedecked with ornaments, tinsel and sprigs of pine needles and cones. But she also added a small menorah, on which we lit the candles during Hanukah.
After our son was born, also a December baby, we made sure he knew and understood our family’s special traditions, the importance of getting together with family and friends, and being grateful for all we had.
Now is a great time to remember those traditions as we all try to return to a normal life. The holidays this year will test our resolve and what we’re willing to sacrifice to be with our loved ones. For my family and me, it’s not a sacrifice, it’s a joy to take simple steps to keep them safe and near.
So, how do you water a Christmas tree? When I was about 12, I got the answer. You water a Christmas tree with an enema bag, of course, or at least you did in my home.
I have a lot of wonderful memories from those times with my family and I suppose that’s what building traditions are all about. I wish the same for my son: a lifetime of memories, both the delightful and the curious.
Rick Gilman, a longtime South Orange resident and CIO of the new company, Kidcaboo, is a kid at heart who still looks forward to December every year.