Sunday, December 24, 2006


They passed around the photo and nodded. Yes, she’s got that look on her – the “I’m ready to sprint and cause trouble” look. Trouble being a relative term, in this case, I think they meant it in a good way: harmless trouble.

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I was three when it was taken. New to Warsaw (village life, with grandparents before that), new to nursery school (both parents working, long hours), seemingly un-shy about any of it. Relatives said – she’s always thinking – what next? Unstoppable.

We weren’t Christian, but there was always a tree and always in the room that my sister and I shared. Positioned between our beds. At first it was clear that it belonged there – we hadn’t a living room, just two rooms – a small apartment in Warsaw, there, this is it:

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But later, in New York, we had a living room, a very nice living room indeed, overlooking 46th street, parquet floors and carpet, wow, and still the tree stood between our beds. A generous gesture (you’ll smell it all night long). But also a “Christmas is for children” statement.

Is a teen a child? At thirteen, back in Poland now, Christmas stopped. Again, there was no living room, but there was space. Ah, maybe it’s because we didn’t stay in the city. We were back to the village for school winter break.

There, the snow is deep, all is calm, all is bright. In New York, my images of Christmas had been like that. Straight out of the stories. Sleigh bells ring, are you listening? Suddenly I have snow up to my waist and farmers are moving from point A to point B in sleighs and the nostrils of horses throw out moisture that freezes, but we are non-Christian and the children are not children anymore and so the countdown to Christmas is no countdown at all and there is no tree.

I am three, moving to Warsaw, I am seven, moving to New York, I am thirteen, moving back to Warsaw, I am nineteen and back in New York and so on and so on. I’ll go find a tree. A farmer will chop it down for me because I, city girl by now, don’t know how to chop down trees, cherry, spruce or any other.

Over the years, sometimes I would continued to find the family tree, other times I did not. There were no children in the house. Christmas, of the secular kind, is, I am reminded, for children.

And now I have children. And even before, I had a husband who liked Christmas. There is, of course, a lot to like about Christmas.

Children grew, spouse is now close through affect and history rather than label and geography, but Christmas stayed. So that this year, the tree towers and the rituals are relived with meaning (to each her or his own) and gusto.

Happy Christmas, Ocean readers, in whatever way you wake up to it – with or without tree. And, if you see yourself as being outside the world of Christmas, may the affect and good cheer be yours nonetheless. And the tinsel. Fill your hearts with tinsel.

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