My dear friend Elizabeth , Michigander who lives in Germany with her beautiful family posted a picture of her Christmas tree on Facebook. That picture sparked a conversation about different traditions in different cultures and countries. Her tradition is American one of displaying a Christmas tree right after Thanksgiving. Someone responded to her, I think it was her friend from Poland, that their tree comes up just couple of days before Christmas and of course I had to comment too – the Russian tradition is that our tree comes up right before New Year’s and stands in our house for about 2 weeks until Old New Year comes around.
You see, back then no one was allowed to believe in G-d, we all believed in communism, and all our holidays were also very “communistic”. Therefore, instead of Christmas and Chanukah which was way too religious for us, we celebrated New Year with a New Year tree and Grandpa Frost aka Santa. Our Santa did not have elves and reindeers, he had a granddaughter. I have no idea what her role was, except for looking pretty. I wrote all about this in my old post “My Jewish love for Santa Claus”.
Today I want to tell you about how we tried to merge our New Year tree tradition here in America and how we succeeded!
Imagine us – young Russian Jewish immigrants living in our first 2 bedroom apartment with a 2-year old at the time. We tried to be good parents and tried to teach our young son everything what we knew and of course we did not want him to forget where he came from. New Year’s of 1992 was coming up, my hubby went to get a tree and let me tell you people – after Christmas – trees were free, and we did not have to pay for one. We got our beautiful tree up on the 2nd floor of our flat and started to decorate with all the ornaments we brought with us from Russia.
At around 9:00 p.m. on December 31st my hubby put on a Santa Claus costume (I of course was his granddaughter, as someone had to look pretty!) and he started to give out gifts for our baby and our family – the whole event was a success!!! Satisfied, our little boy went to bed and we continued with our New Year’s party. I thought to myself “My baby now knows that Grandpa frost comes all the way from Russia just to visit him in America!”
The morning after, around 9:00 a.m. we heard a knock on our door – who could that be? We stopped partying at 4:00 o’clock in the morning and surely were not expecting anyone at this hour. (See, there is another Russian tradition: the way you celebrate New Year will be the same way you’ll spend it, so we Russians go out of our way to make sure we have the best time New Year’s night.)
I opened the door still in my PJs and there was a Rabbi standing at our door wanting to wish us a happy first New Year in America. You should have seen the horror on his face when he saw our New Year’s Tree with the star on top of it. He almost fainted! We invited him inside and offered him some water.
Little did we know – apparently Jews here were not supposed to have trees in their house during winter Holidays. It took us a while and finally we convinced our Rabbi that it was not a Christmas tree, but a Chanukah bush and since were Russian Jews (what the heck he meant by that I still don’t know.) he allowed us to carry on with our tradition. Since that day forward we have our New Year/Chanukah bush and still love it! Our little boy who is 22 now still expects gifts for Chanukah and and for New Year – yey for Russian – American traditions. Success!