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A Christmas feeling
Those little ornaments will come back to celebrate a holiday that has adopted me

December 20, 2004

The tree isn't mine. But how could we spend one Christmas after another in sub-zero Chicago without a tree? Every time I passed Michigan Avenue, it felt as if I was in the North Pole and my children for years thought F.A.Schwartz was Santa's shop.

Non-Christians, we learned about Christmas traditions from friends. Back in Chicago, a friend used to take us around the neighborhood to sing carols. She made copies of the words for us and, since we were a large group, no one noticed how off-key my Silent Night came out.

My friends also taught me all about trees and ornaments. The variety of ornaments out there makes me feel like a kid again. I'm tempted to buy a few each year and by now we have a box full of them. They are the toys I don't have to be ashamed of: tiny nut-crackers, dolls and glittery drums. The shiny globes are my least favorite; they make our tree resemble those in the department stores. I don't like the department stores either, they make me resemble shoppers.

It's fun to trim the tree and top each branch with silver tinsel. There's a soft magic to them that makes me forgive the mess they leave behind.

We're not good tree shoppers, my husband and I. For thirty years, we've succeeded to pick the crookedest tree a forest has to offer.

"You mean the most crooked," he corrects me.

"No, I mean the crookedest."

The tree is never cut straight so he always has to take the chainsaw to it before it'll balance in the stand. Still, our tree is never as perfect as our neighbor's. It's too tall, too short or bent at the top, where I need to put the angel. She can never stand straight and I'm embarrassed at the way she tilts and you can see her thighs under her long golden robe.

What I enjoy the most is to bake. Nothing fills a home with warmth the way that smell of baking does. It puts me in a Norooz mood--even though the cookies are different. I sometimes use food coloring and paint my cookies, one by one. But the rum balls are my children's favorite. I guess as kids, they enjoyed their one chance a year to taste rum, but now that they've grown up the habit must be hard to kick.

Despite the last minute panic attacks, Christmas comes and goes without a disaster. Considering that we don't really know Santa, and don't ask much from him, the packages we find under our tree seem to meet everyone's expectations. My husband is the first to put his gifts out. Years ago, when kids asked him what those were, he used to tell them Santa had Fed-Exed a few items to make sure they got here in time. He made gift labels in his neat handwriting, but come Christmas morning, they were too excited to notice Santa had a similar print and used the same wrapping paper. I'm always curious about my gifts, but no matter how I shake the box, it's impossible to guess which perfume he has bought this year.

Soon it'll be time to put the ornaments away. My little memories of over thirty years: This one I bought when my first child was born. That one came from New England and the other one was a cute school project my son brought home when he was four. I take them off the tree, and put them back in the box with care.

No, Christmas isn't mine, even though I now know the words to most carols by heart. Come to think of it, I'm no longer sure who Christmas belongs to. As a child living in Iran, I knew it was our neighbor, Madam Avanesian's, but here I sometimes get the feeling it belongs to Bloomingdales.

The tree isn't ours either. It's going to lie on the sidewalk for the city to recycle. But my box of memories will be in the attic, waiting for another year, another optimistic moment and the unopened gift of time. Those little ornaments will come back to celebrate a holiday that has adopted me and once again be the joyful objects of memory.

.................... Peef Paff spam!

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