It’s Not About Christmas, it’s Just About a Tree

When a Jewish grandmother decides her Jewish grandson could be a little less Jewish

There are worse things when you have a baby than having a mother who was an elementary school teacher and spent her career acquiring and hoarding hundreds of children’s books. I remember helping her fill out monthly book club forms when I was a kid, picking the bonus books she would get as a reward for persuading her students to buy. I remember being dragged to warehouse sales at one publisher’s outlet store, where $5 bought you an empty cardboard box you could fill with whatever books and toys you could make fit, and $40 bought you eight of those boxes, a full trunk and back seat, and the realization when you got home that in the rush to grab faster than the other teachers, you had ended up with six copies of The Berenstain Bears Get Lost in a Cave (spoiler: they find their way out).

So it was no surprise after Micah was born that my mom showed up with a shopping bag filled with books, with the promise (threat?) of many more to come. Good books, bad books, activity books (“Is he ready for activity books?” she asked. “No, he’s three days old. His activities are eating and sleeping.” “But soon.” “Sure.”), books with companion fabric animals, and books that smelled like the cardboard boxes they had spent decades living in. I didn’t realize until having a baby just how many children’s books are about animals with psychological problems. Angry ants, anxious rats, sheep with low self-esteem, bears with body dysmorphic disorder. “I found this great book about cows,” she’d tell me. “I’ll bring it next time.”

“And I also found a couple of really beautiful books about Christmas.”

The rest of the conversation might have gone this way:

“That’s nice. You should give them to someone who celebrates Christmas.”

“You’re right. I should.”

Of course, if that was the rest of the conversation, I wouldn’t have any reason to write this piece.

“That’s nice. You should give them to someone who celebrates Christmas.”

“Come on, what’s wrong with books about Christmas?”

“We don’t need books about Christmas. We’re Jewish.”


“So we don’t celebrate Christmas.”

“It’s not really a religious holiday.”

“No, I think it is.”

“One of the books is really just about a tree.”

“A Christmas tree.”

“It’s still a tree.”

“And the other one is about Jesus, but what’s wrong with that?”

“Nothing’s wrong with it, except that given a practically infinite number of children’s books, why do we need to read him books about holidays we don’t celebrate?”

“He should know about Christmas.”

“It’s hard not to.”

“Don’t you want him to be well-rounded?”

“I’m not sure reading about Christmas would make him well-rounded.”

“It’s a beautiful book.”

“I’m sure it is. So give it to someone who actually celebrates Christmas.”

“It’s too nice to give away.”

“It’s not a big deal. We’d just rather read him books about holidays we do celebrate.”

“Jewish books.”


“They’re probably boring.”


“What about books about Valentine’s Day?”

“Valentine’s Day is fine.”

“It’s not a Jewish holiday.”

“It’s okay.”



“It’s not even about Jesus. It’s about eggs.”

“We don’t need books about Easter.”

“I bet if it was in Hebrew, you’d want it.”

“I don’t think there are too many children’s books about Easter written in Hebrew, but I also don’t think we want those.”

“You’re being very closed-minded.”

“There’s just no reason to read him books about celebrating holidays we don’t celebrate.”

“You said he got a book about Canada.”

“Canada is a country, not a religion.”

“So? You’re not Canadian.”

“Just give the books away. It’s fine.”

“I’m not just going to give books away.”

“You could give them away in the spirit of Christmas.”

“I don’t think Christmas is about giving nice books like these away to strangers.”

“Then what is it about?”

“According to this one book, it’s really just about a tree.”

In conclusion, my mother wishes you a Merry Tree Holiday, especially if you’re Canadian.