A Jewish Innkeeper's 1st Christmas Tree

I never had Christmas tree envy. I never even yearned for a Hanukah bush. My mom spray painted pine boughs with silver and gold then frosted them in glitter. They captured the magic of Vermont's December's snowy shimmer. That was more than enough for me. Yet somehow our family's Vermont country inn's Christmas tree now graces a full page spread in Yankee Magazine's holiday issue.

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Two years ago, my siblings and I inherited the majestic Wilburton Inn in Manchester, Vermont that our parents had run for 27 years.

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We also inherited Pam, Jan, and Jewels, aka "The Twinkle Girls," three lifelong best friends who have been decorating our tree on girls weekend escapades for a decade.

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In addition to festooning our tree, they also decorate themselves. (Click here for a video of them in action.)

They arrive armed with glue guns, martini shakers and a carload of arts and crafts. Late into the night, they create matching light-up theme costumes in triplicate. They have been candy canes, angels, Christmas trees and reindeers. Then like Santa, they spread joy to all, caroling at the town nursing home and tossing candy from the lead float in Manchester's light up tractor parade. They even decorated my puppy and inspired me to turn Rudolf into, "Jetson, The Red Coat Cavalier"

This fun loving trio comes back for annual summer girls' weekends too. Then they wield their glue guns to make summer themed outfits like cowgirls, luau dancers or patriotic cheerleaders. The Wilburton Inn is their happy place and they make everyone happier when they come to visit.

Innkeeping goes back to the very first Christmas when Mary ended up in the manger because there was no room at the inn. (Perhaps the modern equivalent is Columbus Day weekend in Vermont?)

Times have changed, but innkeeping has not. In a world of Facebook, innkeeping is always face-to-face (though I admit I love Facebook because it helps me stay in touch with our guests that literarily span from Brazil to the Arctic Circle.)

The Twinkle Girls bring their glittery spirit in good times and in bad. When we were stunned to learn that our mom, Innkeeper Georgette Wasserstein Levis, had cancer, the Twinkle Girls decorated the inn for her pink sparkle "This Is Your Life" party. They invented new light-up pink costumes from the shoes to the hats - and made a 4th matching outfit for mom.

When mom passed away just three weeks later, the Twinkle Girls were back to decorate the inn with white organza garlands and overflowing boughs of flowers.

This was going to be a very special Christmas for the girls. It kicked off their second decade of decorating the Wilburton Inn Christmas tree and of course their new celebrity in #Yankee Magazine. (Would you believe a man from California read the article and called the inn to get their autograph?)

Two weeks ago, however, I got a call from Pam. She just heard the devastating news that she had cancer and would be spending December in surgery. She said she was was doubly heartbroken to miss decorating our tree. But at least the Twinkle Girls will be together. One went on leave, the other quit her job so they could all be there for the surgery at Johns Hopkins and the recovery period back home near Albany. The Wilburton Inn staff sent Pam a pink sparkly Christmas tree -- because if Mohamed couldn't go to the mountain, the mountain was coming to her. We also sent three matching hot pink Wilburton tank tops and a cozy new Wilburton Inn bathrobe so Pam can feel wrapped up in our family's embrace. And whenever she is up to it, all three girls are coming to recuperate in their favorite suite at the Wilburton for as long as they want on the house.

Innkeeping is intimate. Some guests are just passing through, but for the majority of guests, the Wilburton Inn becomes their touchstone, and they become a part of our extended family. You don't get that at a Sheraton. (But of course, as we sing in our family inn theme song, "We didn't buy it to run it like a Hyatt.")

So this year, I will decorate my first Wilburton Inn Christmas tree. Fortunately, Linda, our head housekeeper and Wilburton Inn dorm mother will be there to help me. And Pam, Jewels and Jan can be there on Facetime on my phone to be sure we've done it just right.

Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanza, or just the winter solstice, to me, the season is really about wonder. The wonder of cold dark nights that twinkle with glittering stars. The wonder of catching up with extended family and sharing good laughs and good meals. It's lifting your voice and singing out in gladness and going back in time to hear bells on horses ring. It's feeling cozy and content in front of the fire and grateful for the blessings of friendship, family and health.

I am grateful that my new career in innkeeping has introduced me to so many wonderful, inspiring friends like the Twinkle Girls who make every day merry and bright.

Mother's Day Is Every Day at The Wilburton Inn

Our mom, Georgette Wasserstein Levis, believed in family. She came from a large family in Brooklyn, New York. Her siblings, playwright Wendy Wasserstein, Lazard CEO Bruce Wasserstein and advertising executive Sandra Meyer were all extraordinary, all legends in their fields.

Wendy, Mom, Sandy, Bruce at our parents wedding at the Plaza Hotel in 1967.

Wendy, Mom, Sandy, Bruce at our parents wedding at the Plaza Hotel in 1967.

Mom was extraordinary in a completely different way. She married a nice Jewish doctor. (Well, Albert is certainly many more things in addition to 'nice'. More like 'brilliant,' 'interesting,' 'complicated,' and 'generous.') Georgette had four children in 3 different decades: Tajlei and Melissa in her 20s, Oliver in her 30s, and Max when she turned 40.

Georgette and Oliver, the farmer, Melissa, the children's songwriter, Tajlei the Broadway bound lyricist and lawyer, and Max, the scholar and manager of the Wilburton Inn.

Georgette and Oliver, the farmer, Melissa, the children's songwriter, Tajlei the Broadway bound lyricist and lawyer, and Max, the scholar and manager of the Wilburton Inn.

Mom was an intrinsic part of the community of Manchester, Vermont, serving on the board of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce, Weston Playhouse, The Israel Congregation of Manchester, and many other organizations. Mom was a hostess and innkeeper for 27 years. She welcomed guests from around the world to the Wilburton. She made our guests and staff feel special and truly cared for. 

Innkeepers Albert and Georgette Levis

Innkeepers Albert and Georgette Levis

In the Jewish tradition, families sit shiva for a week and friends drop by to reminisce. Our family has been so grateful because every weekend for more than a year we have enjoyed visits from returning guests and Wilburton brides who share wonderful stories of what Georgette meant to them: her charm, her hospitality, her inspiration, her wit and of course the pretty bows and flowers in her hair. 

We honor Georgette every day in our lives and at the Wilburton Inn. The parties continue, the guests return. New families play lawn games and splash in the pool. More brides and grooms celebrate their love on our majestic hilltop.  Max, Tajlei, and Melissa have come home to Vermont work beside Albert and make the inn more vibrant than ever.

Levis Family at Farm Night

How Georgette would have loved seeing her dear guests return for their annual vacations. How she would have enjoyed tasting Oliver and Bonnie's delicious food at farm night, watching Tajlei's theatrical annual Murder Mystery, hearing Melissa's family concerts, and seeing Max shine in every capacity as he hosts corporate events, weddings, and runs the Wilburton Inn. And now she would be so proud to see Albert and Max open the Museum of the Creative Process on Memorial Day!

An innkeeper is like a mother to her guests and staff and community.  So here is to our mom, Georgette Wasserstein Levis, with gratitude, joy, and love. Thank you for the huge impact you made on your family and friends and community. Forever may you dance.

Me and My Mom: A musical tribute to Georgette Wasserstein Levis.