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No Hanukkah Bushes In My House!

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Here's why there will be no Christmas tree in my casa this year ... or any year.

Christmas Tree and Menorah

Jennifer Ginsberg:: I totally get it. Christmas trees are beautiful....the aroma, the sparkly ornaments, the beautifully wrapped presents underneath. I would be lying to say that at this time of the year, there isn't a small part of me that wishes that I could partake in the Christmas festivities, too. But I don't because I am Jewish.

Many of my Jewish friends celebrate the Christmas season by decorating their homes with a tree, tinsel, and ornaments. Their reasons for doing so are varied- most often, they don't want their kids to feel "left out". Personally, I would much rather have my children feel left out then have them not affiliate with Judaism and miss the opportunity to embrace religious pluralism.

Even young children can be taught to understand the difference between Judaism and Christianity. And in the real world, we sometimes have to tolerate feeling not included. As parents, we are often tempted to gratify our child's every desire because we believe that protecting them from frustration or disappointment is effective parenting.

Quite the contrary- by indulging your child's desire for a Christmas tree when it is not part of your religion, you are sending them the message that the true meaning of religion is insignificant and it all boils down to ornaments and ribbons.

Parents also rationalize this choice by asserting that a Christmas tree has nothing to do with religion, rather, it is a symbol of the season. As a Jew, I would be offended if non-Jews lit menorahs because they thought they made pretty candles. And I respect Christianity and its sacred symbols enough to not call a Christmas Tree a Hanukkah Bush.

Yes, it can be very difficult. The season is upon us and Christmas decorations have taken over our city streets, malls, and and supermarkets. My five-year-old son, Shane, is captivated by the shiny lights and decorations. When we walked through the mall the other day, he saw a line of children waiting to sit on Santa's lap.

"Mommy, can we please do Christmas?" he asked, looking longingly at the Christmas tree set up next to Santa with all the presents circling around it.

I explained to him (again) that it isn't our holiday. Of course we can appreciate the beauty of the decorations and enjoy the festivities, but bringing them into our home bastardizes the sanctity of the holiday. Christmas is about the birth of Jesus Christ, not about a cheery man in a red costume who comes down your chimney and gives you presents.

"It's because we're Jewish." Shane said.

Yes, it is because we're Jewish. And during this season, I hope all parents to take the opportunity to talk to their children about the true meaning of your holiday.

11 comments so far | Post a comment now
Anonymous December 11, 2009, 4:46 AM

The only sacred symbols of Christianity are the cross and the nativity scene. The rest is just fluff. So a Chanukah bush is just fluff too. The tree is just a modern century celebration of joy.

Caroline December 11, 2009, 5:53 AM

Considering the fact that the tradition of the tree was co opted from German Pagan rituals used to celebrate the solstice as one of many ways to bring the Pagans over to Christianity (that’s why Christmas is in the Winter, too, rather than anywhere near the time of year when Christ was likely actually born) this is a completely invalid argument. It is by no means a “sacred symbol” of Christianity.
Lighten up.

Dr. Michelle Golland December 11, 2009, 6:08 AM

Thank you for your article. I agree with you completely.

Nasya December 11, 2009, 7:36 AM

I’m confused. You want to encourage religious pluralism, yet you’re offended if Christians light menorahs and refuse to put up a tree. I understand it. I really do. But you’re trying to masquerade your real reasons why. The fact is, when it comes to religion, I think people need to feel offended and burdened.

maeby December 11, 2009, 9:20 AM

stop caring so much about all of it. its just another way to divide people. lets all worship the sun. that guys awesome. he keeps us warm. and then we’ll all believe in the same thing and its very real and not made up!

annon December 11, 2009, 11:31 AM

I agree with you- however i think that if your son even has to ask “can we do xmas” your not bringing enough judaism or jewish religiousity into the home for him to feel proud of being jewish to begin with.

LeaC December 11, 2009, 2:25 PM

The “Christmas” tree is a bastardization of a combination of Pagan holidays. The Christians stole it in order to make conversion easier. It is in no way a holy object.

The origins of Christmas are varied but primarily come from the roman pagan celebration of Saturnalia as well as certain activities by the Druids.

Learn your history, it’s in no way shape or form a religious function. The birth of Christ in Christian mythology happened in March anyway. People who honor Xmas as a religious holiday are a joke. So lighten up and embrace the true meaning: pagan roots!

Selfish Mom December 11, 2009, 6:42 PM

I have no interest in trying to convince you to get a tree, what you do is of course your business. But I have a problem with your assertion that Christmas trees are religious symbols. I think a more apt comparison would be to nativity scenes.

I’m an atheist, and I have no problem celebrating Christmas (and neither does my husband, who was raised Muslim). It’s a time for family, gifts, a big special meal, and decorating a pretty tree. If my kids wanted to set up a manger scene I’d have some serious thinking to do, but a Christmas tree celebrates commercialism more than anything else. You practically make this argument yourself, stating that Christmas isn’t about Santa coming down a chimney and giving you gifts.

michelle December 14, 2009, 10:27 AM

News flash to all you people who totally missed Jennifer’s point: Yes, we all know the history. We know the tree was originally a pagan symbol. THIS DOES NOT MATTER. The tree is still a symbol of religious observance that is not Jewish. If YOU read your history you would know that Hanukkah commemorates a Jewish uprising against compulsory pagan religious observance. Therefore it would be particularly strange to celebrate Hanukkah, of all holidays, with a tree.

jamie December 16, 2009, 9:07 AM

Please ignore those ignorant people who say to “lighten up” and that’s it’s okay to have a “hanukkah bush”. It is NOT okay. Regardless of where it came from, the tree is a symbol of Christmas period. (which is the symbolic day to celebrate Jesus’ birth even though he would’ve actually been born in the spring). We all know the tree came from the pagans and blah blah blah but in our society it is ONLY used at Christmas and therefore a CHRISTIAN tradition. And as JEWISH people do not recognize Jesus and they should not participate in Christian traditions.

I wouldn’t want Christians all of a sudden lighting menorahs either -it would make each religion lose it’s meaning if everyone just did whatever without any belief behind the action.

I allow my children to appreciate and have knowledge of other religious traditions but we certainly don’t practice them. Also, why make your child feel like they are at a deficit? Why would a Jewish person have Christian traditions in there home?

Used Golf Clubs September 21, 2010, 12:42 AM

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