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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 than 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 children's every desire because we believe that protecting them from frustration or disappointment is effective parenting. On the contrary, by indulging your children'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 supermarkets. My 5-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 take the opportunity to talk to their children about the true meaning of their chosen holiday.

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4 comments so far | Post a comment now
games December 5, 2010, 12:09 PM

it’s okay to give the children another religion knowledge, just to brighten their view.

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Nick December 6, 2010, 5:10 AM

A “Christmas tree” is little to do with Christianity, and certainly isn’t one of “its sacred symbols”.
It’s a pagan German tradition that we (in Britain) imported into our country in Victoria times because it’s charming and FUN.

Leah December 6, 2010, 5:43 AM

Could not agree more - Christmas tree (duh, just look at the name) symbolizes a CHRISTIAN holiday that acknowledges the birth of Jesus (I know, that’s not his actual date of birth if he existed, but that’s the chosen date). No way as a Jewish mom would I have a Christmas tree in my house!

Why make a Jewish kid feel less by encouraging the celebration of Christmas - as if the Jewish Holy Days weren’t special enough? Christmas isn’t even on my kids radad - they know what it is, but no need to celebrate it. Hanukkah is a HUGE FAMILY holiday in our home - lots of festive gatherings and meals and our beautiful Menorah glowing each night as we sit around the fire place and dreidel. Nothing can compare with that!!

michelle December 6, 2010, 10:12 AM

I generally agree, but I did think you made it sound like being Jewish during the Xmas season is something to be endured rather than something beautiful and positive. That’s too bad. We teach our kids that it is wonderful to be different and we teach them what Jewish values and traditions are all about. The Hanukkah story itself is about Jews holding on to their religion in the face of overwhelming pressure to abandon it. How fitting a story for today, as you have shown us.

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