Metro Detroiter Alicia Chandler shares her personal views on having a Christmas tree next to the menorah during the holidays.
According to the 2013 Pew Study, 32 percent of Jewish homes will put up a Christmas tree. I am one of them.
My husband’s and my first Christmas tree was in a little apartment in Hartford, Conn. I went to Bed, Bath & Beyond and bought a scruffy-looking 18-inch fake tree along with the most generic menorah you can imagine and they sat side-by-side on the kitchen counter.
This year, we have a beautiful 9-foot tall Douglas Fir decorated with ornaments that tell the story of our life together. Next to it (but not too close for fire hazard reasons) sit at least a dozen menorahs, including ones with my children’s Hebrew names carved out of wood and our Menorah-saurus Rex.
In his opinion piece “A Christmas Tree Says Something,” Louis Finkelman completely ignored the reason that many Jewish homes have Christmas trees. According to the 2013 Pew study, 71 percent of families where one spouse is not Jewish choose to put up a Christmas tree. For these families, the choice to put up a tree is likely to honor the Christian traditions that are part of their family’s mixed heritage.
Perhaps Mr. Finkelman was only speaking to the 7 percent of homes where there are two Jewish spouses that choose to put up a Christmas tree. While I cannot say why these homes choose to put up a tree, many of them also may have a mixed heritage and chose to put up trees to honor a non-Jewish parent or grandparent.
In 2019, identities can be very complex, and the Christmas tree is just one of many visual representations of that complexity.
My greatest concern about Mr. Finkelman’s piece, and the choice of the Jewish News to publish it with a big red “no” symbol covering the Christmas tree, is that it “otherizes” those in the Jewish community that make this particular choice. Diving further into the data, 40 percent of Jews between ages 30-49 had a Christmas tree the year of the Pew study.
While I am of the opinion that we should not be excluding any Jew, pragmatically it would seem like a strange tactic for the community paper to publish an opinion that seemed to say that this large part of the community lacked the necessary energy to avoid a Christmas tree.
On a side note, as someone who has now had a tree for almost two decades, I can vouch for the fact that Christmas trees take a lot of energy and it would be a much easier and more restful choice to avoid one!
Where I can agree with Mr. Finkelman is that there is pressure on families to conform, and it takes strength and energy to stand up against conformity and create the home that we want for ourselves and our children. However, his article stands as proof of the pressure on families in the Jewish community to conform to the notion of what a Jewish home is and shun traditions, such as the Christmas tree, that honor our families’ complex heritages.
It is time for the Jewish community to embrace its complexity. While I do not keep kosher or where a kippah, I celebrate those who do. Perhaps it might be too much to ask for the Jewish community to celebrate my Christmas tree, but it is time to move toward tolerance or even acceptance of the traditions embraced by interfaith families.
The Jewish community is incredibly diverse and complex. While this diversity may take some adaptation, it presents the most amazing opportunities to strengthen our Jewish community. This season, may we all bring light into the world whether it is through a chanukiah, a Christmas tree or, for many of us, both.
Alicia Chandler is a student at Hebrew College pursuing a dual masters in Jewish studies and Jewish education. She is also the founder of Multifaith Life LLC, a consulting company helping Jewish institutions adapt to the rise in interfaith families.