Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Why we Hosted the Hanukkah Party

Poor Bad Cohen just got through finals week, and was immediately set to task cleaning, shopping, and cooking for the family Hanukkah party, which I had offered to host.

"Why are we having it at our house?" he groaned, looking at the piles of dishes, laundry, dust, etc. that had piled up over the last few weeks, during his fever-pitch end-of-term studying.

"Because we have enough room for everyone. And because I didn't want to have another Hanukkah party in a house with a Christmas tree."

Hmm. Hadn't really thought about that second part until he asked me, but it was true. Almost all the other family members are intermarried - where one converted, she seems now to be only a token Jew. Almost every other house in the family has a Christmas tree. Sometimes next to the menorah, sometimes instead of it. Like almost every other measure of observance, we are the "observant" ones. (I'm sure that will make somebody shudder.)

What's so bad about a Christmas tree? They smell good, they're pretty, they're festive and cheery. Sure, and I still feel that way about them; after all, I grew up with them in my house. And by themselves, there's nothing wrong at all. I can totally enjoy the sight and smell of the tree at my (non-Jewish) parents' house.

But there is something fundamentally wrong with a Christmas tree in a Jewish home. It says, "Judaism isn't quite good enough for us. We need to add something else, something from another religion, to be happy."

I suppose this is how some Orthodox Jews must feel about feminism, or the liberal denominations' focus on tikkun olam.

To me, it was simple. I didn't want to have yet another Jewish holiday in a setting that said, implicitly or overtly, that the holiday, the religion, the brachas, the experience, was second-best, or not really important. That's not the lesson I want my son to learn about his identity.

But it's going to be a hard lesson to teach, given his extended family.


Blogger Am Kshe Oref - A Stiff-Necked People said...

Well said, Tzipp! I really bothers me when Jewish homes and people simply don't feel being Jewish and observing Jewish rituals is enough that they feel they have to also observe Christmas and the like simply because Christmas has better publicity than Chanukah. The other problem is that things like the C-Tree are actually PAGAN rituals, NOT Christian. So that makes it twice as bad. And worse, people simply don't understand how HORRIBLE Christmas is for Jews. It was one of those days when Jews were killed simply because they were Jews and therefore Christ-killers. In fact, there is a minhag to NOT learn Torah on Christmas night and hide away in order not to be noticed. It's a Chassidishe minhag, but there you have it.

Last note. There was a time when I was working at the Shoah Foundation in LA. I worked with this Jewish girl who told me she was so excited that she was going to celebrate Christmas for first time, and it would be with her non-Jewish boyfriend, Chris, and how excited she was about the ham they were preparing. Oy.

12/11/2007 5:24 PM  
Blogger Am Kshe Oref - A Stiff-Necked People said...

Oh, I forgot, Happy ChrismaKwanzaakah! :)

This was all Barak, BTW.

12/11/2007 6:07 PM  
Anonymous Chaim G. the BOF said...

Shkoyakh LadyBird. A lovely sentiment and certainly a level of havdala that we can all agree upon.

12/11/2007 6:53 PM  
Blogger Liorah-Lleucu said...

Pagan-hating is not kosher. Such sentiments are so neanderthal.

Not true chaim.

12/12/2007 12:40 PM  
Blogger Liorah-Lleucu said...

Tzip, please don't become one of those insecure women who regurgitate what they think the rabbis want to hear.

12/12/2007 12:42 PM  
Blogger The back of the hill said...

Toad and Savage Kitten do not have an xmas tree. We do, however, have a Chanukkiah, even though it has never been used.

Religious connotation is not the primary reason - both of us have had it up to here with xmas. Bah humbug.

The first and last time I had an xmas tree was in 1994 - had to spend a lovely summer afternoon with a handsaw and garden shears reducing that thing to garbagebaggable fragments.

The closest we come to amrking the season is grumpiness, early bedtimes, and latkes. Apparently I make good latkes.

12/13/2007 5:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

nice perspective.
chzak veamatz

12/13/2007 6:50 PM  
Blogger Walter said...

If Christians don't treat Christmas as a Christian holiday but instead treat it as a secular and heavily commercialized holiday, then why would you assign it more Christian religious meaning than they do?

In the middle of our living room in which hang paintings of a lady saying berakhot for Shabbat, a sofer inscribing a Torah, and the like, my wife insisted on an Xmas tree. She got one. With a Star of David ornament on it.

She doesn't pray to Jesus and she said her prayers with me at Hannukah. She isn't casting off being a Jew and neither is her mother who approved of the tree (and lives with us). It's not making me less observant of anything.

I'm not seeing a problem.

12/17/2007 1:45 AM  
Blogger The back of the hill said...

Walter, the problem occurs when you do see a religious subtext or context.

To illustrate: my eishes chayil is Cantonese American, non-Christian, pretty much a heathen all around. To her a Christmas tree has absolutely no religious subtext - it's something whitefolks do. And many Chinese Americans of heathenish persuasion also. Simply part of the seasonal thing.

To a never-practising Christianish background gentile, again, it's not a biggy. No problem - fat man comes sliding down a filthy chimney with a big bag of kiddie bribes, bumps into a huge whomping tree hung all over with tshotsh and glitz, meanwhile his reindeer desperately struggle to keep from slipping off the roof or being shot by Joe-Bob next door whose wife gave him a brand new rifle. Strange story, but NO religious meaning, unless you're nuts.

However, for those in whose environment the season is marked by the birth of Jesus, irrespective of whether that counts in their religious format, the tree and the Christian practises associated with the season are all part and parcel - they cannot really be disassociated. The tree functions much like statuettes of the virgin Mary, or crucifixes, or little images of Ganesha, or Kwan Kong on his shelf fiercely looking towards the shop entrance.....

The tree reminds of the web of associations and Christian practises. And in that, it deviates into what for a non-Christian would have to be considered heathendom, idolatry, other belief systems.

12/17/2007 5:00 PM  

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