While visions of “The Polar Express” danced in their heads, my children had their first Christmas tree-decorating experience this Sunday – just a few hours after Hebrew school.
We were at another family’s Christmas party; so ensconced in Jewish life am I these days that I hadn’t realized until we got to their apartment — Christmas songs playing on the stereo and a fragrant evergreen awaiting the children’s trimming — that this was, in fact, a Christmas party.
Not that it would have affected our decision to attend. My girls never turn down an opportunity to decorate, and they had a blast helping to drape the branches with tinsel, shiny balls and even a miniature Clifford The Big Red Dog. (I’ll leave you to ponder the paradox/oxymoron of a miniature giant dog.)
A few years ago, the sight of my offspring engaging in tree trimming might have made me squeamish, but this year, while we don’t (and won’t) have our own tree, I’m on a bit of a crusade, so to speak, against Christmasphobia. By which I mean the attitude many Jews (even some intermarried ones) have that Christmas and all its trappings must be avoided at all costs lest we assimilate into nothingness — and that we must be offended when clueless but well intentioned Christians wish us a merry Christmas or offer us gifts wrapped in red and green.
Like intermarriage itself, the presence or absence of a Christmas tree in one’s home is often used as a shorthand pulse check of Jewish identity — and both are rather flawed, simplistic measurement devices.
The fact is that many interfaith families, and in-married families with Christian relatives, do live full Jewish lives yet also partake in Christmas celebrations.
But don’t take my word for it. Instead, check out Andi Rosenthal’s beautiful “Tree of Life” essay on InterfaithFamily.com about yearning for Christmas trees, even after she converted to Judaism.
And the Velveteen Rabbi (aka rabbinical student Rachel Barenblat)’s thoughtful “Forest Beyond the Trees” post, in which she explores American Jews’ collective Christmas anxiety and points out that “Jewish identity shouldn’t be so fragile that a decorated evergreen can shake its foundations.”
For a more light-hearted take on Jews and Christmas trees, get thee to Slate, where Mark Oppenheimer and Jessica Grose debate “Should Jews Own Christmas Trees”? Both writers use the word “shiksa” a bit too freely for my liking, but one entertaining interfaith moment in the debate: Grose notes that she is “so keen on sharing my Jewishness with the goyim that I married one.”
Oh, and on the off chance that you’re still looking for something to do, feel free to read my 2007 column titled Oy Christmas Tree.
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