Home December 2012 December Downer

December Downer

The lovely little envelope arrived in a flurry of catalogues and donation requests.
“Happy Holidays!” proclaimed the card inside.  The photo – glossy, gorgeous – was of a family (also glossy, gorgeous) smiling warmly in smart little outfits.  I would have been so happy to have had received this beautiful holiday card from my longtime friends last year were it not for one little thing: The enormous Christmas tree behind them.
This wasn’t the Christmas tree at Fashion Island or some painted-in-the-background Christmas tree at a Sears portrait center.  This was a Christmas tree in my friends’ home.  Their Jewish home.
I don’t separate plates for milk and meat.  I drive on Shabbat.  I use G-d’s name in vain so much, you’d think it was a four-letter word.  I’m not a Super Jew.  But when I see a Christmas tree crowding a Jewish home, I suddenly become Laurence Olivier in The Jazz Singer.  Garments are torn, tears are shed.  A bunch of Yiddish words fall out of my face.  And more than that, I judge.
Oh, how I judge.
Very few things insult me the way a Christmas tree in a Jewish home insults me. The tree is not a frivolous bit of Americana.  It’s Jesus’s special birthday bouquet!  Not only does it fly in the face of our religion; it’s not exactly respectful of Christians either.  Imagine if you walked into the home of your neighbors, the McNonJews, during Pesach and found them eating a very prolonged meal centered around chalk-dry crackers?
Yeah.  That’s how observant Christians see it when we gather around a “Chanukah Bush.”
Look, people of mine.  I get it.  Those pine needles smell good.  That tree is so beautiful and so bright; it’s as alluring as an open flame to a moth.  And I understand that for most secular Americans, the trees’ ubiquity has practically sapped it of all significance as a symbol of the birth of someone else’s messiah.  But, kids, yeladim, this tree is not ours.
It wasn’t even Christians’ at first.  The tree is a leftover from pagan times when people believed the sun was a god and that hanging evergreen boughs would help that god get over the cold he clearly caught every winter.  The Puritan forefathers of this great nation found decorated trees so offensive they fined people for having them.
Eventually, of course, Christians grew too mesmerized by the pretty lights to keep fighting, and the tree became a permanent fixture of the Christmas celebration.  Now those sweet-smelling evergreen branches are beckoning us Jews, too.
While I wish Jews had thought to appropriate this pagan symbol first (We had a 3,000-year advantage, and no one thought to make a play for the tree?), we didn’t.  We were too busy trying to make hashed browns sound festive that we missed the forest for the trees.
We blew it.  All these years later, it’s time to concede and move on.
We have no business messing around with boughs of holly.  Doing so is as offensive to bubbe as it is to Baptists.  It’s a Christian symbol, and no amount of secular rationalizing will change that.  But if you still insist on decorating your “Chanukah Bush,” just know I’m squinting my angry little eyes at you, and I’m judging.  Oh, how I’m judging.
Yeah, I know.  It’s not very Christian of me.

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