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Holiday Tree

 

Over the past few years, the US has endured some controversy over municipal trees being called “Holiday Trees” instead of “Christmas Trees.” Christians have objected to the name of their holiday being obscured in such an ambiguous term. In 2005, Boston was the site of a controversy over the naming of the tree. The man who donated the tree even said that had he known it would not be called a “Christmas Tree,” he would not have given it to the city.

At the time, a representative of House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert said, “To rename a Christmas tree as a holiday tree is as offensive as renaming a Jewish menorah a candlestick” (link). [See here for the Wikipedia entry on the subject: link]

I’ll go one step further. While Christians consider the renaming of the holiday symbol an affront to their religion, I find it offensive to my Judaism. The implication is that the tree is a symbol of the various holidays celebrated in America, most notably Hanukkah that generally falls out around the same time as the Christian holiday (particularly this year). The tree is not. It has nothing to do with Judaism, Chanukah or any of our holidays. Regardless of its historical origin, the tree has come to be a symbol of one of the most important Christian holidays. Using an ambiguous term that implies it has significance to Judaism is, in my opinion, extremely offensive to Jews (and presumably members of other religions) and is simply inaccurate.

(Note that the illustration above is the cover of a book I have not read: link)

(Adapted from a 2005 post)

 

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Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the founder, publisher and editor-in-chief of Torah Musings.

 
The opinions and facts here are presented solely by the author. Torah Musings assumes no responsibility for them. Please address religious questions to your rabbi.
 

11 Responses

  1. IH says:

    And before anyone raises the spurious story that keeps coming around: http://www.snopes.com/politics/christmas/ornaments.asp

    ——

    I was living in the UK (where Christmas is like YK in Israel) when you first posted this in 2005 so I missed whatever actual news story motiviated it. Can anyone cite the actual 2005 news story from a credible source?

  2. IH says:

    And here’s a funny twist from the Christmas tree controversies section of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas_controversy:

    In 2009 in Jerusalem, Israel the Lobby for Jewish Values, with support of the Jerusalem Rabbinate, has handed out fliers condemning Christmas and have called for a boycott of “restaurants and hotels that sell or put up Christmas trees and other ‘foolish’ Christian symbols”.

  3. joel rich says:

    I’ll go one step further. While Christians consider the renaming of the holiday symbol an affront to their religion, I find it offensive to my Judaism. The implication is that the tree is a symbol of the various holidays celebrated in America, most notably Hanukkah that generally falls out around the same time as the Christian holiday (particularly this year).
    ============================================
    Could be (I’d have to check the proclamation or the congressional debate records to determine the intent-similar i suppose to determinig the intent of wtg supporters?). My experience has more often been well meaning nonJewish associates bending over backwards to use language not to offend me when I’m in a group meeting/discussion.

    KT

  4. GIL:

    agree in general. but the fact is that there are many people, including unfortunately jews too, who relate to the christmas tree in a completely secular fashion. even if they still call it a christmas tree, it is nothing more than a generic winter holiday symbol.

  5. joel rich says:

    R’ Abba,
    Ironic how things come full circle:
    According to the Encyclopædia Britannica, “The use of evergreen trees, wreaths, and garlands to symbolize eternal life was a custom of the ancient Egyptians, Chinese, and Hebrews. Tree worship was common among the pagan Europeans and survived their conversion to Christianity in the Scandinavian customs of decorating the house and barn with evergreens at the New Year to scare away the devil and of setting up a tree for the birds during Christmastime.”

    KT

  6. abba's rantings says:

    R. Rich:

    the tree is still a very strong and widely-practiced (completely secular) custom in the former soviet union. i recall when the mass aliyah started friends of my parents related at the time how aghast they were to come into the home of oleh and see a christmas tree. but it wasn’t a christmas tree. good shabbos.

  7. mb says:

    Doesn’t bother me.
    In essence, I’m asking, so what? Who is hurt by it?
    And Jews have often brought in gentile customs from their holidays. and they end up rather mainstream.
    What do you think the source of ushpizim is?

  8. MiMedinat HaYam says:

    abba — side point — russia is a different story.

    a russian friend of mine told me new years day is a big russian holiday among jews, since it was the only holiday not commemorating a communist event. i would extend this argument to your statement.

    mb — should we sing “La Marseillaise” after ne’illah?

    IH — a restaurant once had a new years party. the vaad of flatbush forbade it the next year.

  9. IH says:

    It seems to me the “holiday tree” hook misses the more interesting and complicated issue. If you have a friend, colleague or someone who provides you services whom you know to be a religous Christian, do you wish them Happy Holiday, or Merry/Happy Christmas or avoid saying anything?

  10. Herberger says:

    Yirmiyahu 10:2-4 seem quite relevant – he obviously wasn’t describing a Christmas tree – but we certainly can see parallels to one in this passage: ” ב כֹּה אָמַר יְהוָה, אֶל-דֶּרֶךְ הַגּוֹיִם אַל-תִּלְמָדוּ, וּמֵאֹתוֹת הַשָּׁמַיִם, אַל-תֵּחָתּוּ: כִּי-יֵחַתּוּ הַגּוֹיִם, מֵהֵמָּה. ג כִּי-חֻקּוֹת הָעַמִּים, הֶבֶל הוּא: כִּי-עֵץ מִיַּעַר כְּרָתוֹ, מַעֲשֵׂה יְדֵי-חָרָשׁ בַּמַּעֲצָד. ד בְּכֶסֶף וּבְזָהָב, יְיַפֵּהוּ; בְּמַסְמְרוֹת וּבְמַקָּבוֹת יְחַזְּקוּם, וְלוֹא יָפִיק.”

 
 

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