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Wrong for Jews to have Christmas Trees?

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By Jennifer Ginsberg

I totally get it. Christmas trees are beautiful -- the aroma, the sparkly ornaments, the beautifully wrapped presents underneath. I would be lying to say that at this time of the year, there isn't a small part of me that wishes that I could partake in the Christmas festivities, too.

But I don't because I am Jewish. Many of my Jewish friends celebrate the Christmas season by decorating their homes with a tree, tinsel and ornaments. Their reasons for doing so are varied; most often, they don't want their kids to feel "left out."

Personally, I would much rather have my children feel left out than have them not affiliate with Judaism and miss the opportunity to embrace religious pluralism.

Even young children can be taught to understand the difference between Judaism and Christianity. And in the real world, we sometimes have to tolerate feeling not included. As parents, we are often tempted to gratify our children's every desire because we believe that protecting them from frustration or disappointment is effective parenting. On the contrary, by indulging your children's desire for a Christmas tree when it is not part of your religion, you are sending them the message that the true meaning of religion is insignificant and it all boils down to ornaments and ribbons.

Parents also rationalize this choice by asserting that a Christmas tree has nothing to do with religion; rather, it is a symbol of the season. As a Jew, I would be offended if non-Jews lit menorahs because they thought they made pretty candles. And I respect Christianity and its sacred symbols enough to not call a Christmas tree a Hanukkah bush.

Yes, it can be very difficult. The season is upon us and Christmas decorations have taken over our city streets, malls and supermarkets. My 5-year-old son, Shane, is captivated by the shiny lights and decorations. When we walked through the mall the other day, he saw a line of children waiting to sit on Santa's lap.

"Mommy, can we please do Christmas?" he asked, looking longingly at the Christmas tree set up next to Santa with all the presents circling around it. I explained to him (again) that it isn't our holiday. Of course we can appreciate the beauty of the decorations and enjoy the festivities, but bringing them into our home bastardizes the sanctity of the holiday. Christmas is about the birth of Jesus Christ, not about a cheery man in a red costume who comes down your chimney and gives you presents.

"It's because we're Jewish." Shane said.

Yes, it is because we're Jewish. And during this season, I hope all parents take the opportunity to talk to their children about the true meaning of their chosen holiday.


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