There Are No Jewish Christmas Trees & Santa Isn’t Real

Eleven years ago I would stare at my pregnant wife’s belly and wonder whether we were going to have a boy or a girl. I’d put my hand on her stomach and talk to the baby inside and promise that I would do everything in my power to give him or her the best life they could ask for.

When December rolled around and we started the ‘baby watch’ I really began thinking hard about all of the things that were going to come along with being a father. Part of that process for me included trying to think of really hard questions and how to answer them. Looking back on that time I can’t help but laugh at some of it.

Call it anxiety, nerves or whatever you want. I was terribly excited but I did wonder how some of it would go in real life.

Midway through the month one of the men in my office told me that he thought it was so cool that my children would get to celebrate with a real “Jewish Christmas tree” and that he was jealous that I would get to play Santa Claus.

I looked him in the eye and told him that there are NO “Jewish Christmas trees” and that I wouldn’t teach my children to believe in Santa Claus.

He told me that if I did that I was depriving my children of something special and that he thought I was wrong. I shook my head and told him that they would never miss it because it is not our holiday and that it was ridiculous to suggest that. As you might imagine the conversation had gotten a little bit heated and neither one of us was interested in backing down.

When I look back at that moment I see exactly where and when we trampled on each others beliefs and had I to do it over I might handle it differently.

It isn’t because I have changed my mind. There are NO “Jewish Christmas Trees” any more there are pregnant men. I know that some people disagree with this and that there are Jews who put up a tree in their home. That is not something that I can get behind or support. It is a hot button issue for myself and lots of others but there isn’t a way to spin it.

It may not be for me or my place to judge but I have more respect for the members of the tribe that are honest about it. If you put up a tree call it what it is. Don’t call it a “Chanukah bush” because it isn’t and it never will be.

But Santa Is Fun

My former colleague was more irate about my refusal to teach my children that Santa was real than about the tree. He told me that he thought it was terrible and that if my kids went to school and said he wasn’t real they would wreck Christmas for others.

I told him that I would teach my kids not to talk to the other children in school about it but that was as much of a compromise as I was willing to make on the issue. If my memory is accurate he didn’t speak to me again until well into January.

After a decade of parenting I think that I have a better understanding of some of these issues than I did. The joy and innocence of a child is precious and I have done my best to protect it for my kids. I expect no less from other parents.

Yet I can’t say that I feel guilty about teaching my kids that Santa isn’t real. It is not my responsibility or obligation to do otherwise. I am their father and my job is focus on passing along the values that I see as important and my religious traditions/beliefs will not be trampled on.

All that being said I can’t remember a time where any of this was a serious issue. No one has ever said anything to me that suggested that a problem has been created because of this. And my children have never felt like they were missing out.

I think that in part it is because I haven’t ever taught them that one is better than the other. When they have asked me about other religions I have always told them that people are entitled to believe what they want provided that they aren’t hurting others because of their beliefs.

And thanks to our neighbors we have had many opportunities to enjoy a tree in their home. It smells great and looks pretty- but it doesn’t belong in our home.

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20 Comments

  1. Christine December 18, 2011 at 5:47 pm

    Of course there are no Jewish Christmas trees. That is freaking absurd.

    And passing judgement on a Jewish guy who has never celebrated Christmas and doesn’t plan to start once he has kids is just bizarre.

    People can be so weird.

  2. LaRae Quy December 12, 2011 at 6:15 pm

    Hi Jack, whether it’s Santa Claus or God, the reaction is pretty much the same: how can one person do ALL that?

  3. Zach December 12, 2011 at 11:43 am

    Faith is, as we know, something over which people have started wars. And it doesn’t take Tevye to tell you that tradition is, well, big. So, every kid (and married couple!) will have some sort of conflict over both of these in their life. You file this one under “H” for “Hope You Taught Your Kid to Argue When It’s Worth It & Let It Slide When It’s Not”. Or, just “T” for Tolerance, I guess.

  4. Kashii December 11, 2011 at 1:38 pm

    Great post! As a Catholic born and raised, I find it disturbing that someone tried to shove the whole “Jewish Christmas Tree/Santa” thing down your throat, and worse that they implied you’d be a worse parent if you didn’t assimilate these aspects into your culture/religion/family/household.

    Worse than that it would appear that people doing and saying such things are completely ignorant of the truly beautiful and mystical Jewish holidays that you had to offer your children growing up. To infer such a thing is just sad and horribly ignorant. Jews don’t need a Santa or a Christmas tree! You’ve got your own many thousands of years of history to revel in. No one should be forcing anything else on you or your kids.

    Just as you mentioned enjoying being a part of the festivities in a Christian home, I too have had the great privilege to share in and participate in Jewish festivities (Weddings, Bar/Bat Mitzvahs etc.) and they were always wonderful and enriching experiences for me. I love that I have Jewish friends and neighbours and that we’re able to participate in a neighbourly exchange quite frequently. But their homes are decidedly Jewish to whatever degree the family wishes to express it and everyone is happy, and I don’t see Child Services checking in on their kids because someone raised them not to believe in Santa or the Easter Bunny. That’s just ridiculous.

    I’m sorry you even felt the need to write a post like this but clearly it needed to be said. Thank you for speaking up and I hope anyone reading thinks twice about having such an attitude today.

    • Jack December 12, 2011 at 1:13 am

      Hi Kashii,

      Religion makes people act and do funny things. I don’t think that I or other members of the tribe are devoid of these things.

      But we aren’t really big on proselytizing so there tends to be a lot less of the craziness.

  5. Roy A. Ackerman, PhD, EA December 11, 2011 at 12:29 pm

    Great post- and it’s a long road to follow.
    Too many folks try to elevate Chanuka from its very minor status, to allow them to feel that they can hoist Christmas upon everyone. (We sang a Chanuka song; we “let” you have your menoras; etc.)
    Enjoy YOUR holiday. I truly wish you a wonderful time. Leave me to celebrate mine- and not celebrate yours. I don’t have a birthday cake for me on your birthday; you don’t have one for you on my birthday. Keep things where they belong.

    • Jack December 11, 2011 at 2:04 pm

      I think that in the interest of equality and trying to make our children happy we have created issues that need not exist.

      Your birthday party analogy works well for this.

  6. Bruce Sallan December 11, 2011 at 7:04 am

    This is one of the hardest things I’ve faced in my two marriages – since I’m Jewish and both my wives were not. My 1st wife chose to convert but also chose to not be involved. That ultimately was fine since I chose to take care to bring Judaism into our home.

    My second and current wife is a believing Christian with a GREAT love of Xmas. We fought over the Xmas tree, compromising that we’d celebrate Xmas at her parent’s home in Vancouver (we’re in L.A.). THAT worked great until my wife got sick one Xmas and begged for a tree in the house.

    I could have stayed stubborn and stuck – my usual m.o. – but did the right thing and we brought the Xmas tree into the home.

    By now, my boys had their (Jewish) identity having both become a Bar Mitzvah. They were able to enjoy their step-mom’s holiday without any fear from their old man that they’d be getting a crucifix anytime soon to wear around their necks.

    Ironically, this year my wife is going up to her parents with my younger son and when I asked if she wanted a tree at home, she declined. It’s all worked out just fine.

    I’m going skiing and my older son is just hanging at the house. We’ll all be happy though I’d prefer we were together. The main reason we’re all not going to Vancouver is just money – too expensive for the four of us to fly, rent a car, and eat out.

    BTW, I HATE when people, especially Jews, call a Xmas tree a “Hannukah bush.” It’s a Xmas tree. A beautiful and wonderful Christian symbol!

    • Jack December 11, 2011 at 10:19 am

      Hi Bruce,

      I have an ongoing debate with a few people about the tree and what it symbolizes. They insist that there is nothing religious about it and I just don’t agree.

      People who call it a “Chanukah Bush” just infuriate me. Be honest and call it what it is.

      I think they can be beautiful and smell great. I understand why someone might want one in their home, especially with the situation that you described.

      I just knew that it was an area that I couldn’t compromise on so I made a point not to put myself in a position where I would have to.

      It is a complicated issue.

  7. CHOPPERPAPA December 11, 2011 at 6:33 am

    “Jewish christmas tree” – I was married to a jew and we didn’t have that. We simply had a Christmas tree, but she was as much Jewish as I am a African American.

  8. Barbara December 10, 2011 at 11:11 am

    There is no Jewish Christmas Tree – but what we all need is a good dose of tolerance!

    Your post brings up memories of how my daughter grew up, in a non-religious household but going to the synagogue on high holidays. The first time she saw a catholic priest on TV and came running to me “Mum, what is the rabbi doing in a long robe?” Funny at first, but today I feel rather sad.

    And I wonder whether I have missed out on something, thinking that preaching tolerance and relying on religious science can fill the emotional void and longing for roots?

    • Jack December 11, 2011 at 10:13 am

      Hi Barbara,

      I agree with about tolerance being important. Some of my favorite memories are going to my friend G’s house to help decorate his tree.

      He is Christian and I like joining the festivities there.

      I admit to being somewhat intolerant of having a tree in a Jewish home. The fundamental issue with me has always been about the children. I want them to be raised Jewish.

      You can attribute that to a lot of things. My great grandfather didn’t hide from the Cossacks so that we could give up being Jewish.

      It is a complicated deal for me. I don’t think that we are “better” than others but there is something special and I don’t think we have to give it up either. There can be a balance.

  9. Bill Dorman December 9, 2011 at 9:18 am

    ….provided they aren’t hurting others because of their beliefs…..unfortunately, that does happen way too often over who’s religion is the ‘real’ religion.

    I grew up as a Christian and the only religions I knew were Baptist, Methodist, Catholics and Pentecostal Church of God. Eventually, I learned about Mormons but growing up in the sticks in Florida we didn’t have a Jewish or a Muslim community per se.

    Whatever your beliefs are hopefully it is teaching you to be loving, understanding and forgiving.

    Respect other’s traditions, but no one tradition is better than another; we just know which one is most popular, huh?

    Good post…….

    • Jack December 9, 2011 at 10:47 am

      Hi Bill,

      Faith is a funny thing and some people get crazy about it. I have my share of hot buttons and quirks.

      But over time I have found that when I can adopt a “go along and get along” stance life is much less complicated.

      I am not always good at that.

      The respect you mention goes a long way for everyone.

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