To Tree or Not to Tree? That Is (Sometimes) the Question

By InterfaithFamily

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Return to the Guide to Hanukkah for Interfaith Families

Boy with tree

For interfaith families who have decided to raise their children with Judaism as their full or partial religious identity, one of the most commonly occurring questions that comes up is whether or not to have a Christmas tree at home. Some in the organized Jewish community will claim that interfaith families that have Christmas trees aren’t generally successful in passing on Jewish identity to children. For what it’s worth, there’s no research that shows that having a tree in the home means that kids won’t end up identifying as Jewish, especially in homes where people also engage in regular Jewish ritual practices, like lighting Shabbat candles every week. At InterfaithFamily we’ve done surveys on December holiday practices over the last several years, and you can see our findings on this and other questions here.

Still, sometimes discussing having a Christmas tree at home can be an emotional trigger for Jewish partners. It’s also not uncommon for Jewish relatives to feel uncomfortable celebrating Hanukkah in the presence of Christmas decorations. To add to the complexity, sometimes Christian partners – especially those who have agreed to raise Jewish children – can’t fathom why having a Christmas tree, just as a gesture of respect to the Christian partner’s heritage and family, is so threatening to their Jewish mate. There have been countless couples’ arguments over whether or not a Christmas tree is a “religious” Christian symbol. If you find yourselves having some version of this debate, it’s helpful to remember that what actually matters is how both partners in a relationship are feeling about the tree and how well they are able to communicate and, if necessary, compromise.

It can be helpful for Christian partners to bear in mind that what may be scary for Jewish partners about having a tree is the deeply ingrained Jewish fear of disappearing. As members of a very small minority group immersed in the ubiquitous American Christmas scene, the prospect of having a Christmas tree in the home may arouse feelings of being subsumed by the dominant culture and feelings of guilt over a perceived failure to carry on Judaism.

Likewise, it can be helpful for Jewish partners to bear in mind that many Christian partners – including those who are not at all religious – have precious associations with the Christmas trees of their childhood. They may feel like their Jewish partners are being unreasonably inflexible and insensitive to their cherished memories of Christmases shared with parents, grandparents, deceased loved ones, etc. Christian partners who’ve agreed to raise Jewish children may feel that they’ve already agreed to prioritize Judaism on the biggest issues, and they may feel hurt or resentful that their Jewish partner isn’t willing to accommodate what feels to them like a small but important request.

The Guide to Hanukkah for Interfaith Families is also available in PDF





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About InterfaithFamily

InterfaithFamily is the premier resource supporting interfaith couples exploring Jewish life and inclusive Jewish communities. We offer educational content; connections to welcoming organizations, professionals and programs; resources and trainings for organizations, clergy and other program providers; and our new InterfaithFamily/Your Community initiative providing coordinated comprehensive offerings in local communities. If you have suggestions, please contact network at interfaithfamily dot com.