An article appeared in the New York Times entitled: “Jewish in a Winter Wonderland.” The author describes how she and her husband, both Jews, decided to buy and decorate a Christmas tree this year. At first she blames the Pottery Barn catalog, for having such attractive decorations, then moves on to describe her Christmas Tree as subversive and rebellious.
Finally she makes the point that she and her husband want to celebrate Christmas not out of a secret desire to convert to Christianity, but because “the rampant commercialization of Christmas works! Like your kids who desperately want the toys they see advertised on TV, I wanted the monogrammed velvet stocking and my husband wanted the model train that goes around the tree and puffs the actual smoke.”
At the core, this author’s argument is that Christmas is about presents and pretty decorations, and for Jews to celebrate these twin values of beauty and materialism is not a problem. For her, Christmas is devoid of all Christian and religious meaning. However, the author does say that when she has kids, she and her husband would put away the tree.
All holidays, Jewish, Christian and even secular American holidays, have meaning behind them. On Hanukkah we eat latkes and light the menorah. These are wonderful traditions that are meant to remind us of the meaning of the day, that the Jews of 2000 years ago regained their religious freedom and forced the Greeks out of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. When we talk about the miracle of the oil that lasted for 8 days and sing songs about God and Jewish freedom, we acknowledge the true meaning of Hanukkah.
The same holds true of every holiday, even the secular American ones. We all know that July 4th is about American independence, even if we spend all day by the pool, eating barbecue, and watching fireworks. The meaning of a holiday remains visible to those who celebrate it, no matter how secular the symbols appear. To put up a Christmas tree is not just about beauty and materialism. The small fir is meant to remind its owner of the true meaning of Christmas, the day that Jesus was born. That is why the most common decoration for the top of the Christmas tree is an angel or star, which symbolizes the star of Bethlehem or angelic hosts which proclaimed the birth of Jesus.
I think Christmas is a wonderful holiday. It is just not a Jewish holiday. Nor is it a secular one. It is a holy day for Christians. Our goal should not be to decapitate holidays from their true meaning. Rather, we should celebrate them for what they are, days that have their own history, culture and religious importance.
To read New York Times article: “Jewish in a Winter Wonderland": Click Here