Jewish mamas with Christian partners: how did you make peace with having a Christmas tree? - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 20 Old 11-02-2012, 07:18 AM - Thread Starter
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My family is Jewish (not particularly religious), my partner's family is Christian (not particularly religious). For 19 years of our relationship we've never had a Christmas tree and never cared. Since having kids we've observed both Hanukkah and Christmas. As DD got older we put some ornaments on a big houseplant. But last year, when she was 4, she insisted that "next year, I want to get a real Christmas tree."

Having a Christmas tree makes me really uncomfortable. But I feel like that's not fair -- my partner allows us to do as much Jewish stuff as I want, comes to my family for Jewish holidays, and he would never dare to say, "Lighting a menorah makes me uncomfortable." We are in agreement that we'll provide our kids connections to both religions. So I don't think it's fair to ban Christmas trees (even if I'd really like to). My partner is not pushing this on me and never has -- it's more that DD really wants it, most of her friends of course have them, and there's no logical reason to say we can't (it's not like I can say, "Our family is Jewish, honey, we celebrate other holidays but not Christmas.") We hang stockings from our mantle and open presents on Christmas morning, and for whatever reason that feels OK to me.

So my question is for Jewish parents who are raising children with more than one religion: if you have a Christmas tree in your house, how did you make peace with this? Do you get a live tree, fake, big, tabletop? How do you decorate it? Do you ever stop feeling uncomfortable?
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#2 of 20 Old 11-02-2012, 07:58 AM
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No one should do anything that makes them uncomfortable. Kids crave ritual and tradition. Compromise with your partner until you get something that feels right for your family.

We invented winter solstice for my family. Lighting the menorah and/or having a full blown xmas were both out of the question for us. We do a small potted tree with sun ornaments and throw a special party for the friends and neighbors called "soup and solstice".
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#3 of 20 Old 11-02-2012, 09:50 AM
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I'm not Jewish so I cannot speak to that part of this. However, I can think of lots of reasons why someone would be uncomfortable with a Christmas tree in the circumstances you describe. I sense that you aren't even sure right now what the biggest issue making you dislike the idea is. However, if you can figure that out I think you have the key to your answer.


- Is it that it's a rather large focal point that takes up half the room for a  holiday you don't even believe in?

- Is it issues surrounding using a real tree? killing a tree to bring it in your home? Pine needles everywhere? Fire hazard?

- Is it the issues surrounding a fate tree? Plastic? Fake Looking? storage?

- Is the additional investment in ornaments, tree skirts, etc.?

- Is it the star or angle on the top?

- The length of time most trees stay up drawing out the holiday?

- Other reasons?


If you can figure out that the issues of real and fake trees are an issue you can have a live potted tree that you plant in a shelter belt in the spring.

If it's the length of time it stays up perhaps restrict that to just a couple of days.

If Christmas dominating your living room due to the tree's size is an issue make it a small table top tree.

Once you figure out what exactly your issue are you will be able to address them in a way that works for your family.

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#4 of 20 Old 11-02-2012, 07:50 PM - Thread Starter
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Good questions. While those are all reasonable reasons, I think it's simply that there's a pretty powerful rule that says Jews Don't Have Christmas Trees. At least in the Jewish circles I traveled in, it simply wasn't done -- it was almost seen as a defining part of what makes being Jewish different than "mainstream" (=Christian) culture. Jewish parents might decorate a houseplant so their kids had a place to hang the ornaments they made in school, or even give their child a gift or two on Christmas morning so they wouldn't feel left out, but there was a clear line drawn about actually having a Christmas tree in one's house.

But for me, I think this is sort of in the category of a "hangup." Yes, it makes me uncomfortable. But in this case, I don't think that's reason not to do it. If as a family we had decided not to celebrate Christmas, then sure, yes. But it doesn't make sense to tell young children we celebrate Christmas but Christmas trees make Mama uncomfortable so we don't have one. I mean, maybe. But I don't want to send my children the message that Christmas trees are bad, or Christmas trees hurt Jewish people, or there's something about a Christian holiday that is shameful.

I think my task is to make peace with the fact that the partner I've chosen to spend my life with (19 years so far, and very, very happy) did not grow up Jewish. He has holidays and rituals that my children have the same "right" to enjoy as they do to my Jewish holidays and rituals (which honestly aren't even that important to me -- I am not a strongly Jewish-identified person!). Christmas trees are just a hot button. But I'm guessing I'm far from being the only Jewish-raised mama who struggles with this. So I'm interested in how others have dealt with the situation -- both logistically and also emotionally/psychologically.
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#5 of 20 Old 11-03-2012, 04:35 AM
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I think that it is okay to not want a tree and if you don't feel good about it, that is reason enough. At that age, it will be easy to distract her and later on she probably won't even want it anymore. I did the same and there is no loss or feeling of deprivation here. You can always go out a visit a tree lighting but personally I would never have an X-mas tree in my home and I feel okay with it.

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#6 of 20 Old 11-03-2012, 07:12 AM
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How would you feel about a small table top tree in her room, but not in the main living area?


Otherwise I agree with the PP there are lots of ways for her to get her tree fix without having one in your house. There are charity auctions of trees in just about every city that you can visit to see amazingly decorated trees, there are trees in city squares, etc.

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#7 of 20 Old 11-06-2012, 11:47 AM
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I'm the child of a Jewish mom Christian father. When I was little I know that my mother was in your postion. She was not "happy" to have the tree, but did it for my father. More then for me or bother. I know that I really can not speak for her...But she has said she never liked it. You have to do what you feel is right for your marriage and child. It is a tree you put the meaning into it.  

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#8 of 20 Old 11-29-2012, 09:12 AM
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Ultimately, you have to figure out where to compromise, but here is how our family has handled it. Coming from the opposite perspective, since I was raised Christian (but I no longer identify myself that way), DH is Jewish, and we are raising DD Jewish. For all purposes, we are a Jewish family. Celebrate Shabbat at a home, go to services (very occasionally), and plan on sending DD to hebrew school when she is older. We do not celebrate any of the Christian holidays I grew up with, DD does not receive Christmas gifts from my parents (this is a work in progress!). We have a lovely Chanukah flag we put outside each year in the sea of Christmas flags. 




We have a tree. Now, my husband usually calls it a 'holiday tree', and I often slip and call it a Christmas tree. But it's there. In December (not nearly as early as most folks though...we don't have it up yet while most of our neighborhood was decorated the day after Thanksgiving). You will not find angels, santa's, reindeer, or any other ornament on it that screams 'Christmas'. We keep our tree the same colors every year, blue and silver, to go along with our Chanukah decorations (all 3 of them). twins.gif It is decorated with snowflakes, and lots of other pretty white and silver ornaments.

You will never find gifts under our tree.


We started out with a very small tabletop tree, and it took a few years to where DH was comfortable with a full size tree. I can understand where you are coming from, and I understood where he was coming from, which is why I never pushed it. But for some reason, out of all the traditions I grew up with, a tree was/is the hardest one for me to give up. There is nothing religious about it in my mind, but I totally understand why it is viewed that way by others. It makes the house smell lovely (we buy a real tree each year), it twinkles in such a pretty way at night, and it reminds me of my childhood.


I gave up many, many family traditions when agreeing to raise our DD Jewish, and I think my DH's realization of that is what made our compromise possible. I also bake 'Christmas' cookies, but...well...for some strange reason DH has never had a problem with that one. wink1.gif


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#9 of 20 Old 12-05-2012, 09:45 AM
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I'm not Jewish, but I AM atheist.  I love having an xmas tree in the house because they are beautiful, fragrant, and bring life inside the house at the darkest time of year.  Xmas trees have pagan origins.  Perhaps this will increase your comfort level, while knowing that children love nature when they are exposed to it, and who doesn't think colored lights are also pretty?  Personally, I think it's a good thing for me and my children.  It also makes a wonderful centerpiece to gather all our friends, family, and stray acquaintances for sharing cheer - values that vastly transcend any one religion, in my opinion.

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#10 of 20 Old 12-05-2012, 11:54 AM
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Obviously you feel uncomfortable with having a Christmas tree because you identify as a Jew.Accept your feelings and honor them. Listen to yourself. You seem conflicted as to how to raise your children so you are trying to raise them with both traditions. The "church of both" is conflicting for a child. Children need consistency and roots. Work out a decision with your partner and communicate to your kids so they will not be confused. Children raised with confusion often gravitate to rigid religions later because they are seeking a consistent community or they go from church to church trying to decide where they belong.That may be ok with you if you do not want to influence them. If you figure out your own values, you will be better able to pass them on to your children. Isn't that a part of effective parenting?

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#11 of 20 Old 12-05-2012, 12:48 PM - Thread Starter
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No, I don't think I'm conflicted about how to raise our children -- they have one parent whose family is Jewish, and one parent whose Christian, so we are sharing both faith traditions with them. Our 5 year old attends a Unitarian Universalist church (as my partner was raised UU) that honors all faiths and teaches the stories and wisdom of many. Our household isn't confused, simply complex. In my experience, children often do quite well with complexity -- our older daughter easily understands that when she visits one set of grandparents, they are celebrating Hannukah (a holiday that is familiar to her), and she visits another set of grandparents, they are celebrating Christmas (another holiday that is familiar to her). All of this -- her Sunday school, and which holidays our family celebrates -- are consistent. We are clear and very much in agreement that our values are to share both partners' traditions with our children. I would like to honor my partner's holiday traditions as he honors mine. So I see this challenge as a personal one, not a parenting one.
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#12 of 20 Old 12-05-2012, 04:56 PM
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I know this isn't the focus of your question, but I'm sure you know that according to Jewish law, and recognized for eons and worldwide, Jewish status is conferred according to the mother's status. So, since you are Jewish (I mean, unless your mother/maternal grandmother had special circumstances) if you are Jewish, your child is Jewish no matter who asks, or where, and also regardless of the father's Jewishness or not. This might be something more to consider in all this. Maybe your daughter just craves more Traditions and Identity, or even just "Fun"! --- something she could get with a little more observance of traditions from the Jewish world.

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#13 of 20 Old 12-05-2012, 10:32 PM
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Hi, I'm Jewish and married to an agnostic (his parents come from Lutheran and Catholic upbringings). We have a 2.5-yr-old and another on the way.
I love celebrating both holidays, and they have their similarities. We've had a tree in the past, and do when we're not going out of town to celebrate at his parents' home.
I haven't always been used to the idea of having a tree in my house.
But when we put the lights and the ornaments on, it's beautiful, festive, and yes, fragrant. For me, it helps that we celebrate Hanukkah as much as Christmas.
The tree and the menorah have similar concepts: light lasting for 8 days, and a tree staying green during winter. Both unexpected, but warm, beautiful, and life-affirming.
We also have a table-top tree that my husband inherited from his parents (it's one of those with the "lava lamp" lights.) We decorate it with different ornaments--including some with Jewish stars and menorahs. :-)
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#14 of 20 Old 12-06-2012, 02:28 AM
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I was raised in a household with a Christian mother and a Jewish father. Neither were particularly religious, in fact, we always went to the UU church in our town. BUT, my mother insisted on holding on to her traditions (Christmas trees, Easter egg hunts, etc.) and so did my father (Shabbat, Passover, etc).

I think one thing that people aren't addressing here (and, indigosky, you seem to be struggling with) is that we are talking about family traditions. In other words, it ain't all about her. In a mixed couple you need to find the way to deal with your hang-ups and prejudices and past traditions so that you can build your own family tradition. So, it is important that her child wants a tree and it is important that her partner comes from this background.

You seem to be pretty clear on all of the issues of making sure that each religion is important, blah blah blah. So now you need to figure out what is it about the tree that bothers you? Live, fake, made of cardboard, a palm tree rather than a pine tree... they may be silly questions, but they address something more than just Christian/Jewish (which is the part you seem to have a handle on).

I think it is a bad idea to try and convince yourself that you have a tree in your house but it isn't a Christmas tree. Who are you kidding? But maybe you can find a way to have something that you don't hate - a pine tree decorated with blue and gold! - by analyzing your discomfort a bit more. The truth is though that as long as a tree makes you uncomfortable the fact that it's live or fake probably won't make much difference.

(Last thing - when I moved out my mom finally decided she didn't want to go through the trouble of setting up a tree. Around the 20th my dad, who had always maintained that he hated the cost, the mess, the tree, asked - so, no tree this year? He ended up buying a miniature tree in a pot the next day.)

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#15 of 20 Old 12-07-2012, 11:52 AM
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A tree is pretty and hard to resist asking for if there is any option at all. We do one because my Dh is a (disillusioned) Christian but still enjoys his traditions. I don't care for it, but I'm not sure that relationships are all about no one being uncomfortable. Dh comes to synogogue with me and Dd, sits through long services, supports our keeping Shabbat/Sabbath with many restrictive/freeing rules (depending on how you look at them). 


The previous owner of our house left some gaudy exterior decorations in the basement, and this year Dh wants to put them out this year. I think they are tacky if not just plain too Christamassy, but really, if it will make him happy, he's the guy who puts on a kippah when he needs to, and listens to me practice chanting torah day and night (It's an acciction of mine), when he'd rather be listening to the Rolling Stones. We recently set up a kosher kitchen and he puts up with that!


I grew up with a Christmas tree because my parents were children/grandchildren of immigrants and a tree was a sign of being American. I don't think they had any idea about all the Christian heaviness of the tree. Having a tree made me no less Jewish. Even though now, in my own home, I'd rather pass on it, we do it, and put a few gifts underneath because it makes Dh feel good. Most of our gifts come at Chanukah, not that that's not really American commercialism, right?


Biggest of all, here is a guy who is the son of a minister and a church lady, who is enthusiastic about raising our daughter Jewish!!!! We have had our discussions about whether it would have been better to mix things up more (a while other thread topic), but in the end there are no regrets. 


Having given my speech about sacrifice for your spouse/partner/family harmony (Shalom Bayit), here's one idea that might help you. As Dd grew up, Christmas was always Dad's holiday or Grandma and Grandpa's holiday, and we do it with them. Would you feel OK rephrasing to the 4 year old something like, you know, you're right, a tree is pretty and Partner grew up with one. You have a good idea, lets do one for Partner. Then a troublesome behemoth in the living room can become a gesture of love.


The only thing I'd do differently in my years of putting up the tree, is extracting a promise from Dh that he will HELP ME TAKE IT DOWN! Maybe as part of this you can get that kind of deal in your house. Good luck and Chanukah Sameach!

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#16 of 20 Old 12-08-2012, 08:07 AM - Thread Starter
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Thank you, Curious! Hearing your experience is extremely helpful. While our experiences our different, it helps to hear from someone who is feeling similar things and sorting through similar issues. Thank you!
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#17 of 20 Old 12-08-2012, 06:50 PM
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This may not help because neither myself nor my husband are religious. But we do celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas. My husband is ethnically Jewish so we do a few things in our household to celebrate his heritage. We both grew up celebrating Christmas, however, even though neither of our families were religious. In our family it totally works and isn't really an issue, probably because for us it's just about family tradition and fun, not spirituality. Our tree is artificial, by the way. That's for environmental reasons mostly but also for ease and cleanliness, too.


I think if a tree makes you seriously uncomfortable then don't do it. As a nonreligious person (atheist) there are a lot of things related to Christmas that would make me very uncomfortable and I wouldn't want in my house, like a nativity set. It's easy when my husband agrees with me so we just don't have it. If our son gets to be an age where he starts wanting those things in the house we're going to have to sit down and explain how they make us feel and how we don't want them in our house. We may or may not allow them depending on his interest and the specific item he wants, but ultimately there are just going to be some things that we'll be telling him "No, sorry, not under this roof. When you are an adult and have your own place you can have those things there." If a Christmas tree is like that for you then I think you need to talk honestly to your husband about it. I do not agree with many of the other posters that you should just get a tree.


Think about it this way, too: there are plenty of people who don't have Christmas trees because of allergies, space, money, etc. So it's not like you have to get one even if you felt 100% fine with it. For a long time a tree simply wasn't practical for our family because our pets would destroy it and harm themselves in the process.  If you're really conflicted about it then maybe it's not a good idea. Just talk to your partner about it.

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#18 of 20 Old 12-09-2012, 08:11 AM
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I haven't read ahead, but see that you've gotten some longer and probably very thoughtful responses. My oldest is only 2 so there hasn't been much discussion about the tree, but what's helped me come around is buying Jewish-themed ornaments- a Star of David, a silver menorah, etc., and using blue and white lights- it pretty much becomes a Hanukkah tree. DH isn't particularly religious but is very into "the season" and the symbols of that, so it's a compromise that's worked for us.

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#19 of 20 Old 12-10-2012, 10:22 AM
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I have a similar discomfort in my house - I converted to Judaism at 20 but have since fell out of practicing (ironcially, with the exception of Chanukkah, which my husband will remind me to do if I forget, since in his book, if we light the menorah, the tree is ok!).  My husband was raised Catholic but is also completely non-religious.  He does enjoy celebrating the holidays that he considers non-religious since he does not feel religious about them, but to me are part of what I consciously rejected upon my conversion.  We still never had a tree until we had a child though, and since then he has wanted one for our son.  Our compromise has been a medium sized live tree (about waist high, too big for a table but big enough for a fair number of ornaments).  We plant it in the yard in the spring, and since they are 'dwarf' trees, they will not result in a forest eventually.  This has worked so far, although our boy does always seem quite awed by the full size trees at his Aunt's and Grandmother's houses, so I do not know how long it will last.  I have made my peace with it more or less, although everyone does still refer to me as the Grinch since my reticence is apparently not as internal as I like to think. 

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#20 of 20 Old 12-10-2012, 11:59 AM
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you sound like you want to be ok with it, thats a great starting point/



i am born a jew and very proud of that heritage and I'm very much an Atheist, DH was raised christian and has gone from that to agnostic to atheist in the decade we have been together. 


there is no way in the world i would not have a big holiday tree, i love them! and ye we have a wonderful menorah as well


to me trees are winter and happy and tell a family story threw the annual collection of ornaments.  as soon as dh and i got together i told him about my dads and step moms tree (lived ith him in the teen yrars and they were "non religious christians i guess) 

they has tons of ornaments and each one had a story, it was a lifetime of memories and the night we decorated the tree would be story time   "remember when we went here.... oh this was the one you made in 3rd grade.... this is when we got the dog..."


to me this became the meaning on the winter holidays, it was the time you bunkered down with those you loves and shared. the tree was a family history, a celebration of so many life events and achievements, all the births and pets and vacation spot. nothing was cooler than that tree.


So the moment my dh and i had our first winter together the family tree started, i got some generally pretty things to fill it out as we collected, but then i invited his nieces and nephew over and took them to a huge holiday store and let each one pick one special ornament and we took a fine tip paint pen and wrote their initials and the year on the bottom of each one and the tree got started. since then we have gotten an ornament on each cool vacation. when we moved across country we got one in each national park we visited.  

we got a special one for the babies when they were born and as soon as they are old enough they will pick their own annual one out. each person that may come celebrate at our house on a given year gets one too, last year my sister was over for instance.


soon we will have a huge full tree that means the world to us, and fills our heart with everything that we love about our family and adventures.




anyway the point of my babbling is to say, the best thing i can see to do is to take ownership of it, its just a tree until you call it something else. you call it whatever you want, you make it meaningful to you and your family.

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partners.gif 2twins.gif  So what if I don't fit cleanly into a defined parenting style, my kids don't fit into a personality archetype either!

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