If you have a small child like I do (or once did), you are well aware of the “December Dilemma”. How to compete against Christmas and instill in your child the feeling that they are a apart of a beautiful and rewarding tradition without selling out your Hanukkah or turning it into something it is not. The way I walk this tightrope is through two things: by making sure Chanukah isn’t the only Jewish holiday we celebrate and also by keeping a careful watch over the types of decor I use for Chanukah.
Years ago I use to think that if I just avoided a Christmas tree, my Chanukah would be safe from merging into a Chrismukkah, but as I’ve grown in my observance I realize that it must stay much farther away than that one symbol. Now, there is a whole raft of symbols and icons that I avoid in an effort to make my Hanukkah festive but still uniquely Jewish.
Wreaths and pine garlands were one way I use to avoid having a Christmas tree. Then I learned from a rabbi that the circular wreath is a symbol for the crown of thorns Jesus wore. Doh! Okay, no wreaths for me now. Although the wreath on the left is beautiful and features Jewish iconography, it is also mixed with Christmas motifs…it is circular and has a lot of pine (more on that below). But the Star of David Wreath on the right seems more appropriate…it is a purer use of Jewish iconography.
PINE TREES and OTHER TREES
The practice of bringing a conifer tree and branches into the home are of pagan origin and adopted by Christians. For them, it is a really important icon that symbolizes the continuation of life during winter. These are such dominant themes for Christmas, that I avoid these all together, whether a tree, garland, or just the image of them. The time for Jews to celebrate trees is Tu B’Shevat, so I just wait until then. The tree decor items above from Pottery Barn and West Elm are gorgeous and I can’t wait to get them in the after Christmas sales.
As much as I love pine cones, for me they are just another symbol of the pine tree. For Chanukah I avoid them entirely. If you want a small ornament for display or vase filler, use dreidels like these from Crate and Barrel.
ORNAMENT BALLS & ORNAMENT STARS
Now although ornament balls are designed to be used on a Christmas tree, this is one area I make an exception. The sphere is universal so I feel free to use ornament balls in moderation as long as they are not green or red or hung on anything. No Hanukkah bush. I lump ornament stars in this same category. For me, stars are significantly Jewish since it is instructed that you light the menorah when you see 3 stars in the sky.
Bells…Santa’s sleigh…churches…oh my! Again, if you need vase filler or another icon, consider stars, dreidels, and gelt. Too bad the Pottery Barn Dreidel vase filler on the right was discontinued.
Lights…the Festival of Lights…absolutely. How pretty are those Wood Cut Snowflake String Lights?
Deer, reindeer, Santa Claus…no thanks. I’m not aware of any animal that is particularly associated with Chanukah, so I don’t really have any animal things in my house. I suppose if you really love animals, something like Mouse Ornaments with Vests wouldn’t be too bad, but they are not really Jewish either. At least they are wearing blue and white.
GREEN AND RED
I avoid these two colors together as they are way too suggestive of Christmas. Blue and white…yes. Gold and silver…yes.
Is this a bummer? I hope not. This was a post I wanted to write a long time but I don’t want anyone to think I am dissing on their version of Chanukah. This is just what works for me and my family and I wanted to show you a little of what is in my head when I decorate for Chanukah. If you are an interfaith family a true merging of traditions may feel more comfortable to you. Like I always say, you start somewhere in your observance and you never know where you end up…that is why it is called practice!