O, Chanukah Tree?


Last week, I wrote about an established holiday tradition: The practice among the large newsweeklies of turning to religious subjects at the end of the year, and often considering the "real" or "historic" Jesus, which generally means an examination of his Jewish roots. But it seems there was another holiday convention going on, also journalistic, but much newer — and one I find alarming.

Twice in The New York Times and at least once on a national NPR show, Jews discussed how they like to celebrate Christmas, often right along with Chanukah. This openness is different from the past, when people went out of their way to hide the fact. If discovered, these people tried at the very least to seem ashamed of this guilty pleasure. In the current examples, though, there wasn't a twinge of embarrassment, just outright joy, even pride.

I came in late on the NPR commentary, but the tone was unmistakable. I was so miffed I never looked up who did the piece or tried to send for a transcript. The Times articles, though, appeared in separate sections on the same day — Christmas Eve! — and were astonishingly similar in their effect.

The motivation behind such writing appears to be to shock people, though not in a threatening way, and also to be gently, ironically comic, like the mood of so many columns that have arisen in the wake of the David Sedaris phenomenon.

One Times piece appeared in the "Sunday Styles" section under the overall title "How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Holidays." Cindy Chupak's article — one of the four featured on the front page, all variations on the stated theme — was called "Jewish in a Winter Wonderland." Here are its opening paragraphs: "I blame the Pottery Barn holiday catalog for the fact that my husband and I, both Jews, spent last weekend at Home Depot picking out a Christmas tree. I cannot blame our kids who begged us mercilessly for a tree, because we do not yet have kids. I cannot blame my parents, because although my dad initially supported George Bush, he never supported the Hanukkah bush.

"In fact, I recall that he was extremely judgmental of one Jewish family in the place I grew up (Tulsa), who did have a Christmas tree every year. Even though it was decorated exclusively with blue ornaments and silver bows, my dad made it clear to my sister and me that he thought the whole Jews-with-trees movement was in very poor taste."

The other story, by Jennifer Gilmore, appeared in the magazine, and was called "Jewish Family Christmas." The second headline read: "We lighted the Hanukkah candles every night for eight nights, and then Santa came later in the month." It began like this: "My father, who is 100 percent Jewish, has always been obsessed with Christmas. He grew up in Minneapolis, in an unobservant household, and he considers it part of his childhood. 'I remember the lights, the trees,' he used to say to my little sister and me. 'It was magical.' "



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