General Jewish Spirituality

The "Holiday Season" or the Rabbi and the Christmas Tree

In one of my roles, I am a small business co-owner. CubeSpace ( provides workspace to freelancers, consultants and those who are self-employed. We have lots of people coming through who are cross-section of Portland, and most of whom  are not Jewish. All of this is background to the issue: how do we decorate for the winter holidays?

Now, I am not one of those rabbis who has a strong aversion to Christmas trees and believes that it is impossible to have a Christmas tree in a Jewish home. In fact, my grandparents always had a Christmas tree, in part because my great-grandmother did. I like Christmas trees and see them not as a particular celebration of the birth of Christ, but rather as a celebration of light in darkness (and I don’t really understand the connection of the tree and Christmas at all, except as a carryover from Druidic solstice celebrations).

So, when it came time to remove the pumpkins and gourds from our Halloween/Thanksgiving decorating scheme, and move on to a winter holiday decorating scheme, the question arose (okay, I raised the question): how do we decorate? Do we do only Hannukah decorations, despite the fact that Hannukah is a relatively minor Jewish holiday and only Eva and I at CubeSpace are Jewish? Do we do only generic winter decorations, with snowflakes and skiers and the like? Do we do only Christmas decorations, echoing the celebrations of most of the staff and customers of CubeSpace? Do we do everything?

General consensus was that we should do everything…which means that this afternoon I will go out and purchase, for the first time in my life, a Christmas tree. I am a touch confused  and amused by this–is there a special blessing to say when one buys a Christmas tree (Shehechiyanu–who has brought us to this season)? How does one buy a Christmas tree Jewishly, or rabbinically? What is the proper intention (kavanah) to have while buying a Christmas tree? Does one wear a yalmuke while buying a Christmas tree…and if so, how does one answer the confused questions that generates? Finally, does one cut a little off the tip of the tree in order to make it a “Jewish” tree?

I suspect many of these questions will only be answerable by experience…and that many more will crop up in the course of acquiring that experience. And as this season of Holidays progresses, I hope to begin to fill in some of these blanks.