Saturday, December 13, 2008

Our Chanukkah Tree

The lights on the tree are twinkling behind me. The four foot fake tree from Target. With the Star of David on top.

Yes, that's right, we have a Chanukkah tree. This is first time in my life I've purchased a tree this time of year, and it's causing some inner turmoil. I feel giddy and ashamed at the same time. The tree is so small that a Jewish girl like myself can justify it as not really a tree and it's not really in celebration of Christmas, but it's a little bush, recognizing the holiday of "my people."

This whole thing got started in the car Saturday morning when Emily (about-to-be six years old) asked why we don't celebrate Christmas? I said, yes we celebrate both it's just that Mommy's Jewish and celebrates Chanukkah and Daddy isn't Jewish and he grew up Christian but doesn't really identify with a religion but he likes to give presents and-- well, never mind.

Then I explained the benefits of having eight nights of presents, instead of just one. And we get to light candles every night! And Chanukkah is really important; it celebrates the time when the Jewish people called the Maccabees saved the big Temple from destruction by hiding in it with candles and oil that lasted for eight days.

And as I was extolling the virtues of potato pancakes with apple sauce (a Chanukkah tradition), Emily started crying. What's wrong? "I want to celebrate Christmas, I don't want to be Jewish. I'm not Jewish. I'm Chinese."

Well, I didn't know what to say. I could say "if I'm Jewish you're Jewish." But Ray and I have had some minor disagreements about this. He feels we should recognize her ancestry and not force her to grow up Jewish. And he's right that she's not technically Jewish. Under Jewish law a child is Jewish if his or her biological mother is Jewish or if the child went through a conversion ceremony. So an adopted child, with a non-Jewish biological mother, would need to be converted.

So we have been very indecisive about this whole religion question. And since she sees us approaching this issue very indecisively, I learned that Saturday afternoon that my soon-to be six year old made a decision. I think she is concerned about being different from other kids. And she is proud to be Chinese and since Daddy is Chinese and not Jewish, then she wants to be like Daddy. Which is fine.

And given that we have not made a mutual decision whether to raise the girls under the Jewish religion, I started thinking that there really is no harm in buying a tree for the girls. A little tree in front of the windows. And we can put presents under it for the girls. And the fact that we have a tree does not mean I have given up my ancestry, culture or religion. I'm doing it for them. And at any rate, it's just a tree. We're very outdoorsy; we like trees.

So the girls and I we went straight to Target and picked out a nice fake pine tree that is just about Sami's size, four feet tall. One that already has lights on it. And it's really cute and lights up the house when it's plugged in. And my girls are so excited and happy to have the tree, even though we have only put a few presents under it so far.

So as I mentioned before I feel giddy about having a tree. I am excited. Truly excited to have a sparkling tree in the house and to place presents under the tree for the girls to make them happy. And I am excited to be a part of a tradition that other families share, even putting the religious significance of it aside.

And even though I do still have inner turmoil about this, I will not burden my children with that. They are so excited and happy to have a tree. Despite my initial reservations, the girls are happy and purchasing this tree is worth it. It could be the start of a new family tradition.