What Is a Chanukah Bush?

A Chanukah bush is used by some Jewish families to enjoy the same benefits as a Christmas tree.
Image by kumar303 via Flickr

Question: What Is a Chanukah Bush?

Answer:

A Chanukah bush is a custom that is practiced in America and Canada. Some Jewish families will decorate a real or artificial tree, usually in shades of blue, white or silver.

The practice is controversial, as many see this as simply trying to copy a Christmas tradition that has no place in Chanukah. One DVD on the subject is There's No Such Thing as a Chanukah Bush, Sandy Goldstein, based on the book of the same name by Susan Sussman.

As Gil of Being Jewish notes, "In fact, my holiday Chanukah, celebrates that the Jews did not assimilate and adopt the majority religion that surrounded them. A Chanukah bush is exactly the kind of thing the Maccabees fought against in order to preserve Judaism and therefore is especially inappropriate in my view."

On the other hand, as AllJewishLinks notes, "In “The Who, What, When, Where, Why, & How of Being Jewish,” Rabbi Ron Isaacs states “Today it is clear to me that the tree has become a secular symbol of the American commercial Christmas holiday, and not of the birth of Jesus. So whether or not to have one depends on the character and judgment of each individual family. There are certainly Jewish families that feel that they can have a tree in the house without subscribing to the Christian element of the holiday.”"

Some responses to a query I made about Chanukah bushes included:

"I personally think the idea of a Hanukkah Bush is clever.

I grew up in a very Jewish suburb of Cleveland, OH and have always been jealous of families with Christmas trees in their homes. There's something comforting about a beautiful lit up tree on a cold winter day. A menorah just doesn't quite do it. When I was younger, I begged my parents to put up a "Hanukkah Bush" but they refused because they thought it was "too Christmasy" and took away from the Hanukkah traditions.

Now that I'm in college and live in an apartment away from my parents, I have fully implemented a "Hanukkah Bush". I'm making up for what I thought I was deprived of in my childhood. I don't see anything wrong with intertwining the two holidays together. In fact, I think it's a positive thing because it makes people of all religions feel welcome in a home or public facility."
-Anna M

"I don't understand the Hannukah Bush. I've never met a Christian who felt compelled to have a Christmas Candelabra (menorah) or Nativity Top (dreidel)."
-Steve S

"There are some folks who think that Hannukah is the way Jews celebrate the birth of Jesus. The blurring of identities exemplified by a "Hannukah bush" adds to this misconception. This inevitably leads to an insensitivity toward Jews that, frankly, annoys me. In fact, this insensitivity extends to other non-Christians--Muslims, Hindus, Bhuddists--who are becoming much more prevalent in America. This has always been a country that is supposed to respect diversity.

Let's meet the challenge.

Personally, I'll stick with candles and potato latkes."
-Ann M

"I have always loathed the Chanukah Bush idea as something that it explicitly un-Jewish - the entire point of Chanukah is to resist customs that the dominant culture tries to force on you and to embrace your own tradition despite the difficulty."
-Sarah L (who sold funny/inappropriate clothing to mock the term)

"My ex-wife and 12-year-old daughter decorated a "Hannukah Tree" over the weekend. We are a Jewish family, with no non-Jewish blood, though we'd hardly be considered very religious. Anyway, when I stopped over the other day, I saw what amounted to an artifical Christmas tree with a white "snow" texture on the branches, heavily decked out in blue and silver decorations. There was even a tree topper, though it wasn't an angel or anything religious. While they did a great job deocrating it, I wasn't fooled...this was still a Christmas tree!

I frown upon "Hanukkah trees" that are simply an excuse to conform to the masses who have Christmas trees, especially when younger children are involved. It's good old menorahs at my house!"
-Gary F