A tree by any other name

A tree by any other name…is still a Christmas tree. We can rename it a holiday tree, but we all know it’s really just a Christmas tree with a new title. We can try to eliminate the baby Jesus and the nativity scenes from the lawns of our neighbors, our parks, malls and public buildings, but the intent of the holiday is still the celebration of the birth of Jesus, or at least I wish it was. With the economy as it is this season, the retailers are desperate. I get it. But, I miss the Christmases of the past.

Scrooge, before his spiritual awakening, asked his nephew to leave him alone to “keep Christmas in his own way,” which at the time he made this statement was no way at all. After he was visited by the Three Spirits, he made amends to people he had harmed, gave money to charity, opened his heart to the poor and allowed the sacred season to bathe him in joy and God consciousness. It was only then that he came to understand the meaning of Christmas.

This is my favorite story. After reading the book and watching the film hundreds of times, in a sense, Christmas became for me a personal and private reminder and re-experiencing of the most important Jewish holiday. Now the sacred time of Christmas mirrors, for me, the Days of Awe between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur where observant Jews are asked to make amends to all of those they have hurt, give money to charity, open one’s heart to the poor and allow God into their lives. I have never celebrated Christmas and I have always believed the Jews who had Christmas trees and gave gifts with no religious connotations were down-grading the meaning of the holiday. Once I passed the age of eleven, all the desires for a tree, a visit from Santa Claus and a “stocking hung by the chimney with care” vanished.


As an outsider to Christmas and having never been the recipient or the giver of Christmas presents, I have avoided for all my life the commercialization of the holiday. For me, it’s all about the music, films and the hope for a better world.

I love all the music, especially the songs contributed by Jewish composers. In 1945, Mel Torme, the son of Russian Jewish immigrants, wrote “The Christmas Song,” which begins with this line: “Chestnuts roasting by an open fire…” He wrote this song in the heat of summer while traveling through the desert which, for some inexplicable reason, strikes me as a very Jewish thing to do.

Irving Berlin, born Israel Baline in Russia, wrote “White Christmas,” which is considered to be the most popular song of all time. “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” and “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” were also written by Jewish composers.

I do not want to see the holiday watered down and secularized to the extreme. I would object to the Chanukah menorah’s name changed to “Festive Candelabra” or “Winter Candle Sticks.” I want my grandson to hear the music, watch the films, and of course to believe in Santa Claus like the majority of the students in his pre-school.

Unfortunately, this opinion aligns me with some very misguided people who blame the “War on Christmas” on, who else, the Jews, and other minority groups.

Just recently, a friend, a man I like very much, said that the “War on Christmas” is a Zionist plot to remove God from the holiday orchestrated by Jews who control the media. Humbug.

Jews don’t control the media. Certainly, there are many individual Jews in positions of influence in Hollywood, in network television, in sports and entertainment, in medicine and in government. These people happen to be Jewish. They do not all think alike, or have the same political beliefs and agendas. There is no secret conspiracy to overturn Christmas. Many of these individuals are Jewish only in the sense that their parents or grandparents happen to be Jewish. They do not all practice Judaism or support Jewish causes.

Whenever there are allegations of Jewish “control” over the “media,” the primary examples cited are The New York Times and the Washington Post. Both were founded by families of Jewish origin. But neither has ever gone out of its way to promote Jewish causes or values.

There are many minority groups, including some Jewish groups, who have taken political correctness too far in regards to Christmas. There are pro-Israel American Christian right-wing groups that support “The War on Christmas.” This is America after all, where every cockamamie opinion has a champion somewhere.

This is supposed to be the season of peace, brotherly love and good will towards men and women, not a battleground attributed to the “The War on Christmas.” It’s time to get on with it and enjoy the freedom we each have to keep Christmas in our own way.

Here’s an example of my way.

Recently, I conducted two artist-in-residency programs in the Saratoga Springs schools. I picked a song for the children to dance to that I was concerned might get me into trouble. Nevertheless, I was compelled to use the song in spite of the fact that it mentions Christmas since the children are approaching adolescence and the sentiment in the song was perfect for who they are becoming.

I hoped that if any objections were expressed, my credentials as a Jew would carry some weight if justifications became necessary. It is the greatest Christmas song written since “White Christmas.” It was written by David Foster and entitled “Grown-up Christmas List.”

The lyrics express way better than I ever could my deepest wish for everyone at Christmas time:


Do you remember me?

I sat upon your knee

I wrote to you

With childhood fantasies

Well, I’m all grown up now

And still need help somehow

I’m not a child

But my heart still can dream

So here’s my lifelong wish

My grown up Christmas list

Not for myself

But for the world in need.

No more lives torn apart

That wars would never start

And time would heal all hearts

And everyone would have a friend

And right would always win

And love would never end

This is my grown up Christmas list.

As children we believe

The grandest sight to see

Was something lovely

Wrapped beneath our tree

Well, heaven only knows

That packages and bows

Can never heal

A hurting human soul.

This is my grown up Christmas list.

This is my only lifelong wish.


I hope you had a Merry Christmas and Happy Chanukah, a lovely Kwanza and will have a great New Year.

In the words of Tiny Tim, “God bless us everyone” and let’s all try to remain sensible.