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What is a Hanukkah Bush?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 27 November 2016
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Many hear the term Hanukkah bush (alternately spelled Chanukah bush) and assume this is just the Jewish version of a Christmas tree. While in some cases this assumption would be correct, it would be a mistake to assume that such bushes have much to do with Christmas at all. There is considerable controversy over whether having a Hanukkah bush in the home is acceptable in Judaism. While some people in certain sects embrace them, others find them offensive because they hint at the ideas of Christmas.

Christmas trees are greatly associated with Christianity although they arise from Germanic celebrations that are pagan. Certain ornaments would reference religious aspects of Christmas and these would be absent from a Hanukkah bush. In some ways the bush might be similar and have various non-religious ornaments or lights, though not all people decorate their bushes.

Of course, many Jews do not observe this tradition. Those who do usually live in Canada or the United States. When people do keep Hanukkah bushes, these may be viewed as similar in shape to a menorah, and people may keep bushes up for the length of Hanukkah or starting at Hanukkah and lasting to the secular new year. As most are aware, true Jewish New Year is called Rosh Hashanah and is based on a different calendar. Celebration of this holiday occurs in September, though most American and Canadian Jews also celebrate the secular New Year occurring on January 1st too.

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Strong feelings against the Hanukkah bush certainly exist in Jewish thought. Many view Christmas trees as representation of a religion that did all it could to repress Judaism for centuries, and in some cases, this view continues to be accurate. Hanukkah is not a legal holiday, while Christmas is. Many businesses and even government offices decorate for Christmas and ignore Hanukkah decorations. Jews may argue that living in a predominantly Christian society is difficult and that in their homes, they can at least be free of the trappings of Christianity. Most Rabbis, particularly of orthodox sects, advise against the Hanukkah bush because it adopts predominant Christian themes, which have no place in Judaism.

There are also supporters of the Hanukkah bush, particularly in sects of Judaism that are Reform or Reconstructionist. Here, displaying the tree may be viewed as in no way referencing Christianity. In fact, some rabbis of these traditions encourage or support their use and argue that Christmas trees are about the commercial aspect of Christmas and have little to do with religion, provided they aren't decorated with overtly Christian symbols.

Another tradition that is observed by Russian Jews is having a Christmas tree to celebrate the Russian New Year, Novi God. This is a holiday that was created under Soviet governance, and was specifically meant to replace any religious traditions. A Christmas tree is part of this celebration as is the coming of the Grandfather Frost or Ded Moroz, a Santa Claus-like figure, who does bring gifts to children. It is not at all unusual for Russian Jews to celebrate the coming of Ded Moroz or to have a Christmas tree, and not a Hanukkah bush, in place to observe the Russian New Year celebration.

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anon351371
Post 2

A good alternative to the hanukkah bush is a new product called the Menorah Tree. It is a 6 foot tall menorah with garland on all of the branches so you can experience the traditions of ornaments and lights while keeping traditional Jewish customs.

kidsgardener
Post 1

At our Hanukkah table we have an unusual setting that I recommend a Hanukkah bush called a TickleMe Plant. Our guests love it, as it closes its leaves and lowers its branches when tickled. They sprout in days, even in winter. My students love them!

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