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23rd Dec 2014

Tis the Season to Light Trees

Often Christmas and Hanukkah coincide as Hanukkah is celebrated for eight full days. At this time of year, we seem to have a communal need to celebrate and light lights, perhaps due to the longest winter days in the Northern Hemisphere.

Driving in the early evening, each night seems to bring more yards that have trees and decorations of lights. Those who celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah and/or Kwanza are all busy lighting one kind of tree or another.

Candle Tree

Tis the Season to Light Trees 2007 by Judy Rey Wasserman

A menorah, whether for Chanukah with eight candle holders or for Temple and Shabbat with seven candle holders is always biblically symbolic of a tree. Of course, the more recent holiday of Kwanza also features a menorah.

Historically, Christmas trees began with Northern European pagans, long before the spread of Christianity. It seems the lighting of trees and the yearly festivities were associated with the winter solstice. Just as the church incorporated and substituted saints and their days for the various non-Christian gods thus enabling conversion, so too did the church incorporate the winter holiday by claiming it as the celebration of Jesus’ birth. Based on the gospel account of Mary and Joseph sojourning to Jerusalem to pay their tribute, we know that Jesus had to have been born either in the spring during the time of Shavout/Pentecost or in the fall during Rosh HaShanna (celebrating the birth of humankind) or Yom Kippur.

We also know historically that although “a great miracle happened here” at the time that Judah Macabee and his men managed to keep the synagogue lights lit and fend off the invaders. This victory and the miracle of the Temple lights remaining lit for eight days when in reality there was only enough oil for one day’s light, led to Hanukkah being referred to as the feast of dedication. The gospels tell of Jesus celebrating this holiday, also called the Feast of Dedication, which remains one of celebrating the overthrow of tyranny and the freedom to practice one’s religion.

Ironically, the victorious Hasmonians (Macabees) were very liberal and their rule led to the acceptance of many Roman ways, which eventually led to uprisings by the more traditional Jews against the Romans around the time of Jesus. Of course, this led to the Diaspora.

Hanukkah is considered a minor holiday and no one takes off from work or school. Yet, in the USA , it is the most celebrated Jewish Holiday just as Christmas is the most celebrated Christian holiday. We all light trees give gifts, party and eat rich foods.

Although the colors of blue, white and gold represent Hanukkah while green, white and red represent Christmas in wrappings, cards and decorations, in actuality we are all lighting many colored lights. Christmas lights tend to be multicolored or all white and glowing. Hanukkah candles, the ones in all those little boxes from various manufacturers that fit the standard menorahs are likewise multicolored, while Shabbat candles are white (and at least one Friday night always falls during Hanukkah).

The image of the Candle Tree 2007 (AKA: “Tis the Season to Light Trees” card) is both a Hanukkah menorah and/or a Christmas tree. I have found that Jews immediately seem to see it as a menorah while Christians miss that imagery and see a Christmas tree. So each sees the image as a special holiday image, but we filter the meaning through our beliefs and assumptions. In the image the tree has nine candles as the center candle is the shamash, the candle that lights the others..

I had a large unfolded card printed of the image that I am using as my Seasons Greetings mailing this year. It is included here, with best wishes for many blessings for you, and your loved ones.

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Judy Rey Wasserman is an artist and the founder of Post Conceptual Art theory and also the branch known as UnGraven Image Art at ungravenimage.com. Get a copy of the currently free prior to and during an upcoming crowd funding campaign e book: In the Beginning via the right hand column on this page or via http://artofseeingthedivine.com/booklet.htm.

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