To Tree or Not to Tree

The Hebrew month of Kislev started on November 28/29 with the celebration of Rosh Chodesh Kislev.  In our part of the world, it is normally a dark and cold winter month, warmed and illuminated nonetheless, by the promise of the lights of Chanukah, the only major Jewish festival in the month of Kislev which starts on December 22 (25 Kislev). In our home, and I guess in the homes of many, Chanukah can be a bit complicated, although I have to admit we’re not exactly the model family.

Our children and their half-sisters and brothers were raised as typical Belgians. The Christmas period had no real religious significance for them, but its cultural and familial import ran very deep and still does. The same half-sisters and brothers have a long tradition of getting together to do Christmas things, put up decorations (especially the ‘tree’), eat to excess, exchange greeting cards and, inevitably, gifts.

After a couple of years in a Jewish home, however, our kids have had enough exposure to the Jewish way of celebrating this time of year and they are more than happy to be part of it. Like making a list for Santa Claus, they make their Chanukah list, a gift for each day, a gift for each candle. Learning from the wise advice of IJC member Anneke Silverstein, we try to keep the festival and the power of light over darkness at the forefront, but kids are kids and they love to get presents so it’s not always easy.

We decided that at least one of our family gifts should be for people in need, and that means a large box of food for IJC’s regular donation to Nativitas ( in support of their work feeding the poor and homeless on the streets of our capital. We’ll be bringing it along to the IJC Chanukah party on December 22, hosted by a warm-hearted IJC family. We’ll see you there!

The fact that Chanukah almost perfectly parallels the Christmas period this year doesn’t really help.  But our kids will be spending Christmas day with their half-sisters and brothers – and their tree – and the rest of Chanukah at home, with lights, with warmth, and yes, with gifts. And if ‘to tree or not to tree’ is sometimes your question, have a look here.

Brian Doyle

IJC Rabbinical Intern