Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “Christmas tree”

Christmas Tree Graveyard – Roger Ingalls

Driving to work today, I passed a usually vacant lot and noticed it was full of Christmas trees. I stared at it for a moment and then realized it was a temporary drop site for discarded trees that were destine for the wood chipper at the local recycling center. It was a sad sight.

xmas tree

Thirty million living trees get cut down, displayed for a few weeks and then shredded into little pieces, all with a 30 day timeframe. When you really think about it, it’s a crazy wasteful tradition. A carbon eating, oxygen producing living thing is obliterated for a commercial holiday and it happens 30 million times a year, every year!

Trees are grown just for this purpose but it still seems so destructive and wasteful. It’s an energy intensive process no matter how you look at it: fuel for the machinery to prepare the ground to plant the tree, energy to actually plant the tree, natural gas to make fertilizer to grow the tree, gas to trim and then cut the tree down, fuel to transport the tree to market, gas to get the tree home, electricity to light the tree, gas to dump the tree and finally energy to grind the tree up. Wasteful.

Maybe this isn’t a big issue but all those half brown, half green trees haphazardly thrown all over the vacant lot appeared obscenely disrespectful to life itself. Perhaps a big company in need of a public relation makeover, like Walmart, could start a new tradition where they rent out living Christmas trees that can be returned after the holidays. The trees can then be planted or reused the following year.

Or maybe I shouldn’t look around when I’m driving and just ignore the craziness.

The Menorah and The Xmas Tree – The Perfect Opportunity

Last night was the first night of Chanukah, a Jewish festival celebrating freedom. Since the Jewish calender is lunar, this year Christmas and Chanukah fall at the same time. Even when they are not close together, these two highly visual festivals throw up many challenges for children of Jewish parents – decorations, gifts, commercialism, I’m different from my friends etc.

But with half American Jewry in mixed marriages (only one of the couple is Jewish) this offers different challenges. I meet a lot of students from mixed marriages as well  as members of my synagogue community, and I hear the stories. Such couples really have three options:

1) to follow one religion.

2) to follow no religion.

3) to celebrate both religions.

It is not for me or you to pass judgement on any of the three options. Each couple or family have their own unique factors to consider when deciding. I am not going to talk about how a Jewish couple deal with their child wanting a Christmas tree because his friend has one. This is all about Jewish identity and I feel that the stronger the family’s Jewish identity, the less threatening such discussions are.

I want to strengthen the families who offer both religions. The child will decide when they grow older which spiritual path they choose to walk. These couples offer knowledge and experience in both religions and often have a richer spiritual household for doing so. As this winter semester ended and Christmas decorations were springing up all over San Francisco, I participated in a number of discussions with students at San Francisco Hillel (the Jewish student center) and heard some wonderful and some painful stories.

I wish every couple who must deal with the dilemma of the menorah and Christmas tree will be empowered to enjoy the freedom of however they choose to express their spirituality. I hope those of us who light the menorah will invite our non-Jewish friends to join us. In a couple of days, I will drive my family to join dear Christian friends who have invited us to share their joy. We go as proud Jews: proud of our heritage and proud of our friendships.

Most of all, I am feel blessed to live in the Bay Area and proud to live in a society that can celebrate diversity. The Irish comedian, Dave Allen, who sadly passed away a few years ago, would conclude his TV show for years with the word: “Good night and may your God go with you.”


Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

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