The National Christmas Tree & The National Menorah

by Lauren Anderson

For the last week of the semester before winter break, my friends and I decided to do something festive. We unglued our eyes from our textbooks and went down to see the National Christmas Tree. Set in the “backyard” of the White House, the tree was an explosion of light, emphasized by the dreariness of the night. It was surrounded by more than fifty smaller Christmas trees, each one donated by a state or commonwealth of the United States. There were people everywhere. Children were running in every direction, decked out in velvet dresses and clip-on ties, as their parents tried to chorale them into a family portrait. Couples were taking tilted, one-armed pictures of themselves with the tree glowing behind them. Nearby, a local high school choir was singing Christmas carols. The area was humming with Christmas spirit.

As we made our way to the end of the Christmas labyrinth, a different symbol of celebration came into view: a menorah. It was huge – just as big as the Christmas tree. But instead of being surrounded by masses of people, it stood alone. According to my calendar back at the dorms, at the time, Hanukkah was still in full swing, but it did not appear that way (Hanukkah ended on Dec. 12, but this visit to the National Mall was before that). “What’s the point?” my friend said out loud, asking the same question that was on all of our minds. We all understood that it was important to support and express the diversity of the U.S. But considering all of the work that must have gone into building and erecting the menorah, some questioned if it was really worth it.

According to a study done by the U.S. Census Bureau in 2001, about 75% of Americans consider themselves to be Christian. About 4% consider themselves to be Jewish. Most other faiths are represented by less than 1% of the population. Obviously, Christians make up the grand majority of the population of the United States, meaning that Christmas is the most largely celebrated holiday of the winter season. So, why is the menorah the same size as the Christmas tree?

The answer to this question lies in the founding ideals of this country. Freedom of religion is just one form of freedom from oppression. In terms of numbers, 4% of the population seems insignificant. But that percentage represents millions of Jewish people who live in this country. Those are millions of people who pay taxes and abide by their civic duties just like everyone else. So if a giant menorah can convey the message that equality extends beyond the majority, then it is worth it. Even if drastically fewer people go to see it, it is there. Sitting just yards from the White House, the menorah is reminding us what America stands for: freedom and equality. What better way than that is there to get into the holiday spirit?

(In the photo, President George W. Bush looks on as Daniella Ward lights a menorah for Hanukkah in the White House in 2002. Ward's father, Victor, was killed in the Sept. 11 attacks. The official White House photo is by Paul Morse; as the photo is from the government, it is in the public domain.)

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Anonymous said...

nice holiday blog! learned something i didn't know. fully share the sentiment

Anonymous said...

For those who care about these things, there was another major Chanukah event at the White House on the 7th night of Chanukah with an explanation of the holiday by the President (he did a nice job) a chanukiah lighting by the parents of Jonathan Pearl (using his grandfathers chanukiah), singing by Zamir Chorale and Cantor Alberto Mizrahi, and an elaborate seudah (festive Chanukah meal) prepared in the fully Kashered white house kitchen.

if you are interested check it out on www.whitehouse.gov

Anonymous said...

P.S. The dinner was reportedly attended by over 600 people.

saw a report that the Army band played driedle driedle driedle.

The Zamir chorale sang some more serious and moving Jewish music and psalms.

Rick Rockwell said...

For those searching for the link to the information on this year's White House Hanukkah celebration, please go here.

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