Beliefs Culture

Move over Hanukkah bush, here comes the Menorah Tree

A “Menorah Tree”, seen here with lights and ornaments, was invented by Michael Patchen. Photo courtesy Michael Patchen
A “Menorah Tree”, seen here with lights and ornaments, was invented by Michael Patchen. Photo courtesy Michael Patchen

A “Menorah Tree,” seen here with lights and ornaments, was invented by Michael Patchen. Photo courtesy Michael Patchen

(RNS) Many Christians married to Jews want a Christmas tree. What’s Christmas without one?

But for some Jewish partners, it’s just too much of a symbol of a Christian holiday to have in the house.

Michael Patchen figured out a solution for him and his wife, Jenny, who is also Jewish but grew up with a Jewish parent, a Catholic parent and a Christmas tree she loved.

He calls it the “Menorah Tree,” a twist on the signature religious object necessary to celebrate the eight-day Jewish holiday of Hanukkah.

Patchen made the original Menorah Tree just for his wife. But with his brother, Alex, he decided to mass-produce it this year, in time for Hanukkah, which begins the evening of Nov. 27 (the day before Thanksgiving).

The Patchen brothers’ Menorah Tree is not what some people call a “Hanukkah bush,” basically a Christmas tree decked out for the Jewish Festival of Lights, as Hanukkah is also called.

In some Jewish households, a Hanukkah bush is considered good holiday fun. But they’re too close to Christmas trees for others. Sandy Sussman authored the children’s book “There’s No Such Thing As A Chanukah Bush, Sandy Goldstein” and makes the argument that it’s nice to help friends celebrate their holidays, but celebrations in your own home should reflect what you personally believe.

A Menorah Tree, said Patchen, is “really just a big menorah,” an essentially Jewish object. He notes that the original menorah of ancient Judaism may well have been inspired by another Jewish symbol — the branched tree known as the “Tree of Life.”

But to modern people, the Menorah Tree also evokes Christmas — perhaps too much for some Jews. With branches made of Frazier pine garlands, and standing more than 6 feet tall, the Menorah Tree is just begging for lights and ornaments.

But not candles. Menorahs are typically made to hold candles. Hanukkah commemorates the victory of a small band of Jews, the Maccabees, over their Greek oppressors in 167 B.C. Rededicating the desecrated Jewish temple in Jerusalem, the Maccabees found a vial of oil, enough to burn for one night. Miraculously, it burned for eight.

“Don’t put real candles on the Menorah Tree,” said Patchen, a father of three from Greenwich, Conn., who works in the financial sector. It’s made of all-artificial materials, but “it’s just not a good idea — just like you wouldn’t put candles on a Christmas tree.”

Patchen made his first Menorah Tree out of foraged materials when he and his wife were newlyweds, about eight years ago, after Jenny brought home a tiny glass Christmas tree that he didn’t feel comfortable displaying. So he built her a Menorah Tree as a surprise and “labor of love,” hoping it would scratch her Christmas tree itch.

It did. Through the years, their children have made Hanukkah-themed ornaments, so that the tree each holiday season is “a tapestry of their lives,” Michael Patchen said.

Now he hopes his mass-produced Menorah Tree, which retails for $250 and features at its center a Star of David, a symbol of Judaism, will fill a need for interfaith families — or even Jewish ones like his.

He quotes from the recently released Pew Center study on Jewish life in the U.S.: More than 70 percent of Jews married to non-Jews have a Christmas tree in their homes.

The Menorah Tree is perfect, he said, for those who “want something big and bold that feels more Jewish.”


About the author

Lauren Markoe

Lauren Markoe has been a national reporter for RNS since 2011. Previously she covered government and politics as a daily reporter at the Charlotte Observer and The State (Columbia, S.C.)