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Move over Hanukkah bush, here comes the Menorah Tree

(RNS) Michael Patchen didn't want a Christmas tree in his Jewish home, but his wife did. So he invented the Menorah Tree, an unusual holiday item that he is now mass-producing for other families confronted by a Christmas tree dilemma.

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.”