How to Make a Hanukkah Bush

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hanukkah ornament
Is it a Christmas tree or a Hanukkah bush? You may need to look at the decorations to know for sure.
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A Hanukkah bush is a way to brighten your Hanukkah celebration

The winter holiday season is approaching, and in many homes, that means it's time for decorations, lights and celebration.  For families who celebrate Christmas, there will be Christmas trees, stockings and twinkling lights.

Even though Hanukkah is a minor Jewish holiday, in a Jewish home you would also expect to find signs of celebration, including an assortment of menorahs, Happy Hanukkah banners and a selection of brightly colored dreidels.  But beginning in the 1950's, some homes added something they called a Hanukkah bush to their seasonal decor.

First mentioned in a memoir of life in 1950's Mississippi and then in passing on the Ed Sullivan show in 1959, this phenomenon allowed Jewish children to share in some of the celebration of the season without actually observing Christmas.  In some homes, it was a small bush shaped plant, while others opted for what appeared to be a full sized Christmas tree. The Jewish flavor was reflected in the ornaments selected.

If you decide to add a Hanukkah bush to your home, here are some ideas for decorating it to reflect Jewish themes and values.

A homemade Jewish symbols theme

Gather craft supplies, including blue, white and silver paper, markers, paints and glitter glue. Using your imagination or a simple Judaic coloring book as a guide, make paper ornaments to hang on the bush.  Stars of David, menorahs, dreidels and even Macabees are all popular choices.  This is a good choice for involving children in decorating.  Add silver or blue tinsel and lights to complete your homemade Hanukkah bush.

A Tikkun Olam Hanukkah bush

Make your Hankkah bush a reflection of your values and social activism by creating a Tikkun Olam theme.  The phrases which means "to heal the world" is a perfect way to express your ideals and add something of beauty to your holiday celebration. 

You could adorn your bush with ornaments featuring the images or symbols of the groups you work with, such as the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, or PETA.  Or you could make it an active tool in your quest to help the world by making each decoration a task or challenge to carry out during the season.  A small shovel could represent your work in a community food bank garden, a Coke bottle ornament might represent your recommitment to recycling, or a polar bear could be symbolic of your work with the World Wildlife Fund.

A Tzedakah Hanukkah Bush

Create a Hanukkah bush that makes a contribution to those in need.  This a great way to have the beauty of the Hanukkah bush, without falling prey to the greed and out of control spending that sometimes accompanies the holiday season.

Designate a charity or cause (or several charities) and hang small decorated paper bags on your bush.  Each day of the holiday, add money to the bags.  Invite guests to also contribute to the Tzedakah bush by placing money in the bags.   Children love adding money to the bags. 

At the end of the holiday, take the contributions to the charities you selected. 

A bush to display a collection of Judaic ornaments

More and more seasonal decorations featuring a Jewish theme are available in stores and online.  From glass balls decorated with Jewish symbols to blown glass Macabee figures, you can find dozens of Judaic ornaments for your Hanukkah bush.  Handpainted dreidels are also a lovely and colorful addition to your bush.  Add solid colored blue and silver glass balls to fill in, and top your bush with a bright silver Star of David.

What not to have on a Hanukkah bush

Traditional Christmas themes like reindeer, Santa, and elves are probably out of place.  Likewise, colors like red and green are less appropriate than blue and silver.  And of course, check any ornaments you buy for Christian religious symbols like mangers and stars over Bethlehem. 

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