Re: share your policies on religious symbols in the common house
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Fri, 18 Oct 2013 08:35:10 -0700 (PDT)
On Oct 18, 2013, at 10:26 AM, R Philip Dowds <rpdowds [at]> wrote:

> I gather we think a Christmas tree is in fact an element of Christian 
> iconography, not just a shopping incentive.  (Sorry, I couldn't resist ...)

It was actually a surprise to me too. Our Jewish residents did not think so. 
The first incident occurred when a Jewish member scheduled a big family 
gathering the day after Christmas expecting the tree to be down by then. There 
was a quiet negotiation. We agreed to have no creches and no angels. Mostly we 
had lights and pictures of residents. The decorations have grown since then and 
do include angels and Santa Claus's but no creches. Maybe a tiny abstract one 
or two. We have a big tree, nicely decorated. So many ornaments we need to 
start weeding. We have pictures of residents back to the beginning and I've 
begun asking people not to hang 5x8" or even 4x6". There isn't room so they 
block everyone else.

We have Catholic members who want the tree up _at least_ two weeks before 
Christmas and Episcopalians who want it up two week after. Jews who want it up 
and down as soon as possible. We finally negotiated the one week before and the 
one week after. One Jewish woman just doesn't want Christmas all over the place 
so we restrict it to the sunroom, although greens over the mantle and over the 
beverage bar are getting pretty Christmassy. 

One thing that brought a much greater sense of comfort about this was having a 
resident move in who is Israeli and treats Jewish holidays like most of us 
treat Christmas. As much secular and festive as religious. The first year for 
Chanukah he had the kids stage the fight between the Jews and the Christians in 
the dining room while he narrated the story. He found swords and shields for 
everyone and they made some sort of helmets. They had a wonderful time, even 
the girls, and no one's eyes got put out. 

Just like we have to have a Christmas Tree, he has to have the hut for Sukkot 
but it's relaxed. Not holy ground. Anyone eats there. 

The early argument was that Jews celebrate at home so Christians should too. 
That was not acceptable to those who wanted a tree in the CH and to decorate it 
together and sing carols and have pizza. So there was tension. The non-Jews 
were invited to ceremonies in homes but it was uncomfortable for many non-Jews 
because the ceremonies tended to be more religious and personal.

Finally we started having Chanukah in the dining room -- another "innovation" 
by a woman who had been born and raised in Brooklyn who was not afraid to just 
have fun with it. She knew her Jewish history backwards and forwards and in all 
the variations so no one could question her Jewishness. And no one was required 
to sing songs in a language they didn't know. She had a great sense of humor 
and collected Kitsch. Santa Clauses. And hung them in her windows.

Again it is the joy and sense of family traditions that people celebrate in the 
CH, not the prayers.

Sharon Villines
Takoma Village Cohousing, Washington DC

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