All you Christmas and Hanukkah shoppers know that your local CVS or Home Depot has a Christmas tree. What you don’t usually know is how the trees were chosen, or if they were all actually picked by elves.
According to Jonathan Jaffe, who runs Trusty Cart, a mobile art cart that delivers custom designs to stores, last year some supermarkets requested that he color-code every Christmas tree before shipping it out. On the other hand, Etsy companies like CVScare.com declined to let Jaffe send the cars when they got the container in for shipping, and took issue with the artwork Jaffe made on the container. There were even several incidents in which the CVS holiday containers arrived early and had Jaffe’s merchandise removed.
This year, the slew of Christmas and Hanukkah theme packages have flocked in to carts from the start — causing some confusion as retailers wrestle with the decision to whether to display Jewish or Christian symbols in their trees.
In May, Olive Garden “temporarily stopped” displaying a Hanukkah menorah at its offices, saying it had received complaints from customers over “the appearance of the menorah decoration.” And this month, the company dropped its plans to display a menorah outside its Home Base Restaurant franchise on Staten Island, where some customers were reportedly upset by the holiday symbols.
At the Dollar Tree chain, CEO Bob Sasser has said the company never displays menorahs. “We sell it, we sell Judaica,” he said. “But to put it in our stores, it seems to me that when somebody leaves here, they might wonder why this symbol is there. So we can’t have it displayed on a shelving unit or wherever.”
But a spokesperson for Dollar Tree said that plans have not changed to this point this year. He said, “Dollar Tree doesn’t display the menorah symbol in our stores, nor is there a plan to display one this year.”
Separately, Jewish leaders are also concerned about the appearance of the menorah or menorah in other spaces, such as restaurants.
Benny Lau, the executive director of Chabad of Garden City, which operates the new Starbucks on Long Island, sent a letter to the company saying the menorah in the shop’s shop window was a “temporary print ad not for the store itself but for an online-only Jewish holiday campaign.” He added that “This menorah has been up for roughly six months. If you did not have the energy to activate this menorah two years ago when it was a temporary print ad, to why would you now spend your resources to activate it in a chain coffee shop?”
He asked for an explanation as to why the menorah is “being used this way, and, more importantly, is there a need for something like this at a java stand?”
A Starbucks spokesperson said the brand “has no affiliation with the menorah campaign.” He added that “We are proud to offer both our customers and our employees a variety of products this holiday season, including products from various Jewish holidays, including Hanukkah, and this holiday window is solely dedicated to the holiday window. We are saddened that Mr. Lau would suggest otherwise, and we stand behind our decision to not distribute this merchandise,” the spokesperson said.
This year, Karen Peleg of New York-based Kabbalah Necklace has a menorah sold in her store at Rockefeller Center. Her menorah was mailed to her by a distributor that had a separate issue of her skullcap shipped with the menorah.
“If this is an issue, it’s to do with copyright,” Peleg said. “They are distributing copies of the skullcap to have with them.”
And Jaffe’s passengers — who, after all, drive hundreds of miles around the country each day — typically sit in CVS’s parking lot. “For me to be sending it to my apartment and then to Amazon, it’s a lot easier to have it on the side of the truck,” he said.
Jaffe plans to continue shipping his menorahs all over the country, making sure to remove any flack so that customers who might have a problem with the menorah doesn’t feel uncomfortable in his cart.