I am Jewish. There was a time in my life when I was in a serious relationship with a non-Jew. When discussing marriage I always considered the religious difference; it hung heavily over my head like holiday mistletoe. Would we celebrate both Christmas and Hanukkah? How would we explain it to our imaginary future children? It was certainly confusing. Ultimately, this relationship ended (not due to religious differences) and I married a Jewish man. I assumed, therefore, that other religions wouldn’t be a factor for our children.
This was my big mistake.
When he was one, I took Man to sit on Santa’s lap. Why not? Since he was too young to ask questions or build memories, I figured there was no harm. We waited on the obligatory long line until it was Man’s turn—and finally we arrived. Before us, there sat the red-suit-clad Santa with a real beard (a nice touch!) and a permagrin affixed to his rosy-cheeked face. If I had listened closely enough I’m sure I could have actually heard the angels singing. Like a little Santa factory, Man was placed on his lap, a picture was snapped before he could resist too much and off of his lap he went. It was all of 30 seconds and if it weren’t for the single picture (and the fact that I’m now telling all of you nice folks) I could deny that this event ever took place.
I had never heard the word “Santa” out of his mouth again, until about two years later. Then when his sister grew old enough to understand about Christmas, it became impossible to escape. Christmas is everywhere, and well, let’s face it, Hanukah just doesn’t come with as much flash and pizzazz.
The questions started simply enough:
Q: Where does Santa live?
A: The North Pole.
Q: Do we have a chimney?
Q: Can we go meet him?
Q: What do the elves do?
A: Build toys.
But now the conversations have grown more complex. And just when I’m finishing answering a battery of questions from one of them, I turn around and have to answer a litany from the other:
Q: Why does “so and so” have a Christmas tree and we don’t?
A: Because we don’t celebrate Christmas.
Q: Why not?
A: Because we’re Jewish and we celebrate other holidays like Hanukkah.
Q: What else do we celebrate?
Q: What’s that?
A: You remember when we had a “seder” and we couldn’t eat until we finished reading stories from that little book, the Haggadah?
Q: Mom, can we decorate our house with blue lights for Hanukah?
A: I’ll talk to dad about it.
Q: Mom, those people don’t have lights on their house, does it mean they are Jewish too?
Q: Why is our holiday so boring? We don’t get to decorate our house or do anything fun!”
A: It’s not boring! We get to spin the dreidel and eat latkes!!
I could hear audible sighs of disappointment from the backseat of the car, and the rearview mirror reflects two little faces full of regret. I could see that I had lost them. Here was this holiday with trees and sparkly lights, ginger bread houses, and a sweet old man who gives lots of gifts; everything really did seem merrier and brighter. How could any of our Jewish holidays compare to that!? I mean, it’s not like there is a man at the mall dressed as a Menorah, eagerly waiting to seat my kids on his lap and ask if he’s been a “mensch” this year. To a six-year-old and a four-year-old, lighting the Hanukkah candles just doesn’t seem as exciting as having a big, beautiful light up tree.
Compounding this is the fact that everyone around them seems to celebrate. It’s everywhere; Curious George celebrates, as does Peppa Pig, Team Umizoomi, and the Odd Squad. So do most of their real life friends. All of these people get to celebrate and they don’t, and this is obviously a travesty. They want, no, they “neeeeeeded” their own tree and gifts. I remind them that we celebrate Hanukkah, a holiday where they receive gifts eight nights in a row! This does not soothe them in any way, for so do half of their friends who are of mixed religions and get to celebrate both holidays.
I feel trapped! I have no other answers for my children then the ones I have already given. We just don’t celebrate Christmas and with every discussion they grow more and more disappointed.
Now, you might be thinking, “What’s the big deal, it’s just a tree and some lights, why not just give it to them?” But it is a big deal. This is a religious holiday, which is not our religion; it is not an American holiday. Do you fast during the month of Ramadan because your child’s best friend does? I would be betraying our religion if I showed them that it was alright to celebrate something that we didn’t believe in just because it comes with fancy accoutrement. I am proud of my Jewish heritage and I won’t compromise that. Moreover, I will raise my children to be proud Jews as well. So, for now they will just have to be satisfied with eating Chinese food and going to the movies on Christmas as Jews have done for thousands of years before them.