My husband and I are both Jewish and neither one of us grew up celebrating Christmas (which I hear some Jews do?). Hanukkah is the “Festival of Lights” and yet we never put up twinkle lights to decorate our home. Furthermore, we do not cater to the Christmas holiday season by getting things like a “Hanukkah bush” (which seems a lot like a Jewish version of a Christmas tree) or a “Mensch on a Bench” (which is a clever nod to the Elf on a Shelf). I sound like a Grinch, but I think we’re really just old school. As a kid, I remember feeling very upset about not having a Christmas tree, all the beautiful holiday decorations in my home, and a visit from Santa and his reindeer. I saw all of my friends celebrating; and it was lonely being the only kid in my circle of friends who lit the menorah. On the flip side, this pushed me to really understand my heritage, take pride in being different, and celebrate my holiday without feeling like an outcast. Also, I have amazing friends (check out my blog www.emailingwithmygirlfriends.com) and they invited me to join them in some of their holiday traditions (baking cookies, decorating the tree, even joining them for Christmas dinner!), but it did not lessen the sting of never experiencing the excitement of coming down the stairs on Christmas morning to a tree with presents magically created in the North Pole by Santa’s elves.
This is the first year my three-year old daughter understands holidays and she has heard of Christmas and I can see she wants in. My husband and I have explained we don’t celebrate Christmas because we’re Jewish and it’s not our holiday. She seems to be all right with this. We tell her about the holidays we do celebrate as Jews (and there are SO many awesome holidays aside from Passover and Yom Kippur like Purim and Sukkot), and how we make this time of year fun by celebrating Hanukkah, eating food fried in oil (potato latkes and doughnuts) and I even bake Hanukkah cookies (okay, this is akin to baking Christmas cookies, but I also bake Rugelach. I like to bake, so sue me).
Still, a part of me is waiting for the moment it really sinks in; we don’t get a Christmas tree to decorate while beautiful music plays in the background. All the decorations and holiday festiveness we see in our community are mostly focused on Christmas and Santa is usually there. Santa is not coming to our house.
On the other hand, Hanukkah celebrations are much more prevalent now than when I was a kid. So am I just projecting my own childhood disappointments onto my daughter? If not, how do I comfort my little girl when she asks why Santa is not coming to our house too?
To counter-balance all the excitement around Christmas, we could blow Hanukkah up and make it a really big deal in my house, but Hanukkah isn’t the most religious of holidays. In terms of holiness, it ranks lower than Shabbat, which happens every Friday night (when we light Shabbat candles, say prayers, and enjoy fresh-baked challah… I like to bake!). So, I choose not to go overboard with Hanukkah because it’s not the most important holiday in the Jewish religion. Yes, there are eight potential nights of gift-giving, but I keep our present allowance to $10 or less per kid on the first night and the rest of the nights they enjoy extra sweets and Hanukkah gelt (chocolate). I’m not going to inflate Hanukkah to mega proportions to help my kids cope with being the religious minority. There’s no way we can avoid all the holiday joy because she points out the giant blow-up lawn ornaments with amazement, asks why someone is constantly ringing a bell in the store (Salvation Army), and she got her hands on a toy catalog in the mail (game over). So I guess I’m back to square one and this may be one of my daughter’s first life lessons. We can appreciate other holidays, and even participate in the joyful glee outside of our home. Instead of cringing at the inevitable question, I will look at this as one of the first times we explain different religions and teach the lesson of acceptance. We’re not all the same and it’s OK. Happy Holidays!