My son told me he made a Christmas card at school the other day. But I knew it was a Hanukkah card.
That’s when I began to understand how tricky this Jewish parenting thing is going to be. Already, at 2 years old, my son is talking about Christmas.
Of course it’s impossible to avoid Christmas. My Facebook feed is full of Christmas trees and mischievous elves. There’s a Christmas tree at the grocery store, at the BX…a 20 foot tall inflatable “Father Christmas” (that’s Santa Claus, America) at the garden centre on the way to music class. I know it’s no different back in the States.
The thing is, I didn’t grow up Jewish or with close Jewish friends. I really have no idea how to navigate this. I just want to be sure that we raise our kids with a strong Jewish identity.
Christmas was a big deal! People were merry. They gathered for parties. Everything sparkled and glowed. Of course there were always a lot of really, really cool presents. And EVERYONE celebrated it. So it’s understandable to me when people who have lived like I did in my youth don’t understand this one important thing about us being Jewish:
We don’t celebrate Christmas.
No Christmas tree. No lights. No Santa Claus. No Christmas dinner. It’s just another day.
The other thing that’s misunderstood?
Hanukkah isn’t the Jewish equivalent of Christmas. (Check out this Op-Ed for more on that.) It’s actually a minor holiday that has earned a high profile simply because it falls in December. My guess is that Jewish parents have chosen to make it a big deal simply to have some ammunition against the big, tempting, commercial monster that Christmas has become. Making Hanukkah exciting might make not celebrating Christmas seem like less of a big deal.
All but one of our son’s grandparents celebrate Christmas. I certainly respect that they celebrate it and have traditions surrounding it.We know a handful of Jews here, none with children who can talk yet. There’s no telling where we’ll go next and what kind of Jewish community we’ll find there. Basically, this is an effort my husband and I are making on our own.
So it gets even trickier. Do we skip out on the Christmas-themed music class (which we’ve paid for)? What do we tell his carers at nursery about Hanukkah? We’ve already declined invitations to two Christmas parties. It’s easy now that his friends aren’t old enough to talk about these things and make him feel like he’s missing out. But one day… I might need to feel prepared.