Parenthood

Being Jewish in December

Baby's First Hanukkah Card

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.

Maybe?

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.

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8 thoughts on “Being Jewish in December

  1. Holidays can be tricky if you are in the minority. When I lived in SE Asia, my Muslim neighbors had many preconceived ideas about Christmas. In their minds, we worshiped an artificial tree, which always made me laugh since it seemed more like hand-to-hand combat with pine instead of any form of adoration.

  2. Oh Lynn, I feel ya on this one. I don’t have any advise but just know that we are there with you. So far we have done our best to give honest but appropriate answers when it comes to Christmas/Santa questions, but is very much one of those things that we are just learning as we go. We are very lucky to have Jewish friends near by to have the kiddos celebrate together, but at daycare it is a different story. And this year I fully expect more interest and questions as we get closer to 12/25.

    Happy Hanukkah to you guys!

  3. I know there’s a trend to separate Christmas from the religious aspect of it, e.g. trees, Santa, candy canes, and lights in lieu of nativity scenes and going to church, etc. Even saying happy holidays as opposed to merry christmas.

    That’s a tough one to wade through. We celebrate Christmas although I tend to see it is as more of family traditions of getting together for dinner rather than the religious aspect of it. I’m not sure how I would handle it if I never grew up with christmas. Maybe for day care, you can send your kiddo to school with Hanukkah-related treats?

    And wow I never knew Hanukkah was a minor holiday, but I can definitely see how it’s hyped up simply because it’s in December.

  4. We always celebrated with the tree, presents, and meals, and I hardly remember ever going to church for it. I’m sure those who have strong religious ties to the holiday struggle with the “secularization” of Christmas, too.

    His day care has been really great. Today I saw the children’s handmade Stars of David and Diwali lanterns hanging in the room alongside the Christmas stuff. It has me thinking I should inform them of the other holidays we celebrate!

  5. I’m sure the questions will keep coming! My problem is probably my imagination – since I grew up with Christmas, I get caught up trying extra-hard to imagine the questions and challenges we’ll encounter. Learning as we go is probably the best we can do!

  6. It’s interesting to discover what other cultures think of the things that feel so “normal” to us! The tree must be confusing.

  7. You should definitely let his nursery know about Jewish holidays. Two years ago my son’s nursery school teacher asked if I wanted to come visit the class and tell them about Thanksgiving ( we are also Americans living in England). I am a little embarrassed to admit that I was completely confused for a moment as to why she would ask me that. I guess I kinda forgot that I wasn’t in America! Anyways, I brought in pumpkin muffins for their snack, we decorated little Rice Krispie turkeys and talked about what we are thankful for. The kids and the adults really enjoyed learning about a different culture. It was so much fun we did it again this year.

    I am sure his nursery would love to learn more about the Jewish holidays, I know I would.

  8. I awkwardly spoke up about the Christmas-themed storytimes at the library all month and suddenly found myself, shiksa that I am, having to help present a Hanukkah-themed storytime and bring dreidels and talk about our traditions! Oh well, all in the name of my Jewish daughter and husband. ;) Jason grew up celebrating Christmas, because his father converted to Judaism to marry his mom but still had all of his Methodist family to visit at the holidays of course. I’m sure it will get more confusing as Lorelei gets older, but we’re trying to figure it out together. I hope you spoke up at nursery!

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