Jewish Families & Christmas
Archived Q&A and Reviews
- How to celebrate Xmas as a nonpracticing Jew?
- How to spend Xmas as a Jewish family
- Jewish Convert Loves Xmas!
- Observant Jew married to Jewish atheist who likes Christmas
- Santa & Jewish Kids
- Christmas day volunteering for Jewish family
- See also: Interfaith Families & Judaism
How does your family participate in Xmas with in-laws? One side of my family celebrates Xmas and the other doesn't. We, my husband and I have such mixed feelings about Xmas and specifically Santa Claus we haven't found a way to comfortably let our daughter go to her grandparents on Xmas day. One year, Santa showered her with gifts and we were clearly uncomfortable. The next year, she cried because Santa gave more to some others. Yikes, I can not reconcile the two different attitudes in my family about the holidays. One being modest gifts, if any at all and the other into giving gifts. What makes it worse is the difficulty in communicating with my parents. What do you do? SD
How about doing Chanukah in a big way at home? Let the relatives do Christmas with the kids. My kids knew from VERY EARLY on the Santa Clause deal. They got their presents from the in-laws on Christmas day. The presents that other people gave them came home and got opened at our house on Christmas day. Our Chanukah presents were on the 8 days of Chanukah. Now they are older (teens), my in-laws are gone and I am relieved not to have to do Christmas. My kids get small Chanukah presents on 7 nights and they get 1 big one each on the last night. This year we may agree to get a new TV as our ''family'' Chanukah present and that's it. HOpe this helps. anon
It seems to me that sticking to the same routine each year will help your daughter understand that people have different ways of celebrating. Maybe with the half of the family that isn't so into gifts, traditional foods and cooking and baking can be the special focus of your holiday visit with them. Or you could explain that Santa finds it easier to get into Grandma and Grandpa So and So's house more easily because of the large front door (or chimney, or whatever), so that's where he leaves the most gifts. My husband was born Jewish, but raised by his Jewish dad and non- Jewish stepmom. I was raised agnostic, but converted to Judaism. We celebrate Hanukkah at home, Christmas with our neighbors and friends, and both, long distance, with the 2 sets of grandparents. Our kids just know that we get the best of all worlds, celebrating in many ways with our many groups of friends and family. If it's tough to take her to Grandma & Grandpa's on Christmas, go on Christmas Eve instead, or the day after. Start new traditions that she will enjoy when she goes. If Christmas Day at the grandparents involves lots of cousins and relatives opening PILES of gifts, and you're not into that, don't make your daughter feel bad by exposing her to it . Go at a different time when you can focus on things other than gifts. Like crafts, storytelling, baking cookies, whatever. Heidi
I think you will find it easier if you give up trying to control the grandparents of your child. Just let them do what they normally do, and tell your child that different people celebrate the December holidays in different ways. Then create a holiday in your home that everyone can enjoy. Perhaps emphasize homemade decorations and togetherness instead of Santa and consumerism. In our household only small gifts and practical gifts were given in December, and larger gifts were given other times: a bike in spring or a computer when school started, for instance. And we never called it xmas or Christmas. In fact I think Kwanzaa would be a good one because then you can get things on sale after the holidays. anon
I am bi-racial. My mother is Jewish and my father was raised Christian. As a child my family celebrated both Christmas and Channukah. Around the time I turned 8 yrs old my parents got tired of doing both holidays, and asked my sister and I to choose which we would like to continue with. We chose Channukah. (8 days of gifts sounded better...!) As a teenager, I spent many Christmas's with friends. Now as adults we both identify as Jewish ( I guess we always have.) and still celebrate Channukah as well as other major Jewish holidays. We celebrate Christmas with our non Jewish family and friends, but is not made a huge deal. dont stress out about it
I am looking for a nice way for a secular Jewish family (2 parents and a 7-year-old) to spend Xmas. What do other people do??? As a family we've gone out for Chinese food, to the Cal Academy of Sciences, movies, etc...but ideally, I would like to find a community of other Jews to spend the day with to feel less alone. Are there any organized events that happen in the Bay Area? Do other families have ideas for nice ways to spend the day? (and Xmas eve?) Thank you! anonymous
The Jewish communal organizations do step up to the plate for Xmas. Synagogues and JCCs offer events for families. The Contemporary Jewish Museum in SF is offering a free Family day. Look at this page for details. http://www.jmsf.org/exhibitions/special-programs.html I know one of the synagogues in Walnut Creek is doing a Fiddler on the Roof singalong.
The SF JCC also has a day for families: http://www.jccsf.org/content_main.aspx?progid=1531=86 Or you might make your own tradition. My sister-in-law has a party every xmas eve for all her jewish friends. I know it's not chanukah but you could make latkes again. Or you could just make other fun food. One family I know has a BIG train set that the dad & son set up ALL THRU the house on xmas day. You get there and there is track and trains all over. Kids love it. You could have a brunch and invite friends. Just make simple breakfast food. If you want a copy of ''Resource'' the bay area Jewish Yellow pages just to see who is where and what's their phone number, call me at work and I'll mail you one. 510-839-2900 x347 (Building Jewish Bridges, in the east bay) Dawn
what a sweet idea! i'm watching this post to see what people suggest! i am going to ask around my synagogue to see what other people are doing - thanks for inspiring me! we always went to movies and had chinese or indian food in years past, but it would be nice to have some kind of get-together that isn't Christmassy. humbug
Some synagogues (including Beth El in Berkeley, I believe) have fun activities for Jewish families on Xmas day. Our family generally deals with this by traveling -- it's a great time to be out of the country. NYC also has plenty of things to do on Xmas day for those who don't celebrate the holiday. Other fun things are going to the beach, a park, Pt. Reyes, Golden Gate Park, etc. and enjoying the lack of crowds. Sometimes it's fun to be alone! anon
I'm confused... if the whole point is that Christmas is not a holiday for you, why are you looking for a way to treat it as a special day (and eve)? Isn't that why (in New York, at least), it's the time for movies and Chinese food? It's a day like any other day (except more stores are closed). Why not catch up on household chores or that book you've been meaning to get to? anon
The JCC in San Francisco is having a family event on Christmas. I saw the ad in the Dec. issue of Parent's Press, or you can call the Jewish Community Center in S.F. Happy Chanukah
If you know other Jewish and non-christian families, a multi-family pot-luck would be fun. There's a new children's playground in Chinatown that the kids might like to check out after the pot-luck.
I work with a lot of Hindus from India and a lot of atheists in I.T., and I could ask them how they plan to spend their day off for more ideas. Many of them will be on vacation for the entire week, so I don't think they plan to do anything different on the 25th.
It doesn't really seem fair to be forced to celebrate another religion's holiday in a country that was founded on the concept that there would be no favoritism toward any one religion over another. Historian
I relate:) Click here for: ''Chinese food on Christmas'' http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w1uZ_W7atDE fellow jew at the movies on christmas
With Christmas just a week away I thought I'd give this link to Jewish things to do. http://jewishinterfaith.blogspot.com/2007/12/jewish-things-to-do-on-christmas.html I plan to have a Game Day with friends. Well, food too. Jewish mom
So, I'm converting to Judaism, which feels so right for me and my family. I am making Shabbat every week, observing the holidays, working with a rabbi who I love, reading a lot, learning Hebrew and the prayers. My only problem is that I can't envision December without Xmas. It was the only happy time in my childhood, and it's a season that I've always enjoyed. My child has been celebrating Xmas all her life, as well as the rest of our extended families. For us, it's all about the secular stuff (tree, Santa, snowmen, etc). I am sensitive to the fact that most Jews see Xmas as a religious holiday, no matter what. Then again, I also know that some Jews have trees, visit Santa, etc. I also know that this subject is usually one of the hardest things for Jewish converts to deal with. I am finally reaching the point in my life where I would CONSIDER giving up Xmas, but I'm feeling really sad about it. I would appreciate some feedback from people who have been in my position. It's weird to be in the process of becoming a Jew but looking forward to decorating my Xmas tree! Then again, aren't most holidays just stolen from the pagans anyway, so why can't our family keep our secular holiday? I'd love to hear how other people have addressed this issue. Ho Ho Hoping to Find Some Peace
My situation is a little different from yours. I had a Jewish parent and a Christian parent growing up and we celebrated both sets of holidays. I later decided I was Jewish, just Jewish, and gave up Christmas my first year of college. It was a little hard, although it was what I wanted. Here's what I did. I went completely cold turkey. I forced myself to feel completely divorced from the holiday and wouldn't even think about any happy Christmas things like the music or the baking because it would make me sad. Within a few years, the holiday felt completely foreign to me and now I almost have to remind myself that I grew up celebrating it. My mother eventually converted to Judaism, and I think she had a harder time giving up Christmas than I did. I think she essentially did what I did.
I don't know if you're asking for advice on how to give up Christmas or whether to give up Christmas. I'm of the opinion that Jews don't celebrate Christmas, and if you're converting you ought to give it up, even the secular parts. You're right that Christmas is a sensitive topic for Jews which is surely due to the fact that it's the holiday of the majority of the country. If you were talking about a secular holiday from, say, Tibetan culture, people might be more inclined to find it touching that you incorporated it into Jewish life. But, in America at least, Christmas is different.
As you spend more time being Jewish, happy family memories will become attached to the Jewish holidays instead and I imagine it will get easier. Good luck. Sarah
You are not alone. Plenty of converts go through the same issues. Everything you say sounds familiar. It's just pagan stuff, it's all about family, Xmas is the only happy time from my childhood. It's all true! It's not about religion, it's about family. And it's also true that most Jews see Xmas as a Christian holiday, no matter what. If you want to give up Christmas you, need support. If you don't want to give up Christmas, you need support. I'm going to pose your dilemma to my email list for Jews by Choice and see what they say. If you want me to email you their answers you can send me an email at dawn [at] jfed.org. Your rabbi should be a good source of some thoughtful feedback. But if you want to talk to someone who has actually walked this road, I'd be happy to put you in touch with dozens of people -- including a rabbi who converted. Dawn
As a Jew who was raised in a Jewish house and married a Jew and has never celebrated X-mas in my own home I say Go ahead and continue to celebrate X-mas!
It is your tradition and holiday and there is no reason not to continue to enjoy it. Plenty of Jewish children celebrate X-mas if one of their parents is not Jewish.
Judaism is not such a fragile religion that it can't stand in the face of a decorated tree and some beautiful songs. As you know, Judaism is much more than ''not Christian''. As long as your feelings about and practice of Judaism are positive, and you celebrate the Jewish holidays and practice the Jewish traditions, then I don't think celebrating X-mas is going to detract from your Judaism.
--a good Jew who personally authorizes your enjoyment of Xmas
I was raised Jewish and always felt like I was missing out on Christmas....it was so beautiful, and to me not a religious holiday,but more a celebration of winter (yes, it was originally a pagan celebration of the solstice). When I left home to go to college I started celebrating Christmas...I'd get a tree and decorate it every year. I loved making decorations, wrapping presents, etc. I also lived for a long time in cold snowy places so it seemed even more appropriate.
My husbandis 1/2 Jewish and was raised with Christmas so we would celebrate Christmas and Chanukah...as our kids got a bit older we put more emphasis on Chanukah but still decorated and did gifts big time....eventually it stopped feeling right to celebrate Christmas, as my older son was getting near his BarMItzvah year...the excitement was gone and I was too tired to do all the decorating, etc. For the past many years, we celebrate Chanukah in a much quieter and more spiritual way...we light the Chanukiah,sing songs, have latke parties with friends and give smaller gifts. Much more sane for us. I hope this helps....my point is....if you love Christmas, celebrate Christmas. There is no law that says you can't. LOTS of Jews celebrate Christmas and Chanukah. anon
How about observing Xmas as a celebration of your childhood? Given that you are converting to Judaism I assume you don't treasure the religious element of Christmas but rather the childhood memories. You don't say whether your significant other has a problem with Xmas. If not, I think you should continue to get enjoyment out of the observance. Seems like pretty innocuous fun to me. A Jew who enjoys the Christmas spirit
I would suggest contacting Rabbi Bridget Wynne at J-Gate in El Cerrito; Dawn Kepler who I believe is at the Jewish Community Foundation of the Greater East Bay; or the Berkeley Richmond JCC (now has a different name) for really good individual and group conversations about interfaith issues. You can get contact info and other recommendations at Info [at] JewishNfo.org which is an online version of Resource: A Guide to Jewish Life in the Bay Area. Wishing you well at this time of bringing light into the darkness. Take care
I wonder whether it would help to know that many ''Christmas'' traditions are actually pre-Christian, pagan traditions. The Christmas tree, for instance, the use of candles/lights, gift- giving, etc. You could perhaps transform the ''Christmas'' theme into a solstice theme, the return of light to the world, and modify the Christmas traditions a little to emphasize that aspect. During the winter in Northern Europe, it was actually often easier to travel across snow and frozen lakes that it was to try to journey over bad roads, and visiting and feasting (after the harvest and the slaughter of animals) would take place then. Maybe that would help... secular Christmas is kind of empty, too
In our family (Jewish mom, Christain dad) we celebrate both Christmas and Hannukah, and our children certainly have no complaints. We consider this a 'more the merrier' issue. Happy With Both
We are Buddhist converts and agree this time of year is a pretty special. The thing is Christmas it is meant to be Christ's birthday and to a Christian person that is a big deal. So out of respect to Christians, we celebrate the day of opening gifts etc. on the Winter Solstice. We are in the habit of calling them Solstice gifts, and the tree a Solstice tree.We make a really big deal out of the day. We read books about it and make crafts,light lots of candles and dress up. We also make smaller deals of the Equinoxes and have a bonfire somewhere on the Summer Solstice. It is almost impossible not to get caught up in this season's brightness so we make it about the light. When The Buddha's birthday comes around we really go for it, cake, presents,friends, I give presentations at their school etc. 'Tis the season
Don't give it up! I converted to Judaism several years ago, after being raised in a completely secular (parents were Agnostic/Atheist) household, WITH Christmas, Easter, etc. I feel exactly the same as you; I love Christmas and everything that goes along with it--the smells, the sights, the way it makes grumpy people nicer... My kids know they're Jewish, and we don't have any Christmas-y things in our house, except wrapping paper, when I'm getting family and friends' gifts ready. BUT, my kids have wanted to sit on Santa's lap and get their picture taken. No problem. We go to Tilden Park's Holiday Fantasyland at the carousel. We celebrate Christmas at friends' homes, admiring the trees and mistletoe, and even go to a kid-friendly Mass on Christmas Eve, at a friend's house. My kids identify themselves as Jewish, and are proud of it. They'll tell the lady at Safeway that Santa doesn't come to our house because we celebrate Hanukkah. But they say it happily, and without feeling like they're missing anything. They understand that some people are Jewish, others are Christian, and lots of people have other religions and traditions too. Do what feels good to you. Enjoy Christmas for what it means to you, and don't feel pressured to turn your head the other way when you hear Ho Ho Ho or bells jingling. Hum along when you hear Deck the Halls; it's a big part of your history, and you shouldn't be asked to deny it. Happy Hanukkah, and Merry Christmas! Heidi
I was ''raised'' Jewish (in a kind of obligatory half ass way) and my family (though they deny any recollection of this) always celebrated Christmas. My mother now is horrified at the mere mention of ''pine boughs''. Not kidding. That should be your first clue of the Jewish guilt my mom is feeling for ''not really'' raising us a Jews. So, I married a non-religious man who was raised something or another (non Jewish). And, we celebrate Christmas. I, too, am interested in the all the fun, especially for the kids, and the decorating, etc. etc. so I just do it. My advice to you is to just do it. Go For It
I converted to Judaism about 8 years ago now, before I got married and I felt and still feel the same as you. I love being a Jew, love celebrating Shabbat with my family, love Passover and Yom Kippur and the rest, but I still love Christmas. It also seemed like such a major issue at the time of my conversion, but honestly, it really isn't any more. It doesn't have to be that hard. I didn't choose Judaism because I wanted an organized religion to tell me how to feel, or what I could or couldn't do. Christmas is a beautiful holdiday based on an ancient pagan tradition that has been co-opted by commercialization. I love the idea of a living tree in the middle of winter, lights (along with the Hannukah lights) lighting up the darkest time of year, loving, thoughtful (non- commercial, small scale) gift-giving, egg nog etc. We usually celebrate Christmas with my family. My kids (2 and 4) hang stockings, make tree ornaments, eat turkey, etc. We don't go to church with them, but we share in the rest of it. We don't actually get a tree at our own house, more for environmental reasons than anything else, but we do hang lights. My daughter and I go to the Nutcracker. At first there was all this tension, my born-Jewish husband all anxious about participating, my parents all freaked out that they wouldn't be able to share their traditions with their grandchildren. We all just sort of got over it with practice. My husband loves hanging stockings and has invented Hannukah Harry who also brings gifts, my mom makes Latkes if Hannukah overlaps, my dad reads the same Christmas books he read to me as a child, but changes key phrases - reading them as history rather than the as the story of the birth of the son of god. The Jewish grandparents send my parents a big Christmas basket every year. It's all very nice and happy. I totally know how you feel. I was in the same place, but I think it will get easier. It's your path: Walk it in the way that makes sense to you. I love our new Christmas traditions, just as I love my new Shabbat traditions - which now feel old too, after only 8 years. Things may evolve more as my kids get older and start to make distinctions between things, but I'm not too worried about it. We'll just work it out then. Good luck! Christmassy Jew
I was once in your position - in fact, I delayed studying for conversion because I had such a hard time imagining December without Christmas. I was finally able to let it go when I had filled my life up the other 11 months of the year with Jewish ritual and celebration -- Shabbat, High Holy Days, Sukkot, Pesach, etc. I too grew up in a family in which Christmas was our only family celebration. After I converted, we tried to spend Christmas with my family and keep the decorations, etc. there and not bring them into my house. It really became a relief to only celebrate one holiday at home in December and let go of the need to do a ''perfect'' Christmas every year. My only regret is that I didn't let go of it sooner, as now my Jewish children still call Christmas their favorite holiday! While many of the traditions, etc. are pagan and largely secular to many Americans, it is still a celebration of the Messiah's birth and Jews just don't feel a part of it, so continuing to celebrate it in your home, if you continue to participate actively in a Jewish community, might start to feel rather odd in a few years. Been there
We are a generally-very-compatible couple seeking advise/guidance/formal mediation? in dealing with the immense and perennial conflicts surrounding observance of any kind of religious/seasonal rituals in our house. One parent is fairly observant Jewish and likes to do seders, celebrate Hannukah, etc.; the other is a Jewish atheist who grew up with (and feels very fondly towards) Christmas trees, gingerbread houses, and painted Easter eggs (but no church, crucifixes, etc.). The observant parent is not comfortable with the ''let's just celebrate it all'' approach, and the non-observant parent is resentful at having to jettison all childhood traditions. The conflict has - predictably - gotten even more intense with the arrival of kids. We are not looking for folks to weigh in as to what we ''should'' do, but rather, looking for a recommendation as to a sympathetic third party with some experience in these thorny matters who could help facilitate a calm discussion that would lead to a long-term plan for dealing with holidays in our family. Thanks for any help!
I have a few recommendations for you: 1) Since you mentioned mediation as an option you are interested in. Please go to http://www.bdrs.org, the Berkeley Dispute Resolution Service. They provide low cost mediations on a wide range of issues.
2) Interfaith connections in the east bay at: http://interfaithfamily.com/iffconnections/bayarea-greatereastbay.phtml. They have many workshops, and provide counceling services as well. There are events that involve extended family as well.
3)While you asked for no advice, having been through it myself, I strongly suggest you remember this is YOUR family and you (both) should set the rules. They do as they like in their home, they do as you do in your home! peter
Since despite your different perspectives, both of you are Jewish, I would suggest you find a rabbi or other Jewish professional who might provide both counsel and education toward framework for deciding what practices meet your joint values. You might want to start looking for a referral by contacting the East Bay Council of Rabbis (chair: Rabbi Harry Manhoff; 510-357-1375).
I write this as a Jewish educator of many years, who has worked with a very diverse group of families. In my experience, including my own marriage, every family is an 'interfaith' family because every partner brings his or her own spiritual attachments to it. It may not make it less painful, but you should know your conflicts are not unique. Keep talking! Carol
Several places to go for some free help have been listed here before, but here they are: Building Jewish Bridges in Oakland 510-839-2900 x347 Jewish Family & Children's Services 510-704-7475 One that hasn't been mentioned is the East Bay's Community Rabbi Program. You can call Rabbi Muriam Senturia at 510-839-2900 x212. She is very kind. She can also refer you to rabbis from all the movements if you want one that fits your background. Good luck and don't dispair. anon
As long as people are contributing their stories about how to explain Santa to children who celebrate Xmas, I would love to hear from Jewish parents about how we might explain this pervasive, jolly character to our children who celebrate a very different kind of holiday. (Actually, I would enjoy hearing from ANY parents who don't celebrate Xmas and how they handle this). Gail
This wasn't an issue at my house- at age 2.5, I decided that daddy was Santa Claus, and affirmed the fact with my mother... hence, I have no recollection of believing in Santa Claus. However, we did use Santa Claus in an abstract manner, ie to give additional gifts, usually something that wasn't as personal as a gift from Mom or Dad (or siblings, grandparents, whatever) might be- for example, we always had stockings, and those were filled by Santa Claus. Santa Claus might bring a new bathrobe or a stuffed animal, etc- something nice to have but not necessarily the most wanted item. To me, Santa Claus is basically a way to give someone something and remain anonymous, such as the gifts collected for children in disadvantaged families, etc... it's a way of giving with no interest in receiving something in return, if that makes any sense. A symbol of good will. In any event, the birth of Christ was the primary focus in my family, so St. Nicolaus was a bit of a side-liner. Naomi
Growing up Chinese-American, I always felt partly Jewish (if you understand, you understand; if you don't don't worry about it). Anyway, Santa Claus is about as foreign to Chinese culture (even Chinese Christian culture) as it is to Jewish culture. As a kid, it never occurred to me that I should believe in Santa Claus any more than I should believe in Captain Kangaroo or Winnie the Pooh. That is, I enjoyed the fiction as fiction, just as I enjoyed storybooks. Sometimes people say that not giving kids the chance to believe in Santa Claus impoverishes their imaginative life, but that wasn't my experience at all -- not needing it to be real meant that I could let the imagination go even more freely. I remember writing a story about how Santa was able to get everywhere in one night. I think it was the very first time I ever tried to write a story and I remember how much I enjoyed the creative process of doing it. If Santa was constrained in my mind to be real, I'd have been worried about figuring out what the Truth was -- even little kidlets care about the Truth! :) -- and I wouldn't have been able to imagine as freely as I did. So, both as a kid and as a grown-up, I always appreciated having had the opportunity to enjoy Santa for what he truly is, i.e. a jolly story. Christianity didn't have a lot to do with it. (Hm- if I don't stop writing now, I might start into an essay on the independence of christian faith from the cultures it takes root in, which I don't want to inflict on you :) so I'll stop here.) \t\t\t Joyce
I always told my son that Santa Claus was a story, and not true, once he had heard about it, but told him that it was a secret we couldn't tell others. I haven't brought it up with my younger daughter yet, because she doesn't know about it at all, but I will soon. My reasoning was two-fold. First, I never believed in Santa (or the easter bunny, for that matter) so it didn't seem like a necessary thing to me. Second, the story is that Santa gives gifts to good children. My son would not be getting anything from Santa. Ergo. . . This was a message I certainly wanted to avoid.
Warning: I have had other people criticize me for not letting my children believe in Santa. They say children should have the opportunity to be spoiled with gifts. Whether or not I agree with this, the issue is moot as we celebrate all 8 nights of Hanukah (each family member has 2 nights to **give** gifts to the family, and I make sure grandparent gifts get given to the giver!) and my sons birthday is in December -- quite enough gifts for anyone! They also say it will make my kids different from the rest of society. Well, they're different anyway. There's also the line that if you don't believe in Santa, you won't be as imaginative. Well, these people should read the stories my son writes! (We wrote one together that is of publishable quality, according to a librarian who reviews books for publishers) Also, my son's teacher, when discussing another topic, said she noted a difference in creativity more linked to whether a child watched a lot of television (these kids were the less creative), so avoiding all those Santa Claus television specials should only be a help!
So do what feels right. I can't imagine your children will resent your telling them the truth on this issue. Wendy
As for how to deal with Christmas when you aren't Christian, we always make a big deal about Hannukah. In fact, this was a way that we dealt with the holidays after my husband's death. I know my daughter asked at some point for a Christmas tree, but I explained that it wasn't part of our traditions and as she got older, why it wasn't. Granted she does get a bit of both worlds as my in-laws celebrate Christmas and send cards and presents. However, she usually opens them when they arrive and doesn't wait, as why should she. Plus we often get invited to friends houses for the day. Our other tradition is that we always go to the movies either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. I always thought it was Jewish tradition that this is what you did on Christmas.
I do have a funny story on this topic. I read this true story in the Metropolitan Diary column in the New York Times one Sunday. A Jewish family's babysitter insisted on taking the daughter in the family to see Santa Claus at the local mall. The mother was reluctant to allow it, but finally reneged. When Santa had the girl on his lap he asked her the usual And what would you like for Christmas little girl? The girl replied I'm Jewish. We celebrate Hannukah at our house. To which Santa whispered That's ok. My wife is Jewish. Debbie
About being Jewish and acknowledging Christmas: My family celebrated both Hanukah and Christmas, which I think was wise. It kept us from being isolated from the majority of kids, and added to the fun. I don't remember when I stopped believing in Santa or even whether I ever did. Somehow all that stuff works out fine, if you're just natural about it and don't stress. My daughter is 4-1/2, and is remarkably aware, I think, of what pretending is, so fantasies about Halloween, Christmas, and other holidays aren't such bubbles, just fun. Nancy
Last year there was a whole long discussion on this on soc.culture.jewish.parenting If you go to http://www.dejanews.com/ and do a search for the thread Christmas Coping you'll get treated to a great discussion.
My basic attitude is to be as positive and exaggerated about our holidays and traditions and to just not make a big deal, either positively or negatively, about non-Jewish holidays. The problem for Jewish parents with the Santa myth is the part about Santa delivering gifts to all good girls and boys (one awful response I read, I think, in the thread above, is that Santa only goes to Christian houses because Christian parents can't afford the gifts and Jewish parents can, UGH!) If we tell our kids the truth, which I intend to do, then if they turn around and tell they're Christian friends we are accused of spoiling things for them. Not a fair position to be in, IMHO. It would be much easier if all weren't part of the myth. I'm not sure what parents do with older siblings who've discovered there's no tooth fairy. I guess some kids can understand and play along while others can't. In any case, if a parent chooses to tell the myth to their children it should be their burden to explain, in an acceptable way, that Santa is wonderful, but not necessarily universal. Sophie
My husband is Christian and I'm Jewish. We have celebrated both Christmas and Chanukkah in our house, but I believe that Judiasm is not compatible with Christianity as Jewish people do not accept Jesus as the Messiah. I do not know how to reconcile this contradiction in the future, except to raise him as Jewish (my first inclination). Could other parents of this type of background comment. And, I respect both religions as being part of a continuum, the Judeo-Christian background.
I want to bring up celebrating Christmas and Hannukah in non-religious families. My children's father is Jewish but he doesn't go to temple (his parents go once or twice a year.) I was brought up in a very religious Christian family but I do not practice Christianity myself. When our kids were small, we celebrated both Christmas and Hannukah. What I discovered is that my kids learned a lot about the secular Christmas - Santa, Frosty, Rudolf, etc. - from school and TV and friends, but they knew almost nothing about why Christmas is such an important Christian holiday. All references to Christianity were carefully avoided in school. As to Hannukuh, they learned about dreidels and latkes in school and got the general mistaken impression that Hannukah is a major Jewish holiday equivalent to the Christian holiday of Christmas. Though we all have always enjoyed the festivity of Hannukah candles and Christmas tree and Santa, and continue to do so, it was important to me to make sure my kids also knew about the religious meaning of both holidays, and the cultural significance of why we celebrate them.
So, my take on this is that the Christmas season has come to be a kind of general purpose non-religious children's holiday in terms of school and TV land, but parents who want to preserve their own cultural and religious heritage will need to see to this themselves. I don't think this is a bad thing, and certainly it's much better than assuming that everyone in the classroom is going to be celebrating Christmas, as was the case when I was a kid. But we non-practicing parents do need to be aware, I think, that our kids are not going to grasp the significance of Christmas or Hannukah or any other religious holidays without some instruction from us.
I'm also Jewish (non-practicing but with European parents 3 blocks away who lived through WWII) and am married to a non-practicing Catholic, and we have two children who think of themselves as Jewish (they know that in the Jewish faith if the mother is Jewish, the kids are Jewish). We celebrate Christmas and Chanukah, and try to make them both special family holidays and lots of fun, without emphasizing the religious aspects. We've had to answer numerous questions about Jesus, and I simply tell them that he was a very special man who cared about people a lot, and died for it (as did Martin Luther King), and that he actually was Jewish. I explain that Christians believe that he was the son of God, and started a new religion around that belief, and Jews just think he was a good man and kept to the old religion. I stress that no one knows what theory is correct, but that all religions teach about being good people and helping others, and that's the important thing to remember. I am equally unopinionated about whether Santa or the tooth fairy exist, they might and they might not, same for ghosts and spirits and fairies. All things are possible, and as they get older, they will make up their own minds. They seem to enjoy this anything is possible attitude. Its a tough call and I sometimes think I'm not doing the right thing by leaving everything so open and vague, but in many ways, its what I actually believe. Helen
I am Jewish and my husband is not. When we were first together (early 1970's, we were just out of college), religious practices seemed unimportant. I did my thing at Hillel sometimes or made a seder and he did nothing. As I got older, even before our children were born, I began to realze that it would be almost imposssible for me not to have a Jewish family life. At the same time, I love my in-laws, they have wonderful rich traditions, and my husband's growing up with his family (including their church, their Christmas) formed the man I loved.
Over the years, I have come to some idiosyncratic views about being Jewish in December. In the end, years of discussion later (but with no conflict) we have a Jewish family. We don't celebrate Christmas ourselves at all. However, we always make my husband's grandmother's Christmas cookies, I send cards (the kind that don't mention Christmas graphically or in the text), I put the cards we receive around the fireplace, and for many years (before we moved) we helped friends decorate their tree. I always told my children that Santa is part of the Christmas celebration that we don't do, and that Santa is really a regular person dressed up. My husband used to tell them a story about how he recognized his dad in the Santa suit. I also always told my children (when their friends were young enough to believe) that the Santa story was a treat for some kids, and that they would be disappointed if they found out Santa was someone dressed up. We give money to the Salvation Army Santas and we give toys to Toys for Tots.
On the other hand, there is something great about waking up to all those presents! So, I do it on their birthdays. They always wake up early, the presents are wrapped up, they always wait until their siblings are up (amazing to me their patience) and then they open them all, just like I always imagine people do on Christmas.
We don't do presents for Chanukah (chocolate gelt aside and occasional hand-made things from school). But I make latkes until I can't stand the smell, we light candles, sing, etc. I try hard not to make Chanukah (a minor holiday, after all) into a Chrismas competitor. One of the things I've come to do is to try to teach my children about Christmas as a religious holiday. (Here's where I part company with the organized Jewish community.) I'd rather the schools did nativity scenes and real Christmas carols (and Jewish families could share Passover, for example) than Santa and reindeer and presents. Christmas is profoundly important to my in-laws and for many people. It has deep religious, spiritual meaning. I really believe that the other stuff is also part of Christmas (that's why I don't do it, I really don't think it's all secular). However, without some understanding of the connection and the religious part, December can be very confusing for non Christian families.
Good luck to all. (Email me directly if you'd like to talk more about Jewish and non Jewish family members in the Jewish community. I've spent some time working on these issues and I'd love to hear your stories and concerns.) Emily
Similar to the thread about Santa and Jewish kids, my husband and I are trying to figure out how we want our child (15 months) to experience the holiday season in a family that isn't religious and doesn't want to be involved in the crass commercialism of Santa. Our holidays have historically involved a lot of food and friends or family and are celebratory in their own way, but don't have any real traditions or explanations of why we are celebrating. We're thinking that focusing on the seasonal aspect of the holiday and getting more information on the solstice might be the way to go. Does anyone know of any books for kids that outline the more pagan aspects of the season, or know of any local organizations that celebrate it that way? Chris
When my son (now 6) asked about Santa, or Jesus, or other hard to prove issues, I prefaced my answer with some people believe.... When he was younger, he seemed to not hear the first part, but as he's gotten older, he listens to my explanations, and then asks what do you believe? Since my husband and I often believe differently on these issues, our son gets two different beliefs, and can choose for himself what he will believe. In this way, I feel like I've given him a good chance to believe in the fun and story of Santa, without compromising my feelings of lying to him. Molly