This topic is going to pop up more and more as our society moves into what we call “the holiday season.” There is no way to include every disparate opinion on this matter, so, since I have claimed this blog as my own, I will simply share mine. A friend’s recent Facebook post provided the fodder for this post’s subject, but this is something that has been an issue since my own childhood.
How do we, as Jews, navigate the holiday season for our children in a Christmas/Christian-dominated society? Do our children feel left out if they do not have decorations or a Christmas tree? What about Santa Claus? I think you get the gist of where I am going with this.
Firstly, I want to make it exceedingly clear that how one celebrates the holidays is a very personal choice. I understand, and completely respect everyone’s unique choices. Disclaimer over. I also want to make it clear that we as Jews do not need to engage in pseudo-Christian rituals in order to make our Jewish children feel “included” in larger society. Let me unpack this a bit before we start making any assumptions.
Santa Claus and Christmas trees are very real and fun…for non-Jews. There does not exist an equivalent “Chanukah Harry” to Santa Claus and there is no such thing as a “Chanukah Bush” that stands in place of a Christmas tree. It is fun to joke around about these wacky substitutes in pure jest, but we do not want to risk truly losing our Jewish path. Judaism is a religion that is so liturgically, historically, and culturally rich, that I do not ever feel like any Jewish person will be “missing out” by not putting up a Christmas Tree. When I was a kid, I felt a sense of pride in being one of the few Jewish students in my school. Different from the norm is certainly not negative, and should absolutely not be viewed or treated as such. Young Jewish children, at some point, will likely inquire as to why Jews do not have extravagant trees or decorations, or even why there is no Santa-like character in the Jewish world. The answers are simple. We are Jews. Our traditions are different. Our holidays are different. We need not give in to the commercial pressures of a holiday based in Christianity. Our own culture is far too robust and demographically fragile to be swayed by a bit of pressure from a Target commercial. A tree with silver and blue decorations and a Magen David on top does not quite sit right. The tree (whatever the origins) is associated with Christmas, and as Jews, we must observe our own religion, not strangely mimic the traditions of another. We must continue to teach our children to be proud Jews. We are not missing out as Jews, we are experiencing being Jewish, which is the furthest thing from missing out.
Although Chanukah is a relatively minor festival in the Jewish tradition, if one is in need of the commercial aspects that come along with late December, the Festival of Lights can certainly fulfill that desire. What kid does not love a good miracle story, and 8 days of presents? I do not see a lack of beauty in a lit Menorah that can be found somewhere in Christmas decorations.
Full Disclosure: My wife celebrated Christmas growing up, and she still enjoys some of the minor commercial aspects of the season (Again, every family needs to find their own way). If she decides one day that she does not want to toil with anything Christmas-related, I will not feel as if our son is losing something. Judaism is certainly enough. It was for me, still is, and always will be.