Answer: Because we’re Jewish. You would think that’s a pretty easy answer, wouldn’t you? It’s easy, but it’s not enough these days.
For as long as I’ve been a parent, I’ve had the same conversation with kids of a certain age in this house. “Why don’t we celebrate Christmas?” For the older girls (many years ago), it was a discussion of “Because WE are Jewish. You have FAMILY that is not.” Now with Leah it’s simply, “Because we are Jewish.” But it’s still an ever present discussion.
Part of the reason this continues to be a discussion is because of how unreligious and commercialized Christmas has become. I’ve had to explain (to the best of my ability) what Christmas is REALLY about. Leah was surprised to hear that Christ had anything to do with it. Extraordinary? Not really, sadly.
The other issue is that Christmas, in its true form and its commercial form are major holidays for a majority of the country. Hanukah is not one of our holiest days – it just happens to fall around Christmas – so we get that “major” halo effect. So to kids it APPEARS important. And, to be fair, EIGHT DAYS OF PRESENTS. Hard to not be impressed with that part.
So Hanukah is fun and important, but Christmas is holy.
And yet, the questions still come.
“But what if we hung blue and white lights outside? Like the Israeli flag?”
“No, sweetie. Christmas decorations are for Christmas. And the holiday is more than just decorations, remember?“
“Do you think we could have a Hanukah Bush instead? Maybe decorate it with Jewish stars?”
“Because we’re pretty happy being Jewish. And we don’t need to borrow Christmas traditions to enjoy Hanukah and appreciate being Jewish.”
But it’s hard. There are more of you then there are of us. Christmas messages show up the day after Halloween and don’t let up for months. Leah is, right now, the only Jewish kid in her whole GRADE at school.
“Look, Mommy! I got a cool bracelet today from my friend at school.”
“Oh, yeah? What’s it say?”
“What Would Jesus Do?”
“Huh. That’s a pretty bracelet. Your favorite color, too. I’m just not sure it’s an appropriate bracelet for you, sweetie.”
“Well, why not?”
“Because we don’t believe in Jesus that way.”
“Well, I believe in Jesus. He sounds nice.”
“Yes. He was nice. And he did good things. It’s nice that your friend believes in him and what he can do for her, it’s just not what we believe.”
“Oh. Can I keep the bracelet?”
There was a larger discussion after that. There is an ever-present, on-going discussion. Even with Benjamin – mostly for clarity right now and some basic vocabulary, but it’s still hard. There aren’t a lot of us – and stepping on the slippery slope of fun and pretty Christmas decorations has repercussions. It waters down your own faith, it sends mixed messages – it contributes to the commercialization of what is a significant religious holiday.
Would I love to have some beautifully needlepointed stockings? You betcha. A dreidel doesn’t hold a candle to that shit. And I’d love to go batshit nuts with an elegant tree and twinkly white lights on my house. It’d be SPECTACULAR.
But I don’t celebrate the birth of Christ. And those decorations correspond to the holiday that celebrates that. Even if America has forgotten that part.
This isn’t an “us vs. them” discussion with the kids – or with anyone really. It’s really a discussion about things that are shared (Old Testament, anyone?) and things that are different. And that different doesn’t mean “bad” – it’s just different. Because what’s shared is good, but what’s different is really, really different.
And it’s more than a tree, or lights or a bracelet.