To my Jewish Children at Christmastime,
This is a confusing time of year for us Jews. We are bombarded by signs and symbols of Christmas. Everything is red and green and shiny and sparkly. Songs of Jesus and St. Nicholas are blasting through radio speakers (My bad! You probably don’t know what a radio is since you live in an MP3 generation). Homes are dripping with light bulbs and lit up snowflakes. Christmas trees are dancing down the road tied neatly (or not so neatly) onto car roofs. Facebook feeds are filled with pictures of creative and unique Elf on a Shelf positions. It is so-super-abundantly clear that Christmas is around the bend.
I must admit, my heart sank the other day when you asked me when we were going to put up our Christmas tree. It wasn’t so much the fact that you actually wanted a tree that got me flustered. More so, it made me ponder how in the world I would ever explain to you that we don’t do trees or Santa or lights or Christmas presents. You won’t ever see an Elf on your shelf, and you won’t leave cookies for Santa on the table next to our fireplace; Santa will not be squeezing down our chimney. The reality is that Christmas is going to happen around you—all around you. And, for better or for worse, it won’t be yours to have and hold dear.
Not a year has gone by when someone hasn’t asked me if we will “do” Christmas simply because it is a part of everyday life in our society. After all, Santa closes out the turkey parade in New York City each Thanksgiving Day. Countless folks have suggested that we get a Hanukkah bush so you can have the pleasure of decorating a tree. Others have encouraged us to dress our home with blue and white lights as a symbol of “winter’s arrival.” Though certainly not outrightly stated, these well-intentioned suggestions clearly imply that we are robbing you of some tradition or pastime to which you are entitled.
I sincerely hope that, though we don’t celebrate Christmas, you don’t feel left out of the season’s greetings. As Jews, we have our own traditions and special days and unique moments this time of year. We will build memories around menorahs and spinning dreidels and potato latkes. We will also spend time with our family and friends. We will eat yummy food. We, too, will be merry. The truth is, guys, we (and your Christmas-celebrating friends) are lucky to have the freedom and peace and safety and comfort to have joy this time year in any form. There are many out there who are not so fortunate.
Don’t worry—you will also get presents like your Christmas-celebrating-friends.
During this time of year when you are surrounded by signs of Christmas, and you don’t want a fire in the fireplace on Christmas Eve as to protect Santa’s bum, I hope that you will remember—it’s not what you celebrate that matters. It’s how you celebrate. No matter if it is Christmas, or Hanukkah, or any other holiday, the bottom line is the same. It’s all about loving and caring for others, helping those in need, showing appreciation, being true to yourself and your values, being kind, remembering family, giving hugs and cheer and good wishes, comforting those in distress, finding hope, and spreading love.
My little buddies, for as long as you practice Judaism (which, as a stereotypical Jewish mother, I hope is forever), Christmastime is going to confuse you. But, please remember, this time of year is wonderful, special and precious not for the symbols and the tangibles like trees and lights and jolly fat men in red suits, but for the way that this time of year helps us to remember, refresh and embrace our values. You’ve got so much more in common with your Christmas-celebrating friends than you even know.
And, don’t forget, Christmas is a traditional day for our people, too. It’s a day of movie theaters and Chinese food with other Jews nationwide.
Happy Hanukkah, boys. Mommy loves you so very much.