Thanksgiving has passed. The store shelves are stocked with ornaments, tinsel, and lights. The mainstream radio stations are playing holiday tunes. Holly and pine adorn streetlights and shop windows. Santa and his elves are depicted in countless commercials. Christmas season is here.
As a Jewish mom in a predominantly Christian society, I do feel a need to shield my kids from the Christmas stuff. The lights, the tree, Santa, the presents—I get it—it’s pretty awesome. I can’t blame my 4-year-old for wanting in on the action.
I could respond by playing up Hanukkah, telling him we get eight nights of presents instead of one. Or I could diminish the role of Christmas in our secular society, and hope he just gets over it.
Instead, I will share with my son all of the wonderful teachings of Christmas.
I read once that Christmas season is a time when shelters and food pantries have too many volunteers. When else does that happen? This season inspires people from all faiths and backgrounds to help others, and this Jewish mom would be happy if that is an aspect of Christmas her son wishes to emulate.
Airports are zoos, trains are packed, and roads are jammed. During the Christmas holiday, everyone puts up with the annoyance of travel in order to be with their families. For many, this may be the only time they see their loved ones during the year. Meals, traditions, and stories are shared. I love the joy on my son’s face when he watches his Zayde light the menorah and sing the blessings. I know in the years to come he will remember those moments over the presents.
Christmas is associated with a certain childlike amazement. How can you not appreciate the beauty of small children delighting at the beauty of the season? You don’t need to be a Christian to understand the wonder of the world.
Me! Me! Me! is the mantra of most small children. They aren’t brats; they just haven’t developed a strong enough sense of life beyond their little worlds. Christmas offers many opportunities—from toy drives to charitable events—to give to others. If you wish to strengthen the connection with Hanukkah, you can collect tzedakah for an Israeli or Jewish cause.
From movies like “It’s a Wonderful Life” to “Love Actually” and pretty much every Hallmark Channel holiday special, love is a central theme. When watching age-appropriate programs with your family, steer the conversation from the presents and Santa Claus and focus instead on how the subjects of the film treat one another.
If making Hanukkah more like Christmas means we inherit the commercialization and present overload, I say no thank you. But, if it means borrowing some of its real value and spirit, I will take it.