I’ve found myself in at least a dozen conversations this week about Jewish kids and Santa, including, most notably, one with my 8-year-old about how to handle the school lunch table when her friends are discussing the Elf on a Shelf. My best parenting advice amounted to, “Silently roll your eyes, then come home and tell me about it.”
Then I came across Mirah Curzer’s Kveller post about why Jewish kids shouldn’t have to lie about Santa. She brings up the highly relevant and challenging points about microaggressions, secret-keeping, and the problem of burdening our minority children with the responsibility to reflect the majority’s beliefs or get accused of ruining their fun.
She’s not wrong, and yet, I think she’s also missing a crucial survival strategy. As Jewish parents, we can be frustrated about the unfair expectations placed on our kids, about their feelings of being left out, and about the dominant culture’s hold on everything — including, often, our public schools. But when we as parents give in to our own feelings of frustration and guilt around the prevalence of Christmas celebrations, we’re missing an opportunity to model resiliency to our Jewish kids.
Resiliency may be a bit of a buzzword these days, but it got there for good reason. For kids, it’s the ability to get up from the playground after a fall, the persistence to go back to soccer practice when your team has lost every game, the self-confidence to be Jewish in a sea of conversations about Elf on the Shelf. For parents, it’s the ability to hug your kids after they’ve made a mistake, the persistence it takes to parent when you’ve had a stressful day at work, the self-confidence to know that Santa isn’t the end of the world.
When we show fear that our Jewish traditions pale in comparison to Christmas, we’re missing an opportunity to revel in our Jewishness. When we only talk about how Santa is pretend, we miss an opportunity to talk about our own mythologies (Elijah visiting everyone’s seder, anyone?). When we put all our concerns about our kids’ Jewish identity into a single month, we’re missing an opportunity to have full and celebratory Jewish lives all year long.
So, instead rallying against your kids’ exposure to Christmas, instead of the angst and anger of being asked to be complicit in another family’s Santa game, instead of critiquing just how much red and green is allowed before it damages our Jewish sensibilities, I offer instead the “you’re going to be fine” strategy. It goes like this:
Christmas will be over in two weeks. You will be fine. Your kids will be fine. Everyone will be fine.
Instead of worrying, take a deep breath. Find something calming to do out of the public sphere, or do something specifically with people who share your beliefs.
Drink some tea. Eat some chocolate. And remember: Just because people eat chocolate on Christmas, that does not make chocolate Christian. Think about the hardest thing you’ve had to endure and then remember that this isn’t that. Even if not being part of the dominant culture is the hardest thing ever, December is only a tiny piece of that experience.
You will get through this. Plan something special for Hanukkah and get your kids involved in thinking about our upcoming festive holiday. Invite your friends to enjoy it with you. Do not feel compelled to compare and contrast winter celebrations; accept and enjoy Hanukkah for what it is.
Do not let guilt or angst or fear or even news stories of the truly bad things that some Jews are experiencing right now get in the way of knowing that you, as a parent, determine your children’s experiences more than anything that happens at school or with their friends or anywhere else.
You will be fine. I promise that your children’s identities will not be determined solely by how the next two weeks play out. If that’s your concern, you have far bigger parenting questions to answer. Please try to enjoy the lights that you see on your way home. They are beautiful, even if they are on trees.
Curzer concludes her piece saying, “The burden of preserving Christmas traditions should not be placed on Jewish kids… And the next time another parent asks me to please make sure my kid doesn’t ‘ruin’ Santa, I’m going to suggest they find a better way to make Christmas magic for their own children. That’s their responsibility, not ours.” She’s absolutely right, but I’m not parenting their Christian kids; I’m parenting my Jewish ones.
Through our Jewish lives and traditions and joy, I’m building up my children’s resiliency to know that, no matter how many times they listen to their friends talk about Santa, no matter how many Christmas trees they see in stores, no matter how prevalent someone else’s holiday is wherever we go, being Jewish is fantastic, and special, and ours. What happens at home and in our Jewish community matters deeply, and that’s where I’ll focus our family’s energy.
Santa is pretend. And if your kids know that, let them feel more grown up than their Santa-believing friends — they’ll love that. Tell your kids that, while they don’t have to keep a secret, it really would be nice if they could because we do kind things for our friends. And then wait. Let the next two weeks glide on by. I promise you will be fine.
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