“Cause we neeeeeed a little Christmas!” my second grader goes around singing at the top of his lungs, prompting his 4-year-old sister to join in a chorus of: “Roll out the hollyyyy….”
So far, he’s committed the above show tune from Mame, along with The Night Before Christmas, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and A Child’s Christmas in Wales, to memory. He’s also being fitted for a pair of antlers.
Yes, it’s that time of year again. The time when little Jewish children are recruited into class plays. That all seem to circle around a certain theme.
This isn’t my first (or last) time at this particular, seasonal rodeo. I have a 12-year-old in seventh grade, and another one heading to Kindergarten next year (God willing, see earlier blog post).
In the beginning, the mandatory, school-sanctioned December revelry used to bother me. (And no, I was not appeased by the fact that, one winter crafts period, they also glued together some Jewish stars out of Popsicle sticks. The sticks were bright yellow, and when the boys came out of school wearing yellow, Jewish stars pinned to their navy blue blazers, well… you can imagine.)
But, then, it occurred to me: Last year, one play was based on African folk tales, complete with references to “the gods.” Another year, it was Greek mythology. Also Norse folklore. They’ve studied the Hindu Diwali, and dressed up for the Swedish Feast of St. Lucia (“Look,” my African-American husband observed in response to the white robes and traditional headgear donned for the occasion. “Little Klansmen.”)
So why was I okay with all of the above – from the point of view that the kids were learning about other people’s cultures, and so uncomfortable with good, old fashioned, American, commercial Christmas – i.e. their own?
Yes, I said their own.
And not because my kids’ father isn’t Jewish. We are both in agreement that our kids are not “half-Jews.” They are 100% Jews.
Just like they’re 100% Americans. (Trust me, he’s a math teacher, the calculations work out.)
And Christianity is a part of American culture. In fact, it is impossible to study American history without some basic understanding of Christianity and the role it played in just about every major, influential movement.
There are the Puritans, to start. The abolitionists were certainly heavily influenced by their religious beliefs, as were the Prohibitionists. And then there was the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, not to mention Christian support for the state of Israel and its present-day role in modern politics. (Some people thought it was dirty pool to ask Howard Dean how he could call himself a good Christian when he was allowing his children to be brought up Jewish, like their mother. I thought it was a perfectly valid question, and was hoping for a better, or at least less lame, answer than the one he ultimately sputtered out.)
Friends of mine (non-Jewish) recently complained that their children were being taught the Bible in public school. Honestly, as a writer, I can’t imagine how you could study Western and even World Literature without a foundation in a variety of holy texts. Including the Christian Bible.
In the latter part of the previous century, and especially post-9/11, the buzzword has been “multiculturalism.” We must understand where other people are coming from. We must reach out to Muslims and Hindus and Buddhists and others. Get inside of their heads, see the world from their points of view. We mustn’t be threatened by those who are different from us. In fact, we should not just respect but celebrate the disparities!
This year, I am going to start with Santa Claus.
And when my 8-year-old comes out dressed as Dancer the Reindeer to pull a sleigh and recite his lines (hopefully loud enough to be heard in the back row, like he’s been taught), I am going to look at it the same way I looked at him last year, when he played an anthropomorphic African frog, and the way I look at his brother when he regales me with tales of Zeus and Hera (not to mention “Percy Jackson and the Olympians”).
Maybe I’ll learn something.
And may God bless us, every one.