Though my neighbors across the street first put up their Christmas lights a few days after Thanksgiving, it wasn’t until the first night of Hanukkah when my almost 4-year-old noticed them. Though these neighbors have decorated before, this year they really went all out, adorning their house with bright, flashing colors. My son was so enthralled by the lights that I took him outside to get a closer look before we got ready to light our menorah and kick off our own festive holiday.
“Are those Hanukkah lights?” he then asked me, and I honestly wasn’t sure how to respond.
See, I have nothing at all against Christmas. (I’ve even written about it here.) But I also happen to know that my son isn’t aware of Christmas yet, nor is he even aware of the concept of other religions. Though there are non-Jewish students in his class, because he attends a Jewish preschool, he’s only taught about Jewish holidays, and while I do have many non-Jewish friends, it just so happens that most of my mom friends are Jewish. Also, while I’m sure my son has observed the red and green decor all over our local supermarket, to him, it’s just something to look at.
And so, when he asked me whether our neighbors’ lights had been set up for Hanukkah, I decided to lie for the sake of simplicity and just say yes. I figured there was no point in trying to explain the concept of Christmas, because while it’s a simple one in theory, it’s actually not so easy to describe to a young child.
I mean, sure, I could’ve gotten away with saying, “Actually, those lights are for Christmas, which is another holiday that’s sort of like Hanukkah, only instead of lighting a menorah and spinning dreidels, you put up a tree and wait for Santa. Oh, you never heard of Santa? Right…well, he’s that jolly, heavy-set older gentleman who comes down the chimney and delivers presents to kids…oh wait, I suppose “heavy-set” isn’t quite politically correct, so scratch that. He’s just a nice man who comes and brings presents to well-behaved children. Only he’s make-believe. But if we go to the mall next week, you’ll probably see him hanging around.”
See what I mean? In my head, I’m already getting jumbled before the concept of religion even comes into play. And then how on earth would I even explain that one? I’m pretty sure my son still doesn’t understand who God is. And frankly, I think that’s OK for a not-even-4-year-old.
Still, in some regards, I’m having second thoughts about lying—partly because I took the easy way out, and partly because I know my son is probably sitting there wondering why we don’t put up our own set of glowing Hanukkah lights. I’m also anticipating that at some point I’ll get caught in my lie—namely, when Hanukkah is over and those lights stay up across the street.
As has been the case with many past parenting moves, in my attempt to keep things simple, I’m afraid I may have made them more complicated than necessary. I don’t know whether my son is old enough to understand the concept of there being a holiday we don’t celebrate, and I don’t know that I’m ready to get into the nitty gritty of how and why different religions exist. But clearly, pretending Christmas isn’t a thing just isn’t the answer.
So if my son asks again about those lights, I’m going to come clean and change my story a little.
“Actually,” I’ll tell him, “they’re not for Hanukkah, but isn’t it nice that they happened to pop up at just the right time to help us celebrate?” With any luck, he’ll smile and say yes, and focus on the light we create when we light the menorah together.