Last weekend my family went to a big-box store that offers delicious samples. There were displays stationed about every 10 feet with a lovely aproned employee plating small bites of different sandwiches, desserts, cheeses, fresh fruit, and a variety of different snack and treats.
(I confess — we time our trips to this store around lunchtime. It’s a nice outing for my three young children and it takes care of lunch. This makes coming home and putting them down for their afternoon naps all the easier.)
Toward the end of our shopping trip, one of the employees recognized my girls, either because we go there so often (about twice a month) or because they are memorable (objectively adorable, with big eyes and big curls). She started chatting with them and before long came the inevitable questions:
“What do you want for Christmas?”
“Are you doing a family Christmas photo-shoot?”
“Do you have their Christmas dresses yet?”
“Could you bring them by the store so I can see them all dressed up?” (Kind of a weird request, but it’s the Midwest and we live in an exceptionally friendly area.)
This is not the first time I have encountered well-wishers asking me and my kids about Christmas, assuming it’s our holiday too. I typically smile and nod because I don’t want to embarrass anyone. I was about to do just that when my mama gut stopped me. My 5-year-old said, “Why does she think we celebrate Christmas?” I responded, “Let’s go tell her we celebrate Hanukkah together.”
While we waited for the crowd around her station to clear, I held my little girl’s hand and my 5-year-old said, “Excuse me, we celebrate Hanukkah.” The aproned staffer’s eyes widened and I could see the look of surprise and discomfort wash over her. This reaction is exactly what I was trying to avoid, but I wanted to set a good example for my kids. We do not hide who we are. We are Jews and we do not celebrate Christmas.
The nice lady made some benign comments and apologized. However, the interaction left me wondering: How do I politely inform holiday well-wishers “it’s not my holiday” when they have already gone down the path of Christmas conversation? I have not been able to figure out how to avoid the awkward aftermath.
This isn’t about a “war on Christmas.” I realize that people want to wish others joy and happiness, and I welcome the act of kindness. But now that my kids are old enough to understand, I feel the need to be clear about our traditions for the sake of their developing identity and understanding. If this means making someone a bit uncomfortable, I guess it’s OK. My kids’ understanding of who we are as Jews is more important to me than the comfort of a stranger wishing us a Merry Christmas.