I’m Dreaming Of A Jewish Christmas

I am Jewish.  At one point in my life I was in a serious relationship with a non-Jew, and, of course, when thinking about marriage I would always consider the religious difference.  Would we celebrate both Christmas and Hanukkah?  How would we explain it to eventual children? It was certainly confusing.  Ultimately, I married another Jewish man, so I assumed that other religions wouldn’t be a factor for our children.

Boy, how wrong I was.

When he was one, I took Man to sit on Santa’s lap.  Why not? Since he was too young to ask questions or build memories, I figured there was nothing wrong with it. We waited on a long line until it was Man’s turn, and there before him was this red-suit-clad Santa with a real beard (I thought that was kinda nice) and a permagrin affixed to his face.   Like a little Santa factory, Man was placed on his lap, a picture was taken and off of his lap he went.  It was all of 30 seconds and if it weren’t for the single picture (and the fact that I’m now telling all of you nice folks) I could deny that this event ever took place.

Man and Santa

Man and Santa

I had never heard the word “Santa” out of his mouth again, until now.  Flash forward two years and suddenly I can’t get away from it. The questions started simply enough:

Q: Where does Santa live?

A: The North Pole.

Q: Do we have a chimney?

A: Yes.

Q: Can we go meet him?

A: Maybe.

Q: What do the elves do?

A: Build toys.

Then it started to get a little more complex:

Q: Why does “so and so” have a Christmas tree and we don’t?

A: Because we don’t celebrate Christmas.

Q: Why not?

A: Because we’re Jewish and we celebrate other holidays like Hanukkah.

Q: What else do we celebrate?

A: Passover.

Q: What’s that?

A: You remember when we had a “seder” and we couldn’t eat until we finished reading stories from that little book, the Haggadah?

He sighed loudly and his face registered disappointment. I could see that I had lost him.  Here was this holiday with trees and sparkly lights, ginger bread houses, and a sweet old man who gives lots of gifts; everything really did seem merrier and brighter.  How could any of our Jewish holidays compare to that!?  I mean, it’s not like there is a man at the mall dressed as a Menorah, eagerly waiting to seat Man on his lap and ask if he’s been a “mensch” this year.  To a three-year-old, lighting the Hanukkah candles just doesn’t seem as exciting as having a big light up tree.

Excited to light the Menorah.

Excited to light the Menorah.

Compounding this, everyone around him seems to celebrate.  It’s everywhere; Curious George celebrates; the television told Man so yesterday.  So does Peppa Pig, Team Umizoomi, and Sid the Science Kid, as do many of his real life friends.  All of these people get to celebrate and he doesn’t, and this was obviously a travesty.  He wanted, no, he “neeeeeeded” his own tree and gifts.  I reminded him that we had just celebrated Hanukkah and that he had recently received many gifts.  This did not soothe him in any way, for so did half of his friends who were of mixed religions and got to celebrate both holidays.

I was trapped.  I took the easy way out – the only way I could see out of it – I told him Santa wasn’t real.

He seemed to take the news rather well, having really only learned of him a few weeks ago.  This was the correct answer, right?


This was not a satisfactory answer; it did not explain why he couldn’t get presents.  It did not explain why we see him outside the supermarket ringing a bell, or at the mall, or on television, or on a fire truck coming down our block and tossing him a lollipop.  Plus, now I have to be worried that he won’t burst anyone else’s bubble.  What if he told one of his many friends who celebrate that Santa isn’t real?  I would be labeled (rightly) as that mom and he would never be invited to a play date again.

You think he’s confused?  I’m confused!  I would love to have him enjoy the beauty of this holiday and some of the more secular aspects – the festive lights, the tree at Rockefeller Center, the windows at Macy’s, and a delicious ginger bread house.  I am, however, finding it impossible to explain that although these things might be fun, it is still a religious holiday.  His three-year-old brain cannot conceptualize that.  I don’t need the book, Daddy Christmas, Hanukkah Mama – I need We’re A Houseful Of Jews & We Don’t Believe In Santa.  Maybe this sounds harsh? Give him a tree, you think?  But what message does that send? Christians do not fast for Ramadan, and Muslims do not light Hanukkah candles.

The bottom line is that this is a religious holiday and for now he will just have to be satisfied with eating Chinese food and going to the movies on Christmas as Jews have done for thousands of generations before him.

10 thoughts on “I’m Dreaming Of A Jewish Christmas

  1. Great share. I don’t know if I would have gone and said no such thing as Santa but appreciate your honest share. Is it just a stereo type or do Jewish people really eat Chinese food for Christmas? hummmm

  2. I am Jewish and my husband is Catholic. Neither one of us is very religious although we both take pride in our heritage. We celebrate both Christmas and Hanukkah. In fact I get more excited about Christmas than my husband because it is something I always felt I missed out on growing up. My parents actually celebrated Christmas with my brother and I when we were very young (no tree, but presents)- although my father can not remember why he agreed to this! As we got older my mother would simply leave a chocolate Santa on the table for us to find Christmas morning saying that Santa likes to give every boy and girl a little treat for being good. I find my children (like yours) are simply too young to understand the religious component to either holiday. I do not think there is anything wrong with enjoying the fun and excitement of Christmas knowing when your children are older they will learn and understand that they are Jewish and do not celebrate Christmas.

  3. As a parent who is a Jew by choice it is very hard on children of jewish parents but do we tell children that the tooth fairy doesn’t exist. No because they will lose the since of imagination and as a Mom who is as young as her children I want them to experience all of life. Is it a lie that Santa doesn’t exist, yes, but we do bring storybook characters alive so what is wrong with this. I explain to my boys that we just believe differently but to embrace those who are different. (I also have a MAN like you) but with my love and support and alot worrying, he is great. It was alot of hard work and structure but it was well worth it, he is becoming a sensitive, beauutiful young man and people do love him for who he is. As a teacher you don’t want him to grow but as a MOM you don’t want him to get hurt. You can’t realize how strong those little MEN can be. I know you and you are a great MOM, he is doing great and you are doing all the right things. Love to you and yours, especially OUR little man because he is special and very LOVED,you are not alone. baw

  4. Laura, I don’t know if you remember, but I was raised as an atheist and now my child is at a Baptist school! Not only is she thrilled about Christmas (which we celebrated secularly growing up…lots of Santa, zero Christ), but she loves her some “baby Jesus.” I really like her school so we white lie it and omit telling them that we’re non-believers. I just figure she won’t be at this school forever and we’ll have talks about it when she’s older. I’m sure my go along to get along attitude is not appreciated by all, but for us, for now, it works. Good luck!

  5. We are actively part of a vibrant Jewish community. My kids and their friends get so much joy and celebration on Jewish holidays that it doesn’t even occur to them to miss Christmas. They are very much aware of Christmas and enjoy seeing the lights and trees around. I even tell them Santa is real so they don’t ruin it for their Christian friends. But they are totally clear and ok with it not being our thing because they get so much out of their own holidays.

  6. I am a secular humanist. My wife is Wiccan. We celebrate Christmas not as a religious holiday, but as a time to celebrate our bond with friends and family. Also, as a humanist, I certainly can’t argue with peace on earth and good will toward man.

    • Daniel, I completely agree. Religious, not religious, ultimately our children will grow up and choose their own paths. But creating good, kind hearted, loving, giving children is the most important job I have.

  7. I am a devout Christian, but I do not celebrate Christmas or Easter as religious holidays for personal doctrinal reasons. We are all about Santa and family and giving this time of year without a nativity scene in sight. I’m sure my little man will have questions as he grows up. I will handle them as they come up to the best of my ability. Your little boy will figure things out as he grows and matures.

  8. My family had similar discussions. My wife grew up with a Christmas tree but we are raising our kids in a conservative Jewish home but she still missed the festivity if Christmas.

    So we invented the Menorah Tree. It’s a 7 ft menorah but where you can add lights and ornaments. It was a great compromise for us. The kids know it’s Jewish and they have that fun big centerpiece which they just live.

    Check us out at menorahtree.com to see if it would be helpful for your family. Happy holidays.

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