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.
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?
Q: Can we go meet him?
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?
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.
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.