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“Christmas Bells are ringing”
Bailey: I wish I celebrated Christmas.
Bailey Everyone else does. We’ve been celebrating Christmas all month in school. I just want to have Christmas like my friends do.
Me: (hugging Bailey) I’m so sorry that you feel that way.
What do you say to your 6 year old Jewish son in this situation? I want my children to be proud of their heritage. I want them to embrace religion and find it to be a source of comfort, inspiration, and strength for them. I want them to accept the Jewish faith, at least for now. When they are adults, they will be free to make their own choices. For now though, the responsibility and decisions lie with me and Ryan. We want to educate them about Judaism. We started them on the path. They each had a Bris at 8 days old. We plan to send them to Hebrew school and see them both to their Bar Mitzvahs. I hope that someday they will each find love and we can walk them down the aisle and stand under the Chuppah with them.
As a parent, this time of year is always difficult for me. First of all, before I get labeled as “one of those people who is taking the joy out of the Christmas season”, I should tell you that I do embrace the Christmas spirit of love and giving. I don’t think that you have to be Christian to appreciate that joy and kindness feel good. I think Christmas decorations are pretty (although, the anal-retentive part of me needs to say that if you are going to put lights on your house, you need to make sure that they hang straight). I absolutely love the smell of pine trees. I imagine families with decades of family tradition, spending a day dressing the tree and hanging stockings, all the while singing and laughing and having a jolly time. I think a tree with twinkling lights and presents under it looks pretty. I think the anticipation of looking at all the gifts piling up underneath the tree must be unbearable. I think leaving out cookies and milk, then tucking the children into bed to wait for Santa would be a blast. I think playing Santa at 2am, after the children have finally drifted to sleep and parents are tiptoeing around trying to be quiet, must be tons of fun. Ryan and I do tell our children about Santa, mostly because I don’t want them to ruin the myth for their friends. We tell them the story of Christmas and why it is celebrated. We try to teach them to respect this holiday that has its roots in religion, regardless of where Hallmark has taken it.
We’re Jewish. Christmas is not part of our heritage. And I struggle with how to teach my children to appreciate the beauty in their friends’ faith while keeping true to their own. Sometimes I feel thwarted by society in general. Some people have gotten so crazy with being politically correct that they have gone way off the deep end. Now, it seems that I am supposed to go all out on Hanukkah. I am supposed to make a giant fuss over it. There can’t be a Christmas display in a mall without a token Hanukkah display to go with it. Here’s where I go insane. Hanukkah is not a holiday. Holiday means “holy day” and Hanukkah isn’t holy. It is a festival. It is the remembrance of a miracle. On the scale of religiously important holidays, it ranks very low. When I explain this to friends, I have started to compare Hanukkah to Veterans Day.
The thing is, I do appreciate the fact that people want to be culturally aware and show respect for other religions. That is great. Tolerance and acceptance are pet projects of mine! But, when you hang 99 Christmas decorations and then display one menorah, it is not culturally sensitive--instead it sends the opposite message. It says that Judaism is 1/100 as important as Christianity. I wish that if people really wanted to spread a message of interfaith good-will, they would truly look at what is important in Judaism. I would rather that December be all about Christmas. Honestly. But in exchange, I’d like to see Rosh Hashana recognized with more than an entry on a calendar. Or, I’d like to see children of all faiths dress up for Purim. I think that it is offensive to blow Hanukkah all out of proportion simply because it falls near Christmas. To me, that is worse than not recognizing Judaism at all. It is saying, “You are important, but only when you fit into my beliefs and I can make myself feel good by acknowledging you.” It is offensive that Hanukkah is important not because of the story itself, but because of its proximity to Christmas.
As I have said before, we are not overly observant. We don’t let life come to a screeching halt for Shabbat. We don’t even light candles on Friday nights (we talk about starting that tradition, but we haven’t done it yet). We only go to temple on the High Holy Days. But, I am quite knowledgeable about Judaism. I can read Hebrew. I had a Bat Mitzvah. Heck, I can still sing much of my Haftorah by heart! I was active in USY (a Jewish youth group). I spent 2 summers as a counselor at Camp Arazim where we had daily prayers, said the blessings before and after meals, and observed the Sabbath. Ryan and I consider ourselves to be Conservative Jews…leaning more towards the Orthodox end than the Reformed end of the spectrum. I love being Jewish. I really do. For me, it fits. Going to temple on the High Holidays or sitting around the table at my parents’ Passover Seder feels so right. It’s comfortable. I can slip it on and find peace in the traditions. I feel lucky, too. Not everyone believes in their religion. Not everyone feels comfortable accepting their religion.
*sigh* I’m not sure that I did more than talk in circles here. I was hoping to give myself more insight and bring clarity to the situation. I don’t think I achieved that.
Being a parent is complicated!
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