Friday, December 22, 2017

Jewish Children and Christmas

Christmas is a magical time of year for young children.  Here in America, it feels like everyone is celebrating.  Houses are brightly lit, Christmas carols play repeatedly on the radio and in stores, Christmas shows and cartoons abound on TV, streets are adorned with wreaths and stars, people seem friendlier, shops have colorful displays and are busier than ever.  It's impossible not to get swept up in the happy anticipation of the big day.  

Before I converted to Judaism, Christmas was the highlight of my year.  My parents took us shopping to pick out a real tree which we decorated carefully, filling the house with the smell of pine.  My mother stenciled Christmas scenes on our windows, and hung the many cards we received in the shape of a tree on our living room wall.  My father strung colorful lights across our front porch. I learned the story of Christmas from the nuns at Sunday school, who also taught us carols in English and Latin. Our school held a fair every year, with games, gifts, and a movie.  We also had a Christmas play.  One year I played the Virgin Mary.  Another, I was a wind-up doll and had a solo singing "White Christmas".  Christmas day, my siblings and I woke up to tons of gifts, which we compared with our friends when we went to church that morning.  Later would be a huge family feast,  more gifts and special treats.  The winter season added to the warm, cozy feeling of celebrating this incredible day.

When I got to high school, my boyfriend and l would attend midnight mass on Christmas eve and exchange gifts.  I continued to send Christmas cards to all my friends, but for  the first time in my life, I had Jewish friends.  I remember feeling sorry for them.  What is life without Christmas?   I would select a few generic holiday cards to send them.  But now that I am a Jew myself, I have a different understanding of holidays and celebrations.  Here's what I've learned.

The beauty of Christmas stems from its religious meaning.  Take that away, and the celebration becomes about glorifying commercialism and materialism.  I wholeheartedly support those who endeavor to "Keep Christ in Christmas". Holidays and traditions are meant to connect us to our history and confirm our beliefs and values.  If we want our children to lead principled lives with pride and confidence in who they are and where they come from, then we owe it to them to make sure our celebrations are authentic to our family values.

Over the years, people have mistakenly equated Chanukah with the "Jewish Christmas".  This probably stems from the fact that they both occur at the same time of year, and that Jewish parents are eager to off-set the influence of Christmas on their children.  This is very wrong-minded.  Here are two videos that can explain this way better than I can:  

 Really cool rap song:

Mayim Bialik:

The Jewish faith is rich in traditions and meaningful celebrations.  Rather than offer children a phony imitation of someone else's faith, Jewish parents should explore and share their own faith with their children.  Years ago, before I converted, I had agreed with my husband Jackie to raise our children Jewish.  One day when we returned from a visit to my parents', Jackie expressed his concern about the exposure our daughter had to Catholicism;  a crucifix in my brother's room, saying grace before meals.  We realized that to raise a child Jewish, we needed to expose her in some way to Jewish things.  He decided to begin lighting Friday night candles with our daughter.  And so our journey began.

Christmas does not have to be an obstacle to raising Jewish children.  There are many ways that parents can bring the beauty and richness of Judaism into their family, through rituals, artifacts, stories, holidays, and family traditions.  Any child who knows the treasure of his own heritage can be happy and proud of his place in the world.  When we adults take the time to examine our values and remain true to those values in every way,  we can pass them on untainted to our children.

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