By Stephanie Ila Silver-Silberstein
Entry #4: Ho-Ho-Horowitz
Some of my favorite pictures from childhood were taken on Christmas morning. My brother and I, both clad in flannel pajamas are grinning from ear to ear and surrounded by presents I can still remember to this day: sleds, our first double CD, a doll carriage and Hot Wheels, the Nintendo game Zelda…. Such happy days for us but to some, possibly bordering on inappropriate. You see, I’m Jewish and acknowledging such Christmas traditions in this or any other way could be seen as questionable to both Jews and non-Jews alike.
Does it make it better or worse to know that these gifts were technically our ‘8th day Chanukah presents’? Should I point out that we lit Chanukah candles every night, that I kept Passover, fasted on Yom Kippur, that I was Bat-Mitzvah’d, I went on a Birthright Israel trip and now, my mother-in-law is a Rabbi? While I’m not particularly religious, my identity as a Jewish woman is very strong as is my cultural ties to this religion. But truth be told, I am glad that my mother and father decided it was ok for me to enjoy the experience of waking up early in the morning to find presents waiting for us in the family room. It was fun tearing off wrapping paper in our PJs over cups of hot chocolate. It wasn’t like there was a tree, some mistletoe or a wreath on the door (ok, so maybe there were some cookies on the mantle, but I was fully aware that they were for my parent’s enjoyment, not Santa’s and Rudolf’s).
And here I am now, decades later with two children of my own, one of whom is old enough to not only be aware of but to articulate just how fascinated and curious he is about the holiday extravaganzas going on all around him at this time of year. Cindy Klein, a mother and psychologist says, “As parents, we often make assumptions about what our children want to know, what they’re getting at, etc. It’s best to give children the chance to ask their questions and for parents to give honest, simple answers. Listen to what they’re asking and let them take the lead with their questions. Believe it or not, this works with most situations we stress out about when raising children.”
One of the first songs Jake ever enjoyed singing was “Jingle Bells”. He always got the timing of the word “Hey!” just right and felt very proud of himself. He is simultaneously obsessed with Santa and fearful of him. He loves seeing the winter wonderland on display at the mall, shaking Santa’s hand and finding fake snow in his shoes the next day. And he’s fully aware of all those gifts displayed under every Christmas tree he sees in the store windows. Should I deprive my child of all this? Even if I wanted to, the specific references to Christmas are hard to avoid this time of year. But in the end, I think it’s possible for our son to enjoy the music, the decorations, and the festive spirit in the air without compromising his allegiance to Judaism. My husband and I will help our son understand the holiday of Christmas rather than celebrate it.
Will we open up presents each December 25th morning? Maybe. Maybe not. Either way, I believe it is quite possible to help cultivate a strong religious and cultural identity in my child, in this case, being Jewish, without shielding him from the festivities all around us and without worrying too much about his having an identity crisis. That’s what his teenage years are for anyway…right?
Happy Holidays to all!!