“It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” the song says. And that seems to be true, for most of you out there celebrating Christmas. But what about for the rest of us?
Contrary to what it may seem like this time of year, there are a lot of people out there who don’t "do" Christmas. As a Jewish parent, I have nothing but respect for Christmas, but it’s not my holiday (more on what I believe at the Jewish parenting website Kveller) and I don’t celebrate it. Neither do Muslims, atheists, Hindus, pagans… the list goes on. Even some Christians celebrate the holiday differently from the mainstream’s version of Santa on the roof.
So maybe your kids feel left out of the Christmas to-do? It’s understandable. Maybe Santa’s lap looks pretty appealing at the mall (what kid wouldn’t like the idea of an adult whose sole job is to bring you presents?). Maybe an endless stream of cookies and candy canes sparks sugar envy.
Certainly, American culture places Christmas in a position of cultural prominence. You’re hard pressed to turn on a radio in December without hearing Jingle Bells, or to drive a few miles without seeing brightly colored lights or a pine tree tied to the top of a car. So one could see where kids in particular might feel like there’s a big party going on – a party to which they, the non-Christmas-observers, aren’t invited.
You guys do make it look like a heck of a lot of fun.
But I’d argue that you can "ooh" and "ahh" at the Rockefeller Center tree without feeling jealous and without forsaking your own ideals. Part of what is so amazing about living in America is living alongside of traditions and cultures other than our own.
As a parent, I try to make this time of year a living laboratory where I can teach my kids a lesson they will need throughout life. Throughout their lives, they will need, as the proverb has it, roots and wings. They will need to stretch their wings and soar, yet never forget where they came from.
In our house, we tell the story of Judah Maccabee, sometimes reenacting it with blocks and Legos. We play fierce competitive dreidel. We sing songs as we light the hanukkiah (the accurate term for what is commonly called a menorah) each night, and talk in simple terms about what they mean in Hebrew and English. The house smells like greasy potato pancakes for days – a traditional Hanukkah food that is basically French fries on steroids. We eat doughnuts (another Hanukkah tradition). We not only observe Hanukkah, but celebrate it – celebrate being who we are. We're not "competing" with Christmas – Christmas is, as we celebrate our own holiday, irrelevant. If you celebrate effectively, there’s no time or inclination to be jealous of what anyone else is doing.
We can also take advantage of the fact that we are not celebrating Christmas by giving back to our communities. We can help out local soup kitchens, hospitals, and other places that depend on volunteers that are understaffed because of the holiday. In doing so, we teach our children that we are part of a larger community and although we don’t celebrate Christmas, we can help others celebrate a holiday that has deep meaning for them. In my community, there are plenty of programs that "match" would-be Christmas Day volunteers so they can do just that.
We should also not get so riled up by the omnipresence of Christmas in America’s December. By driving by all the brightly-lit trees and then coming home to who we are, I believe, we have the chance to teach our children an important lesson: We can appreciate what others do, but always remember and take pride in who we are, too.
That sounds pretty wonderful to me.