If you’re raising your kids Jewish but you or your partner are from a different faith (even if neither of you observe Christmas), you might be experiencing a barrage of requests from your child. Maybe they’re asking about getting a Christmas tree or Christmas decorations, or hanging stockings in preparation for a visit from Santa. If you’ve decided to include any of these rituals in your family, that’s great and we’re not here to judge. But we know many of you who have decided you’re not celebrating Christmas in your homes are struggling with how to answer these questions from your kids. (If you are still figuring out what you want to celebrate and how, here are some guiding questions to discuss with your partner.)
I’m experiencing this myself with my 4-year-old, and I know that what often feels like the easiest, quickest reply is to explain that we celebrate Hanukkah, not Christmas, and Hanukkah is amazing! Hanukkah is so special! Think of all the fun things we can do for Hanukkah! Who needs Christmas?
Why did Hanukkah become such a commercialized holiday anyway? Because parents didn’t want their kids to feel left out of Christmas. I get it.
And yet I find myself cringing at my own response. Yes, Hanukkah falls in the same month as Christmas. Trying to use this one Jewish holiday to compete with the most major Christian one doesn’t feel like the answer—especially if you want to teach your kids to appreciate their other family members’ religions and Christmas itself.
In answering the age-old question: Why can’t we have insert-Christmas-ritual? The answer can essentially be “because we don’t celebrate Christmas,” not “because we celebrate Hanukkah.” See the difference?
For those of you struggling with this dynamic, especially with small kids who are still learning what religion even is, here are some ideas of ways to respond to these repeated requests while respecting Christmas and your Christmas-celebrating family members, and not using Hanukkah as a weapon.
Answer #1: Because we celebrate Jewish holidays in our home. We’ve got our own holidays, such as Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year), Hanukkah, Purim (when we dress up and eat hamantaschen cookies) and Shabbat (when we light candles and eat challah). Some of your friends—and some of our very close relatives who we love so much—celebrate Christmas and this is a big holiday for them. We have our own big holidays.
Answer #2: Christmas is not a Jewish holiday, but we can help [name family member who celebrates Christmas] to celebrate. We can go with them to [name Christmas ritual] or Zoom with them on Christmas day to see how they celebrate and wish them a merry Christmas. And the next time we’re celebrating a Jewish holiday, we can share it with them.
Answer #3: Santa doesn’t come to our house because he’s a part of celebrating Christmas and we don’t celebrate Christmas in our house. He might be a special part of your friend/cousin/other family member’s Christmas celebration and we can help them celebrate just like we help other people celebrate their birthdays.
Answer #4: We celebrate Christmas by (insert ritual you observe, like going to Grandma’s for Christmas dinner, or going to your cousin’s Christmas party or baking Christmas cookies with Daddy), but we don’t have a Christmas tree (or whatever it is you don’t do) because we’re Jewish. We have a lot of fun helping our family members celebrate their holiday of Christmas, but it’s not a holiday we celebrate in our house. We have other holidays in the winter, spring and fall.
Potential Follow-up: But Mommy isn’t Jewish. Why can’t we have a tree/Santa/decorations for her?
Answer: You’re right, and Christmas is Mommy’s holiday, but we decided to only celebrate Jewish holidays in our home. There are lots of ways for us to help Mommy celebrate, but we decided we’re not having a tree.
Of course it’s never as simple as responding to this question once, especially with younger kids. They’ll bring it up repeatedly and you’ll need to provide different versions of the same response. But I hope this shift in thinking is helpful. I know it has been for me. There are ways to talk about Christmas without hyper-focusing on Hanukkah as the alternative.
Remember to listen to your kids with understanding and compassion. Not having Santa visit your house—even though he visits their cousins’ and friends’ houses—can be really hard for a child to handle or understand. But remember that it’s OK to be firm. As with many issues, if you and your partner have made a joint decision about how you’re going to do something (such as not having a Christmas tree), you don’t have to give into your child’s constant begging for change. Even if it feels that, in this case (as it does so often), it’s easier to just give in and do what your child wants or make it feel more fair (hype up Hanukkah), stay grounded and strong.
As parents, decisions like what holidays you do and don’t want to celebrate, and how you do and don’t want to celebrate them, is up to you. Have confidence in what you and your partner have decided is best for your family at any given time. Good luck and happy holidays!
Need an interfaith-friendly holiday card? We solved that conundrum, too!