It’s official; the Christmas holiday season is upon us. Our school aged kids are learning Jingle Bells and The Twelve Days of Christmas to perform at the school Holiday (CHRISTMAS) Concert, so naturally, the questions have started about Santa and Christmas. How will Santa get into our house; we don’t have a chimney? When will we get our get Christmas tree? Is Santa going to come into our room like the tooth fairy because I don’t want him to? (I totally agree about the weirdness of random made up people coming into my room at night. Creepy!) It is at this time that I have to explain to the kids that they are Jewish and that we have a Jewish home and therefore don’t celebrate Christmas at our house but instead celebrate Christmas at Nanny’s house. We don’t have a tree and Santa won’t come to our house. As I’m explaining all of this to the kids, I’m preparing for some heavy duty “it’s not fair” tantrums, but luckily the kids are pretty chill about this. After, they clarify that Santa knows where they’ll be and they will, in fact, receive their presents at Nanny’s house, they go about their business. Discussion done. ...For them.
I find this interfaith family thing a little more challenging. I am Christian - not A Christian but I grew up celebrating Christmas and Easter. And I’m still the first one up on Christmas morning ‘cuz well, it’s Christmas people! My partner Lisa is Jewish. She grew up more as a cultural Jew than a religious Jew.
When we met, I was all “If God had a refrigerator, my picture would be on it!”* and Lisa was all, “I’m going to meditate at the local Buddhist temple.” When we started planning to have kids, I said that I want to raise our kids to believe in God and Lisa said she wants the kids to be raised Jewish. Regardless of the biological technicality that none of our children were born to a Jewish woman and therefore are not recognized as Jewish, it seemed like a good option to raise the children to believe in God in a Jewish way. Cool, right? Wrong. As it turns out, Lisa doesn’t really know much about finding God in the context of Judaism and I pretty much use God as a tool in managing behaviours. Basically this leads me to saying things like “God doesn’t like it when you blow out the Hanukkah candles!” Jewish God, with a side of Catholic guilt! Not at all what we had intended.
So every year- Jewish and Gregorian, we promise to bring more religious spirituality to our family life. We light candles and say blessings on Friday nights. It is true that on some Friday nights, we bless the sushi we’ve ordered in rather than a traditionally blessed Challah, but the kids get it – we thank God, farmers and Sushi Island for our food. Our eldest goes to Jewish religious school once a week. (We are late for religious school too by the way). This week, we gently suggested that he not take his picture of an elf decorating a Christmas tree with stars of David to show his teacher. We excitedly teach the kids to spin dreidels while they excitedly sing Christmas carols. This happened. I am not making this up. And we explain, to anyone who asks, that the reason why we haven’t cut our youngest boy’s hair is because we are following the Jewish custom of letting a boy’s hair grow until he turns three before having a celebratory chalakah (Jewish hair cutting ceremony). The actual reason for keeping his hair long is because he’s crazy cute with long hair! Obviously we pick and choose which customs to follow and which traditions are meaningful to us. Truth be told, right now our kids may be more Jew-ish than Jewish, but we’re getting there.
Hanukkah starts this week we have placed our menorah in the window so that when we light it on Wednesday night everyone will know that ours is a Jewish home. This week we will also practice the Christmas songs in preparation for the Holiday (seriously, call it like it is – Christmas) concert, because no kid of mine, Jewish or otherwise, is going to be in the back row of the choir pretending to sing!
I am confident that when the teacher asks if anyone celebrates Hanukkah, my kids will raise their hands and say “I do!” and then proceed to have a lengthy conversation with their friends about the travel pattern of Santa on Christmas Eve. Clearly the kids have this interfaith family thing down!
Happy Thanksgiving and Happy Hanukkah to all those celebrating this week!
* Quote by Max Lucado