a jewish kids view of the christmas season


My daughter hates Christmas. I wish there was a better way of saying it, maybe something more pleasant, less controversial or more politically correct, but there really is not. It is not the weather, the sleeping Santa at Wal-Mart or not getting the 16 gigabyte Ipod so she can watch Lost under her covers at night (every nine year olds dream). But rather a very interesting look into the divide between Christians and other religious groups, the prevalence of non religious Christmas symbols that really are religious, even if somewhat innocuous, and how a little girl who is Jewish sees the world as Christian and feels left out of the party.

It really started as a somewhat innocent comment, along the lines of why are there so many Christmas trees and no trees for Hanukah or Kwanza? Why is there Santa Claus on every corner and why is Target putting up decorations before Halloween, and most importantly why are there aisles of decorations for Christmas and one shelf for Hanukah? It was not enough to explain simply that there were more christians then jews, or that stores needed to market to their larger customers which, for better or worse are in fact Christmas shoppers, or that well, this was just the way it was and we should celebrate our own faith. To her it was a slight, a recognition that she was a minority and that her faith, reform, or conservative, was irrelevant.

Try as her mom and I did, we have been unsuccessful in explaining to her how the season works and why we see Christmas everywhere and only small mentions of other faiths and their celebrations this time of year. What has been the most interesting is to see how a nine year old, perhaps a little precocious, deals with her version of perceived prejudice. Target is not out to get her or slight Judiasm, however it may seem those who want crèches on city property by legal mandate do not hate other faiths, they just seemingly prefer their own. But to her, it is prejudice, it is a slight, it is a lack of recognition of other faiths and that in and of itself demeans hers, religiously and culturally.

But this got me to thinking about prejudice and about being in a minority that is really not persecuted and in dealing with my daughter’s conceptions of being in a minority and what lessons we, and hopefully others can take from it. First, she through this she has taught me to recognize that her feelings of being in a minority are real, and that our first attempts to laugh them off in essence reinforced her feelings, basically saying that this is just the way it is, and deal with it, rather then address what was really bothering her and how we could make her feel better about herself.

Which is the next point. To me, it seemed, this was effecting her self esteem, that society was making her feel less like a person because she did not celebrate Christmas. This should have given her mom and me an opening to discuss her faith and how it impacts her life, and how it differs from Christianty, but how both are important, and different, and despite a few evangelicals to the contrary, important to how we exist, a lesson I wish I had learned at 9, instead of 41. We make efforts, even divorced, to have an occasional Shabbat dinner, attend family Temple events, high holiday services and reinforce who we are and some of the values of our faith . But what we did not do was explain to her why we have faith, how it can play a role in our everyday lives and why and how we can address the issues of being a minority without having it make us feel bad or left out, especially at this important time of year for all religions so that she does not express sadness at feeling left out, which then becomes anger, which then becomes disenchantment and being disengaged from religion, which happened to me and which I hope does not happen to her and her brother.

Finally, it got me to thinking about those that want to enact laws that force a government to recognize one religion over another. It is all well and good to say that this is not the case, that it is simply recognizing our heritage as a Judeo Christian nation, or that they are simply reinforcing the values that made our country great. But that’s a lie, maybe not a conscious lie, but a lie. Those values, as honorable as they may be, are based in one religion, the placing of religious symbols on government land, as ordered by law, violates what we are about. As an admitted liberal, mostly, it does not bother me if a government throws 20 symbols on their front lawn, frankly it’s pretty laughable and makes it look like a farce. But when citizens band together to say that a government must place the religious symbols of one religion, on government property such as city hall or a police station, well, it’s gotta make people think, like it did my daughter who may not have completely understood why she feels like she does, but that she does, and is this the message we want to pass on to our kids.

Take the time this season to explain whatever your religion is, what values it may teach and how it impacts our lives and more importantly, how all religions fit together, whether through love or hatred, through peace or violence or simply through “being”, and how we need to take these values to our kids and both teach them and learn through them.

And an occasional Ipod does not hurt either.

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