“Mommy, do we celebrate Christmas?” my three-and-a-half-year-old asked me recently.
I had expected—and then fielded—this question back in December when lights, trees, and plastic Santas started popping up all over town. But I was surprised it was coming up again, off-season.
I told her that we do not celebrate Christmas. Predictably, she pouted. She pouted not because she understands what Christmas is or what it means to celebrate that holiday, but because that’s the auto response of a three-and-a-half-year-old when you say no. “Then what we celebrate?” she asked.
Talk about a teachable moment falling into your lap! I listed off all the ones I could think of—ones I knew she had learned about at nursery school. “Oh my goodness, well, there’s Hanukkah, and Purim, and Passover, and Rosh Hashanah, and Yom Kippur, and that’s not even the half of them,” I said in my cheeriest voice. “Oh, and don’t forget Shabbat!”
T was excited. There were so many holidays, so many reasons to be with family, eat delicious food, sing songs, and dress up as a superhero princess. (My kid can’t be the only one who wants to extend Purim to all of the holidays, right?)
I know this won’t be the last time she asks me about Christmas. I also know that, as she gets older, I’ll need to come up with a different kind of answer—an answer that also addresses why we don’t celebrate Christmas when some members of our family do.
Twenty-five years ago, growing up in suburban Connecticut—where usually I was the only Jewish kid in my classroom—I distinctly remember feeling as though the world was divided into two kinds of families: those who celebrated Christmas and those who didn’t.
I am grateful to be raising our daughter in an area where, to put it bluntly, there are lots of Jews around. An area where you don’t have do go out of your way to find synagogues or Jewish events and activities. An area where there is a strong and vibrant community of Jewish families, so that when you inevitably have the conversation about Christmas—be it in December or July—it doesn’t feel so difficult.
We are following my daughter’s lead in talking about holidays, or “challah days” as she once called it, completely unaware of the wonderful play on words. (After all, one of her favorites is Shabbat, so why shouldn’t it be called a challah day?)
I feel equipped to talk to our daughter about the holidays we celebrate—and I’m realizing how important it will be also to talk about the ones we don’t.
To learn more about Parenting Through a Jewish Lens, visit www.hebrewcollege.edu/parenting.