Before the winter break, chatter around my son’s kindergarten classroom logically turned to holidays: who celebrates what and why. Several of my son’s friends are part Jewish.
“I’m half!” said one kid.
“I’m a quarter!” piped up another.
Another interfaith friend laughingly told me that her half-Jewish son came home innocently wondering what “part” of him was Jewish, as if it were a knee or maybe an elbow. And yet another one, who celebrates Christmas, wondered why he didn’t celebrate Hanukkah at all. This year, of course, Hanukkah and Christmas coincided (Happy Chrismukkah!), so there was plenty of excitement involved. But also questions on the part of parents: How do we balance both holidays? How much do we explain to our kids?
In my family, we celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah, which is how I grew up. My son enjoys lighting a menorah (although he sometimes thinks they’re birthday candles and begins crooning “Happy Birthday”), and he also excitedly leaves a note for Santa, plus carrots for his reindeer.
This year was special because of the holiday overlap; many of my friends mentioned that it was a way to start a conversation about different holiday traditions. We went to one friend’s house on New Year’s Eve where we lit a menorah; we went to another house for a Christmas Eve party where my son tried latkes for the first time. (Verdict: Not bad.)
For so many families, the past week was a special reminder of our common bonds and the importance of sharing, learning about and honoring traditions. I watched my friend’s son (who doesn’t celebrate Hanukkah) ask to light the menorah at another mutual friend’s holiday party, and I watched another Jewish toddler frolic happily beneath a Christmas tree (and nearly break an ornament, but that’s another story) during a holiday buffet.
I’d been wondering how to explain these various traditions to my son, but watching him at these parties, I realized I didn’t need to quite yet. The real learning was happening just by doing and being (and, OK, a few “Star Wars” Lego sets didn’t hurt, either).
He and his friends were open-minded and excited, and it was amazing to watch. Is it always so easy? Of course not. There’s plenty of complexity, choice and negotiation when it comes to interfaith parenting. But in that moment, as parents, we didn’t need to tell anyone how to balance traditions; it seems these kids instinctively already knew how, without any guidance from the grown-ups. And it was a pretty heartwarming thing to watch unfold.
I hope everyone had a fantastic holiday season. Now, to find a place for all of these Legos.