Jewish Families & Christian Holidays
Berkeley Parents Network >
Holidays and Special Events >
Jewish Families & Christian Holidays
How does your family participate in Xmas with in-laws?
One side of my family celebrates Xmas and the other doesn't. We,
my husband and I have such mixed feelings about Xmas and
specifically Santa Claus we haven't found a way to comfortably
let our daughter go to her grandparents on Xmas day. One year,
Santa showered her with gifts and we were clearly uncomfortable.
The next year, she cried because Santa gave more to some others.
Yikes, I can not reconcile the two different attitudes in my
family about the holidays. One being modest gifts, if any at all
and the other into giving gifts. What makes it worse is the
difficulty in communicating with my parents.
What do you do?
How about doing Chanukah in a big way at home? Let the
relatives do Christmas with the kids. My kids knew from VERY
EARLY on the Santa Clause deal. They got their presents from
the in-laws on Christmas day. The presents that other people
gave them came home and got opened at our house on Christmas
day. Our Chanukah presents were on the 8 days of Chanukah.
Now they are older (teens), my in-laws are gone and I am
relieved not to have to do Christmas. My kids get small
Chanukah presents on 7 nights and they get 1 big one each on
the last night. This year we may agree to get a new TV as
our ''family'' Chanukah present and that's it. HOpe this helps.
It seems to me that sticking to the same routine each year will help your daughter
understand that people have different ways of celebrating. Maybe with the half of
the family that isn't so into gifts, traditional foods and cooking and baking can be
the special focus of your holiday visit with them. Or you could explain that Santa
finds it easier to get into Grandma and Grandpa So and So's house more easily
because of the large front door (or chimney, or whatever), so that's where he leaves
the most gifts. My husband was born Jewish, but raised by his Jewish dad and non-
Jewish stepmom. I was raised agnostic, but converted to Judaism. We celebrate
Hanukkah at home, Christmas with our neighbors and friends, and both, long
distance, with the 2 sets of grandparents. Our kids just know that we get the best
of all worlds, celebrating in many ways with our many groups of friends and family.
If it's tough to take her to Grandma & Grandpa's on Christmas, go on Christmas Eve
instead, or the day after. Start new traditions that she will enjoy when she goes. If
Christmas Day at the grandparents involves lots of cousins and relatives opening
PILES of gifts, and you're not into that, don't make your daughter feel bad by
exposing her to it . Go at a different time when you can focus on things other than
gifts. Like crafts, storytelling, baking cookies, whatever.
I think you will find it easier if you give up trying to control
the grandparents of your child. Just let them do what they
normally do, and tell your child that different people celebrate
the December holidays in different ways. Then create a holiday in
your home that everyone can enjoy. Perhaps emphasize homemade
decorations and togetherness instead of Santa and consumerism. In
our household only small gifts and practical gifts were given in
December, and larger gifts were given other times: a bike in
spring or a computer when school started, for instance. And we
never called it xmas or Christmas. In fact I think Kwanzaa would
be a good one because then you can get things on sale after the
I am bi-racial. My mother is Jewish and my father was raised
Christian. As a child my family celebrated both Christmas and
Channukah. Around the time I turned 8 yrs old my parents got
tired of doing both holidays, and asked my sister and I to choose
which we would like to continue with. We chose Channukah. (8
days of gifts sounded better...!)
As a teenager, I spent many Christmas's with friends.
Now as adults we both identify as Jewish ( I guess we always
have.) and still celebrate Channukah as well as other major
Jewish holidays. We celebrate Christmas with our non Jewish
family and friends, but is not made a huge deal.
dont stress out about it
I am looking for a nice way for a secular Jewish family (2
parents and a 7-year-old) to spend Xmas. What do other people
do??? As a family we've gone out for Chinese food, to the Cal
Academy of Sciences, movies, etc...but ideally, I would like to
find a community of other Jews to spend the day with to feel less
alone. Are there any organized events that happen in the Bay
Area? Do other families have ideas for nice ways to spend the
day? (and Xmas eve?)
The Jewish communal organizations do step up to the plate for
Xmas. Synagogues and JCCs offer events for families. The
Contemporary Jewish Museum in SF is offering a free Family day.
Look at this page for details.
I know one of the synagogues in Walnut Creek is doing a Fiddler
on the Roof singalong.
The SF JCC also has a day for families:
Or you might make your own tradition. My sister-in-law has a
party every xmas eve for all her jewish friends. I know it's
not chanukah but you could make latkes again. Or you could just
make other fun food. One family I know has a BIG train set that
the dad & son set up ALL THRU the house on xmas day. You get
there and there is track and trains all over. Kids love it.
You could have a brunch and invite friends. Just make simple
breakfast food. If you want a copy of ''Resource'' the bay area
Jewish Yellow pages just to see who is where and what's their
phone number, call me at work and I'll mail you one.
510-839-2900 x347 (Building Jewish Bridges, in the east bay)
what a sweet idea! i'm watching this post to see what people
i am going to ask around my synagogue to see what other people
are doing - thanks for inspiring me! we always went to movies and
had chinese or indian food in years past, but it would be nice to
have some kind of get-together that isn't Christmassy.
Some synagogues (including Beth El in Berkeley, I believe) have
fun activities for Jewish families on Xmas day. Our family
generally deals with this by traveling -- it's a great time to
be out of the country. NYC also has plenty of things to do on
Xmas day for those who don't celebrate the holiday. Other fun
things are going to the beach, a park, Pt. Reyes, Golden Gate
Park, etc. and enjoying the lack of crowds. Sometimes it's fun
to be alone!
I'm confused... if the whole point is that Christmas is not a
holiday for you, why are you looking for a way to treat it as a
special day (and eve)? Isn't that why (in New York, at least),
it's the time for movies and Chinese food? It's a day like any
other day (except more stores are closed). Why not catch up on
household chores or that book you've been meaning to get to?
The JCC in San Francisco is having a family event on Christmas.
I saw the ad in the Dec. issue of Parent's Press, or you can
call the Jewish Community Center in S.F.
If you know other Jewish and non-christian families, a
multi-family pot-luck would be fun. There's a new children's
playground in Chinatown that the kids might like to check out
after the pot-luck.
I work with a lot of Hindus from India and a lot of atheists in
I.T., and I could ask them how they plan to spend their day off
for more ideas. Many of them will be on vacation for the entire
week, so I don't think they plan to do anything different on the
It doesn't really seem fair to be forced to celebrate another
religion's holiday in a country that was founded on the concept
that there would be no favoritism toward any one religion over
Click here for: ''Chinese food on Christmas''
fellow jew at the movies on christmas
With Christmas just a week away I thought I'd give this link to
Jewish things to do.
I plan to have a Game Day with friends. Well, food too.
So, I'm converting to Judaism, which feels so right for me and
my family. I am making Shabbat every week, observing the
holidays, working with a rabbi who I love, reading a lot,
learning Hebrew and the prayers. My only problem is that I
can't envision December without Xmas. It was the only happy
time in my childhood, and it's a season that I've always
enjoyed. My child has been celebrating Xmas all her life, as
well as the rest of our extended families. For us, it's all
about the secular stuff (tree, Santa, snowmen, etc). I am
sensitive to the fact that most Jews see Xmas as a religious
holiday, no matter what. Then again, I also know that some Jews
have trees, visit Santa, etc. I also know that this subject is
usually one of the hardest things for Jewish converts to deal
with. I am finally reaching the point in my life where I would
CONSIDER giving up Xmas, but I'm feeling really sad about it. I
would appreciate some feedback from people who have been in my
position. It's weird to be in the process of becoming a Jew but
looking forward to decorating my Xmas tree! Then again, aren't
most holidays just stolen from the pagans anyway, so why can't
our family keep our secular holiday? I'd love to hear how other
people have addressed this issue.
Ho Ho Hoping to Find Some Peace
My situation is a little different from yours. I had a Jewish
parent and a Christian parent growing up and we celebrated both
sets of holidays. I later decided I was Jewish, just Jewish, and
gave up Christmas my first year of college. It was a little
hard, although it was what I wanted. Here's what I did. I went
completely cold turkey. I forced myself to feel completely
divorced from the holiday and wouldn't even think about any
happy Christmas things like the music or the baking because it
would make me sad. Within a few years, the holiday felt
completely foreign to me and now I almost have to remind myself
that I grew up celebrating it. My mother eventually converted to
Judaism, and I think she had a harder time giving up Christmas
than I did. I think she essentially did what I did.
I don't know if you're asking for advice on how to give up
Christmas or whether to give up Christmas. I'm of the opinion
that Jews don't celebrate Christmas, and if you're converting
you ought to give it up, even the secular parts. You're right
that Christmas is a sensitive topic for Jews which is surely due
to the fact that it's the holiday of the majority of the
country. If you were talking about a secular holiday from, say,
Tibetan culture, people might be more inclined to find it
touching that you incorporated it into Jewish life. But, in
America at least, Christmas is different.
As you spend more time being Jewish, happy family memories will
become attached to the Jewish holidays instead and I imagine it
will get easier.
You are not alone. Plenty of converts go through the same
issues. Everything you say sounds familiar. It's just pagan
stuff, it's all about family, Xmas is the only happy time from
my childhood. It's all true! It's not about religion, it's
about family. And it's also true that "most Jews see Xmas as a
Christian holiday, no matter what." If you want to give up
Christmas you, need support. If you don't want to give up
Christmas, you need support. I'm going to pose your dilemma to
my email list for Jews by Choice and see what they say. If you
want me to email you their answers you can send me an email at
firstname.lastname@example.org. Your rabbi should be a good source of some
thoughtful feedback. But if you want to talk to someone who has
actually walked this road, I'd be happy to put you in touch with
dozens of people -- including a rabbi who converted.
As a Jew who was raised in a Jewish house and married a Jew and has
celebrated X-mas in my own home I say Go ahead and continue to celebrate
It is your tradition and holiday and there is no reason not to continue
to enjoy it.
Plenty of Jewish children celebrate X-mas if one of their parents is not
Judaism is not such a fragile religion that it can't stand in the face
of a decorated
tree and some beautiful songs. As you know, Judaism is much more than
Christian''. As long as your feelings about and practice of Judaism are
you celebrate the Jewish holidays and practice the Jewish traditions,
then I don't
think celebrating X-mas is going to detract from your Judaism.
--a good Jew who personally authorizes your enjoyment of Xmas
I was raised Jewish and always felt like I was missing out on
Christmas....it was so beautiful, and to me not a religious
holiday,but more a celebration of winter (yes, it was
originally a pagan celebration of the solstice).
When I left home to go to college I started celebrating
Christmas...I'd get a tree and decorate it every year. I loved
making decorations, wrapping presents, etc. I also lived for a
long time in cold snowy places so it seemed even more
My husbandis 1/2 Jewish and was raised with Christmas so we
would celebrate Christmas and Chanukah...as our kids got a bit
older we put more emphasis on Chanukah but still decorated and
did gifts big time....eventually it stopped feeling right to
celebrate Christmas, as my older son was getting near his
BarMItzvah year...the excitement was gone and I was too tired
to do all the decorating, etc.
For the past many years, we celebrate Chanukah in a much
quieter and more spiritual way...we light the Chanukiah,sing
songs, have latke parties with friends and give smaller gifts.
Much more sane for us. I hope this helps....my point is....if
you love Christmas, celebrate Christmas. There is no law that
says you can't. LOTS of Jews celebrate Christmas and Chanukah.
How about observing Xmas as a celebration of your childhood?
Given that you are converting to Judaism I assume you don't
treasure the religious element of Christmas but rather the
childhood memories. You don't say whether your significant other
has a problem with Xmas. If not, I think you should continue to
get enjoyment out of the observance. Seems like pretty innocuous
fun to me.
A Jew who enjoys the Christmas spirit
I would suggest contacting Rabbi Bridget Wynne at J-Gate in El
Cerrito; Dawn Kepler who I believe is at the Jewish Community
Foundation of the Greater East Bay; or the Berkeley Richmond
JCC (now has a different name) for really good individual and
group conversations about interfaith issues. You can get
contact info and other recommendations at Info@JewishNfo.org
which is an online version of Resource: A Guide to Jewish Life
in the Bay Area.
Wishing you well at this time of bringing light into the
I wonder whether it would help to know that many ''Christmas''
traditions are actually pre-Christian, pagan traditions. The
Christmas tree, for instance, the use of candles/lights, gift-
giving, etc. You could perhaps transform the ''Christmas'' theme
into a solstice theme, the return of light to the world, and
modify the Christmas traditions a little to emphasize that
aspect. During the winter in Northern Europe, it was actually
often easier to travel across snow and frozen lakes that it was
to try to journey over bad roads, and visiting and feasting
(after the harvest and the slaughter of animals) would take
place then. Maybe that would help...
secular Christmas is kind of empty, too
In our family (Jewish mom, Christain dad) we celebrate both Christmas
and our children certainly have no complaints. We consider this a 'more
Happy With Both
We are Buddhist converts and agree this time of year is a pretty
special. The thing is
Christmas it is meant to be Christ's birthday and to a Christian person
that is a big
deal. So out of respect to Christians, we celebrate the day of opening
gifts etc. on
the Winter Solstice. We are in the habit of calling them Solstice gifts,
and the tree a
Solstice tree.We make a really big deal out of the day. We read books
about it and
make crafts,light lots of candles and dress up. We also make smaller
deals of the
Equinoxes and have a bonfire somewhere on the Summer Solstice.
It is almost impossible not to get caught up in this season's brightness
so we make
it about the light. When The Buddha's birthday comes around we really go
cake, presents,friends, I give presentations at their school etc.
'Tis the season
Don't give it up! I converted to Judaism several years ago, after being
raised in a
completely secular (parents were Agnostic/Atheist) household, WITH
Easter, etc. I feel exactly the same as you; I love Christmas and
everything that goes
along with it--the smells, the sights, the way it makes grumpy people
kids know they're Jewish, and we don't have any Christmas-y things in
except wrapping paper, when I'm getting family and friends' gifts ready.
kids have wanted to sit on Santa's lap and get their picture taken. No
go to Tilden Park's Holiday Fantasyland at the carousel. We celebrate
friends' homes, admiring the trees and mistletoe, and even go to a
Mass on Christmas Eve, at a friend's house. My kids identify themselves
and are proud of it. They'll tell the lady at Safeway that Santa
doesn't come to our
house because we celebrate Hanukkah. But they say it happily, and
like they're missing anything. They understand that some people are
are Christian, and lots of people have other religions and traditions
too. Do what
feels good to you. Enjoy Christmas for what it means to you, and don't
pressured to turn your head the other way when you hear Ho Ho Ho or
jingling. Hum along when you hear Deck the Halls; it's a big part of
and you shouldn't be asked to deny it.
Happy Hanukkah, and Merry Christmas!
I was ''raised'' Jewish (in a kind of obligatory half ass way) and my
family (though they
deny any recollection of this) always celebrated Christmas. My mother
now is horrified
at the mere mention of ''pine boughs''. Not kidding. That should be your
first clue of
the Jewish guilt my mom is feeling for ''not really'' raising us a Jews.
So, I married a
non-religious man who was raised something or another (non Jewish). And,
celebrate Christmas. I, too, am interested in the all the fun,
especially for the kids, and
the decorating, etc. etc. so I just do it. My advice to you is to just
Go For It
I converted to Judaism about 8 years ago now, before I got
married and I felt and still feel the same as you. I love
being a Jew, love celebrating Shabbat with my family, love
Passover and Yom Kippur and the rest, but I still love
Christmas. It also seemed like such a major issue at the time
of my conversion, but honestly, it really isn't any more. It
doesn't have to be that hard. I didn't choose Judaism because
I wanted an organized religion to tell me how to feel, or what
I could or couldn't do. Christmas is a beautiful holdiday
based on an ancient pagan tradition that has been co-opted by
commercialization. I love the idea of a living tree in the
middle of winter, lights (along with the Hannukah lights)
lighting up the darkest time of year, loving, thoughtful (non-
commercial, small scale) gift-giving, egg nog etc. We usually
celebrate Christmas with my family. My kids (2 and 4) hang
stockings, make tree ornaments, eat turkey, etc. We don't go
to church with them, but we share in the rest of it. We don't
actually get a tree at our own house, more for environmental
reasons than anything else, but we do hang lights. My daughter
and I go to the Nutcracker. At first there was all this
tension, my born-Jewish husband all anxious about
participating, my parents all freaked out that they wouldn't be
able to share their traditions with their grandchildren. We
all just sort of got over it with practice. My husband loves
hanging stockings and has invented Hannukah Harry who also
brings gifts, my mom makes Latkes if Hannukah overlaps, my dad
reads the same Christmas books he read to me as a child, but
changes key phrases - reading them as history rather than the
as the story of the birth of the son of god. The Jewish
grandparents send my parents a big Christmas basket every
year. It's all very nice and happy. I totally know how you
feel. I was in the same place, but I think it will get
easier. It's your path: Walk it in the way that makes sense to
you. I love our new Christmas traditions, just as I love my
new Shabbat traditions - which now feel old too, after only 8
years. Things may evolve more as my kids get older and start
to make distinctions between things, but I'm not too worried
about it. We'll just work it out then. Good luck!
I was once in your position - in fact, I delayed studying for
conversion because I had such a hard time imagining December
without Christmas. I was finally able to let it go when I had
filled my life up the other 11 months of the year with Jewish
ritual and celebration -- Shabbat, High Holy Days, Sukkot,
Pesach, etc. I too grew up in a family in which Christmas was
our only family celebration. After I converted, we tried to
spend Christmas with my family and keep the decorations, etc.
there and not bring them into my house. It really became a
relief to only celebrate one holiday at home in December and
let go of the need to do a ''perfect'' Christmas every year. My
only regret is that I didn't let go of it sooner, as now my
Jewish children still call Christmas their favorite holiday!
While many of the traditions, etc. are pagan and largely
secular to many Americans, it is still a celebration of the
Messiah's birth and Jews just don't feel a part of it, so
continuing to celebrate it in your home, if you continue to
participate actively in a Jewish community, might start to feel
rather odd in a few years.
We are a generally-very-compatible couple seeking
advise/guidance/formal mediation? in dealing with the immense
and perennial conflicts surrounding observance of any kind of
religious/seasonal rituals in our house. One parent is fairly
observant Jewish and likes to do seders, celebrate Hannukah,
etc.; the other is a Jewish atheist who grew up with (and feels
very fondly towards) Christmas trees, gingerbread houses, and
painted Easter eggs (but no church, crucifixes, etc.). The
observant parent is not comfortable with the ''let's just
celebrate it all'' approach, and the non-observant parent is
resentful at having to jettison all childhood traditions. The
conflict has - predictably - gotten even more intense with the
arrival of kids. We are not looking for folks to weigh in as to
what we ''should'' do, but rather, looking for a recommendation as
to a sympathetic third party with some experience in these
thorny matters who could help facilitate a calm discussion that
would lead to a long-term plan for dealing with holidays in our
family. Thanks for any help!
I have a few recommendations for you:
1) Since you mentioned mediation as an option you are interested
in. Please go to http://www.bdrs.org, the Berkeley Dispute
Resolution Service. They provide low cost mediations on a wide
range of issues.
2) Interfaith connections in the east bay at:
They have many workshops, and provide
counceling services as well. There are events that involve
extended family as well.
3)While you asked for no advice, having been through it myself,
I strongly suggest you remember this is YOUR family and you
(both) should set the rules. They do as they like in their
home, they do as you do in your home!
Since despite your different perspectives, both of you are
Jewish, I would suggest you find a rabbi or other Jewish
professional who might provide both counsel and education toward
framework for deciding what practices meet your joint values.
You might want to start looking for a referral by contacting
the East Bay Council of Rabbis (chair: Rabbi Harry Manhoff;
I write this as a Jewish educator of many years, who has worked
with a very diverse group of families. In my experience,
including my own marriage, every family is an 'interfaith' family
because every partner brings his or her own spiritual attachments
to it. It may not make it less painful, but you should know your
conflicts are not unique.
Several places to go for some free help have been listed here
before, but here they are:
Building Jewish Bridges in Oakland 510-839-2900 x347
Jewish Family & Children's Services 510-704-7475
One that hasn't been mentioned is the East Bay's Community Rabbi
Program. You can call Rabbi Muriam Senturia at 510-839-2900
x212. She is very kind. She can also refer you to rabbis from
all the movements if you want one that fits your background.
Good luck and don't dispair.
As long as people are contributing their stories about how to explain
Santa to children who celebrate Xmas, I would love to hear from
Jewish parents about how we might explain this pervasive, jolly character
to our children who celebrate a very different kind of holiday.
(Actually, I would enjoy hearing from ANY parents who don't celebrate
Xmas and how they handle this). Gail
This wasn't an issue at my house- at age 2.5, I decided that daddy was
Santa Claus, and affirmed the fact with my mother... hence, I have no
recollection of "believing in Santa Claus". However, we did use Santa
Claus in an abstract manner, ie to give additional gifts, usually
something that wasn't as personal as a gift from Mom or Dad (or siblings,
grandparents, whatever) might be- for example, we always had stockings,
and those were filled by "Santa Claus". Santa Claus might bring a new
bathrobe or a stuffed animal, etc- something nice to have but not
necessarily the most wanted item. To me, Santa Claus is
basically a way to give someone something and remain anonymous, such as
the gifts collected for children in disadvantaged families, etc... it's a
way of giving with no interest in receiving something in return, if that
makes any sense. A symbol of good will. In any event, the birth of
Christ was the primary focus in my family, so St. Nicolaus was a bit of a
Growing up Chinese-American, I always felt partly Jewish
(if you understand, you understand; if you don't don't worry about it).
Anyway, Santa Claus is about as foreign to Chinese culture
(even Chinese Christian culture) as it is to Jewish culture.
As a kid, it never occurred to me that I should "believe in" Santa Claus
any more than I should "believe in" Captain Kangaroo or Winnie the Pooh.
That is, I enjoyed the fiction as fiction, just as I enjoyed storybooks.
Sometimes people say that not giving kids the chance to believe in Santa Claus
impoverishes their imaginative life, but that wasn't my experience at all --
not needing it to be real meant that I could let the imagination go even more
freely. I remember writing a story about how Santa was able to get everywhere
in one night. I think it was the very first time I ever tried to write a story
and I remember how much I enjoyed the creative process of doing it. If Santa
was constrained in my mind to be "real", I'd have been worried about figuring
out what the Truth was -- even little kidlets care about the Truth! :) --
and I wouldn't have been able to imagine as freely as I did.
So, both as a kid and as a grown-up, I always appreciated having had
the opportunity to enjoy Santa for what he truly is, i.e. a jolly story.
Christianity didn't have a lot to do with it. (Hm- if I don't stop writing now,
I might start into an essay on the independence of christian faith from the
cultures it takes root in, which I don't want to inflict on you :)
so I'll stop here.)
I always told my son that Santa Claus was a story, and not true, once
he had heard about it, but told him that it was a secret we couldn't
tell others. I haven't brought it up with my younger daughter yet,
because she doesn't know about it at all, but I will soon. My
reasoning was two-fold. First, I never believed in Santa (or the
easter bunny, for that matter) so it didn't seem like a necessary
thing to me. Second, the story is that Santa gives gifts to good
children. My son would not be getting anything from Santa. Ergo. . .
This was a message I certainly wanted to avoid.
Warning: I have had other people criticize me for not letting my
children believe in Santa. They say children should have the
opportunity to be spoiled with gifts. Whether or not I agree with
this, the issue is moot as we celebrate all 8 nights of Hanukah (each
family member has 2 nights to **give** gifts to the family, and I make
sure grandparent gifts get given to the giver!) and my sons birthday
is in December -- quite enough gifts for anyone! They also say it will
make my kids different from the rest of society. Well, they're
different anyway. There's also the line that if you don't believe in
Santa, you won't be as imaginative. Well, these people should read the
stories my son writes! (We wrote one together that is of publishable
quality, according to a librarian who reviews books for publishers)
Also, my son's teacher, when discussing another topic, said she noted
a difference in creativity more linked to whether a child watched a
lot of television (these kids were the less creative), so avoiding all
those Santa Claus television specials should only be a help!
So do what feels right. I can't imagine your children will resent your
telling them the truth on this issue.
As for how to deal with Christmas when you aren't Christian, we always
make a big deal about Hannukah. In fact, this was a way that we dealt
with the holidays after my husband's death. I know my daughter asked
at some point for a Christmas tree, but I explained that it wasn't
part of our traditions and as she got older, why it wasn't. Granted
she does get a bit of both worlds as my in-laws celebrate Christmas
and send cards and presents. However, she usually opens them when they
arrive and doesn't wait, as why should she. Plus we often get invited
to friends houses for the day. Our other tradition is that we always
go to the movies either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. I always
thought it was Jewish tradition that this is what you did on
I do have a funny story on this topic. I read this true story in the
Metropolitan Diary column in the New York Times one Sunday. A Jewish
family's babysitter insisted on taking the daughter in the family to
see Santa Claus at the local mall. The mother was reluctant to allow
it, but finally reneged. When Santa had the girl on his lap he asked
her the usual "And what would you like for Christmas little girl?" The
girl replied "I'm Jewish. We celebrate Hannukah at our house." To
which Santa whispered "That's ok. My wife is Jewish."
About being Jewish and acknowledging Christmas: My family celebrated
both Hanukah and Christmas, which I think was wise. It kept us from
being isolated from the majority of kids, and added to the fun. I
don't remember when I stopped believing in Santa or even whether I
ever did. Somehow all that stuff works out fine, if you're just
natural about it and don't stress. My daughter is 4-1/2, and is
remarkably aware, I think, of what pretending is, so fantasies about
Halloween, Christmas, and other holidays aren't such bubbles, just
Last year there was a whole long discussion on this on
soc.culture.jewish.parenting If you go to http://www.dejanews.com/ and do
a search for the thread "Christmas Coping" you'll get treated to a great
My basic attitude is to be as positive and exaggerated about our holidays
and traditions and to just not make a big deal, either positively or
negatively, about non-Jewish holidays. The problem for Jewish parents with
the Santa myth is the part about Santa delivering gifts to "all" good girls
and boys (one awful response I read, I think, in the thread above, is that
Santa only goes to Christian houses because Christian parents can't afford the
gifts and Jewish parents can, UGH!) If we tell our kids the truth, which I
intend to do, then if they turn around and tell they're Christian friends we
are accused of "spoiling" things for them. Not a fair position to be in,
IMHO. It would be much easier if "all" weren't part of the myth. I'm not
sure what parents do with older siblings who've discovered there's no tooth
fairy. I guess some kids can understand and play along while others can't.
In any case, if a parent chooses to tell the myth to their children it
should be their burden to explain, in an acceptable way, that Santa is
wonderful, but not necessarily universal.
My husband is Christian and I'm Jewish. We have celebrated both Christmas and
Chanukkah in our house, but I believe that Judiasm is not compatible with
Christianity as Jewish people do not accept Jesus as the Messiah. I do not
know how to reconcile this contradiction in the future, except to raise him
as Jewish (my first inclination). Could other parents of this type of
background comment. And, I respect both religions as being part of a
continuum, the Judeo-Christian background.
I want to bring up celebrating Christmas and Hannukah in
non-religious families. My children's father is Jewish but he
doesn't go to temple (his parents go once or twice a year.) I
was brought up in a very religious Christian family but I do
not practice Christianity myself. When our kids were small,
we celebrated both Christmas and Hannukah. What I discovered
is that my kids learned a lot about the secular Christmas -
Santa, Frosty, Rudolf, etc. - from school and TV and friends,
but they knew almost nothing about why Christmas is such an
important Christian holiday. All references to Christianity
were carefully avoided in school. As to Hannukuh, they learned
about dreidels and latkes in school and got the general mistaken
impression that Hannukah is a major Jewish holiday equivalent to
the Christian holiday of Christmas. Though we all have always
enjoyed the festivity of Hannukah candles and Christmas tree and
Santa, and continue to do so, it was important to me to make sure
my kids also knew about the religious meaning of both holidays,
and the cultural significance of why we celebrate them.
So, my take on this is that the Christmas season has come to
be a kind of general purpose non-religious children's holiday in
terms of school and TV land, but parents who want to preserve
their own cultural and religious heritage will need to see to this
themselves. I don't think this is a bad thing, and certainly it's
much better than assuming that everyone in the classroom is going
to be celebrating Christmas, as was the case when I was a kid. But
we non-practicing parents do need to be aware, I think, that our
kids are not going to grasp the significance of Christmas or
Hannukah or any other religious holidays without some instruction
I'm also Jewish (non-practicing but with European parents 3 blocks
away who lived through WWII) and am married to a non-practicing
Catholic, and we have two children who think of themselves as Jewish
(they know that in the Jewish faith if the mother is Jewish, the kids
are Jewish). We celebrate Christmas and Chanukah, and try to make
them both special family holidays and lots of fun, without emphasizing
the religious aspects. We've had to answer numerous questions about
Jesus, and I simply tell them that he was a very special man who cared
about people a lot, and died for it (as did Martin Luther King), and
that he actually was Jewish. I explain that Christians believe that
he was the son of God, and started a new religion around that belief,
and Jews just think he was a good man and kept to the old religion. I
stress that no one knows what theory is correct, but that all
religions teach about being good people and helping others, and that's
the important thing to remember. I am equally unopinionated about
whether Santa or the tooth fairy exist, they might and they might not,
same for ghosts and spirits and fairies. All things are possible, and
as they get older, they will make up their own minds. They seem to
enjoy this "anything is possible" attitude. Its a tough call and I
sometimes think I'm not doing the right thing by leaving everything so
open and vague, but in many ways, its what I actually believe.
I am Jewish and my husband is not. When we were first together (early
1970's, we were just out of college), religious practices seemed
unimportant. I did my thing at Hillel sometimes or made a seder and he did
nothing. As I got older, even before our children were born, I began to
realze that it would be almost imposssible for me not to have a Jewish
family life. At the same time, I love my in-laws, they have wonderful rich
traditions, and my husband's growing up with his family (including their
church, their Christmas) formed the man I loved.
Over the years, I have come to some idiosyncratic views about being Jewish
in December. In the end, years of discussion later (but with no conflict)
we have a Jewish family. We don't celebrate Christmas ourselves at all.
However, we always make my husband's grandmother's Christmas cookies, I
send cards (the kind that don't mention Christmas graphically or in the
text), I put the cards we receive around the fireplace, and for many years
(before we moved) we helped friends decorate their tree. I always told my
children that Santa is part of the Christmas celebration that we don't do,
and that Santa is really a regular person dressed up. My husband used to
tell them a story about how he recognized his dad in the Santa suit. I
also always told my children (when their friends were young enough to
believe) that the Santa story was a treat for some kids, and that they
would be disappointed if they found out Santa was someone dressed up. We
give money to the Salvation Army Santas and we give toys to Toys for Tots.
On the other hand, there is something great about waking up to all those
presents! So, I do it on their birthdays. They always wake up early, the
presents are wrapped up, they always wait until their siblings are up
(amazing to me their patience) and then they open them all, just like I
always imagine people do on Christmas.
We don't do presents for Chanukah (chocolate gelt aside and occasional
hand-made things from school). But I make latkes until I can't stand the
smell, we light candles, sing, etc. I try hard not to make Chanukah (a
minor holiday, after all) into a Chrismas competitor. One of the things
I've come to do is to try to teach my children about Christmas as a
religious holiday. (Here's where I part company with the organized Jewish
community.) I'd rather the schools did nativity scenes and real Christmas
carols (and Jewish families could share Passover, for example) than Santa
and reindeer and presents. Christmas is profoundly important to my in-laws
and for many people. It has deep religious, spiritual meaning. I really
believe that the other stuff is also part of Christmas (that's why I don't
do it, I really don't think it's all secular). However, without some
understanding of the connection and the religious part, December can be
very confusing for non Christian families.
Good luck to all. (Email me directly if you'd like to talk more about
Jewish and non Jewish family members in the Jewish community. I've spent
some time working on these issues and I'd love to hear your stories and
Similar to the thread about Santa and Jewish kids, my husband and I
are trying to figure out how we want our child (15 months) to
experience the holiday season in a family that isn't religious and
doesn't want to be involved in the crass commercialism of Santa. Our
holidays have historically involved a lot of food and friends or
family and are celebratory in their own way, but don't have any real
traditions or explanations of why we are celebrating. We're thinking
that focusing on the seasonal aspect of the holiday and getting more
information on the solstice might be the way to go. Does anyone know
of any books for kids that outline the more pagan aspects of the
season, or know of any local organizations that celebrate it that way?
When my son (now 6) asked about Santa, or Jesus, or other hard to
prove issues, I prefaced my answer with "some people believe...".
When he was younger, he seemed to not hear the first part, but as he's
gotten older, he listens to my explanations, and then asks "what do
you believe?" Since my husband and I often believe differently on
these issues, our son gets two different beliefs, and can choose for
himself what he will believe. In this way, I feel like I've given him
a good chance to believe in the fun and story of Santa, without
compromising my feelings of lying to him.
this page was last updated: Dec 3, 2009
BPN is now a 501(c)(3) non-profit and we are building a new website!
Read more, and see how you can help:
The opinions and statements expressed on this website
are those of parents who subscribe to the
Berkeley Parents Network.
Disclaimer & Usage for
information about using content on this website.
Copyright © 1996-2015 Berkeley Parents Network