Last week, as my son and I were doing some last minute Hanukkah shopping, we found ourselves staring face to face with an aisle devoted to Christmas. You can imagine how appealing these items were to a five year old, and I have to admit that I found myself staring at them quite a bit as well, as they were a remarkable display of the holiday season. When he asked me what they were, I told him that they were for Christmas and we moved on to the next aisle. A few aisles later, we found the Hanukkah section, and it included a pretty small selection of items compared to all that we had seen just a few aisles back.
Unlike the merchandising selection at this department store, we can't let Hanukkah, or any Jewish holiday for that matter, be seen as the smaller or less significant stepchild of a more popularly held holiday. It's critical that we not compare Christmas and Hanukkah as if they are in competition. Each holiday stands on its own merits, and in their true celebration express very different theological messages. Hanukkah's central theme is the courage to maintain one's religious convictions in the face of persecution. When we light our hanukiah and place it conspicuously in our windowsill, we are actively engaged in publicizing the miracle of Jewish survival and are linking ourselves to thousands of generations of Jews who have fought for the right to practice the faith of their ancestors.
Often, Jewish professionals use the term "December Dilemma" to refer to the struggle that interfaith families have in navigating the challenge of satisfying the needs of both partners during the holiday season. However, Julie Hilton Danan, a Rabbi and Professor of Religious Studies at California State University, Chico suggests in her book The Jewish Parent's Almanac, that the term might also apply to "the range of uncomfortable feelings that many Jews, in particular Jewish parents, experience while most of the rest of the country is celebrating Christmas. It’s as if the year’s biggest party is going on, and we’ve decided not to be invited…"
Indeed, although my family leads a very active Jewish life, my children occasionally feel that they have been left out of the mainstream, and want to "taste" what they are seeing on television and at shopping malls throughout Houston. What might be the solution to this "December Dilemma?" In my opinion it is making Judaism compelling year round. The more our children feel a sense of pride in being Jewish, the less they will look longingly at other traditions to fill a need their Judaism isn't providing.
On this issue Rabbi Danan continues: "I think that the people who experience the most problems with children and Christmas are those for whom December is practically the only time of year in which their children feel distinctively Jewish…When family observances revolve around the Jewish calendar, we know who we are, not just who we aren’t."
Hanukkah is just about to begin and Christmas is right around the corner. With four opportunities to celebrate Shabbat in addition to celebrating the Festival of Lights before Santa makes his yearly visit, consider ways to make your kids feel so happy to be Jewish that Christmas is just another day of the year.