Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Interfaith Holiday Mayhem - by Cara Potapshyn Meyers

It is November 30th. The stores have had holiday decorations up since the beginning of November. Greeting cards for the holidays have been out for roughly the same amount of time. Even holiday music has been playing on the radio for the past couple weeks. Worst of all, my son has been making up his gift lists for both Hanukkah and Christmas.
We are raising our son in the Jewish faith, so we celebrate Hanukkah. Since I am not Jewish, we also put up a “Christmas” tree purely to celebrate my holiday traditions. There has never been any religious affiliations with our tree discussed in our home. I never even mentioned Santa. When my son was young though, he picked up on the notion of Santa and the bringing of gifts very early on. 
We obliged his fantasy when he was younger. I thought that because we live in a predominantly Jewish community, his fantasy of Santa would fade at an early age. No such luck. My son is still steadfast in his belief of Santa. His belief is adamant to the point that some children in his school vehemently told him that he was not Jewish because not only did he still believe in Santa, but that I was not Jewish, therefore he was definitely not Jewish (by definition, some Jewish communities believe that the child MUST be born to a Jewish mother to be considered completely Jewish. We belong to a Reform Temple that states that if one parent is Jewish, then the child is considered Jewish.) 
My son came to me saddened and confused the other day. We had a VERY long discussion about this tender issue. I first had to explain to him that regardless what others thought about him being Jewish, our Temple recognizes him as Jewish, therefore he WAS Jewish. You could see his whole body relax from that explanation. I subtlety also addressed the fact that he was a better person than the children who were judging him and making him feel bad about himself. My son is quite aware that we do not judge anyone else based on what they look like, believe in, or practice. My sister-in-law is from India, so we have discussed tolerance of other cultures and beliefs from a very early age.
I explained further that although I was not born Jewish, I still embrace Judaism through taking courses at our Temple and trying to learn Hebrew. I even have my son participate in Shabbat services at sundown on Friday nights and will be taking him to Shabbat services throughout the year (Shabbat is a Jewish practice through prayer and a meal, performed at sundown, and carried through as a “day of rest” all day Saturday until one hour past sundown, Saturday night).
As for our “tree,” I explained that I grew up with holiday traditions that are not embraced by Judaism, however it brings back warm, special memories for me seeing a sparkling tree decorated with a slew of my mother’s handmade ornaments. My heart swells every year when I decorate that tree since my mother died when I was only 19 years old.
About Santa...I felt as if I had to almost dig out the Polar Express DVD we have. I had been hoping that my son would have given up the notion of Santa way before now. My son, however, insists that Santa still exists. Knowing his personality, he probably wants to “prove” to his naysayer peers that they are wrong. Whatever the case, my son still “believes.” He still has his list for Santa as well as his list for Hanukkah (lucky kid, I often tell him!), with his lists getting longer and consequently more expensive. I think that when Santa does not deliver the $400 Lego set my son is craving, the reality of Santa may finally be over. We will see. Since I don’t know what small items my son wants for Hanukkah, and he knows we buy him those gifts, he has been pointing out some Nintendo games that he would like and some inexpensive action figures he is desiring. 
Interfaith holidays...so complex and confusing to children. Yet giving up my “holiday tree” would take away so much pleasure for me. I embrace our multiple Menorahs we light up every year. I also have Hanukkah decorations that fill our home. I even have been collecting dreidels (spinning tops used in a traditional Jewish game played during Hanukkah) for my son, every year since he has been born. I write a heartfelt message on the boxes and date them so that he will have a collection of them, from me, once he is older. They are made out of all types of material: clay, metal, glass, wood. His first one is made from bone china. Yet the complexity remains.
I wonder if my son will be asking me next year, “Mommy? Is there really a Santa Claus?”

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