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Pining for a Christmas Tree

Monday, December 23, 2013
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Dear Miriam,

My son is in first grade at a Jewish day school, but for some reason he's really into Christmas. He wants to watch all the TV specials, he loves the lights and, hardest of all, he keeps asking if we can get a tree. How should I handle this? 

Signed,
Pining for a Christmas Tree

P.S. I thought I could avoid all of this by investing in a day school education!


Dear Pining,

We can't pick what our kids obsess over. If we could, trust me, I wouldn't have had the exact same conversation about the zoo every night before bedtime for the past six weeks or made the same spinach casserole every week for the past year. I  mean, the casserole is good, but it's not that good. Of course, when it's just some random thing that they're into, you can laugh it off or ignore it or try to turn it into something more palatable for you. Christmas is a tough one, though: Jewish kids wanting to take part in Christmas plays into so many insecurities about our kids being into our traditions and providing enough of a foundation that they're not going to choose the pretty lights over the paschal lamb.

(I'm projecting, of course. Last week, my 2.5-year-old daughter saw a Christmas tree and asked me what it was. I said, "We'll talk about it later," then asked a friend what I should say. She said, "Say it's a Christmas tree." I actually hadn't thought of that. Never mind the fact that my daughter encountered the tree during Shabbat services — the beauty of an independent minyan meeting in a shared community space — I was still insecure about how to respond.)

Your son is in a Jewish school, so it's not like his peers are celebrating Christmas and he feels left out from that social experience. So you can at least take comfort that this isn't coming from school. Nonetheless, even outside of home and school, he's exposed to enough of the rest of the world that he feels like he's missing out on something. You don't want him to feel sad or left out or anything else negative, so as strange and silly as it feels, maybe there are some positive ways to indulge his Christmas spirit without crossing any boundaries that feel uncomfortable to you.

On the years when Chanukah overlaps with Christmas, you can play off the "we have our own holiday" thing. But this year, that's much less convincing of an option, so try saying, "Christmas is a holiday that lots of people celebrate. It's not our holiday, but we can still enjoy some parts of it." Take him to see some of the especially festive streets around town, and maybe the Macy's light show or the holiday show in the Comcast building (I love both of these!). Let him watch the TV shows if he wants, but be there to explain some of the aspects that may end up not making any sense to him. (Personally, I find the plots of all Christmas specials totally baffling). If you'd really prefer to keep Rudolph away, let him have easy access to DVDs of all of his favorite shows and movies until Christmas is over.

Then there's the tree. Here's where you get to explain to your son that you have some traditions in your home and other people have other traditions in their homes. It's OK for you as Jews to enjoy the lights that someone else puts up, but it's not part of your tradition to have them in your own home. Christmas trees can be beautiful to look at, but it's not something you have in your house. If you have Christian friends who would be willing to let you come over and enjoy their tree for an afternoon, great. Or, you can head down to Rittenhouse Square to look at the big public tree. Try hard not to be dismissive and judgemental of his interest in Christmas, and try to make the remaining days of the Christmas season as joyous and fun for him as you'd want any other days of your son's life to be.

Be well,
Miriam

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