Is it okay if my child sits on Santa’s lap?
What if my child sings Christmas carols?
Should I let my child decorate a friend’s Christmas tree?
Is it okay for my child to receive Christmas presents from relatives?
As the December holiday season approaches, I am often asked these questions. Parents often want to know, “Will exposure to or celebration of Christmas holiday rituals negatively influence my child’s Jewish identity?”
My answer to these questions might be surprising to some. For me, the answer is—”it depends upon how you celebrate Shabbat is the Sabbath day, the Day of Rest, and is observed from Friday night through Saturday night. Is set aside from the rest of the week both in honor of the fact that God rested on the seventh day after creating the world. On Shabbat, many Jews observe prohibitions from various activities designated as work. Shabbat is traditionally observed with festive meals, wine, challah, prayers, the reading and studying of Torah, conjugal relations, family time, and time with friends. and other Jewish holidays.” In other words, the strength, comfort, and joy of one’s Jewish identity is a year-long process; Jewish identity is not shaped just in December.
One cannot balance the power of the deep family memories that Christmas holds for Christians with Jewish memories of The holiday which celebrates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem following its conquest by the Syrians in 165 BCE. The holiday is celebrated by lighting candles in a hanukiyah oon each of eight nights. Other customs include the eating of fried foods such as latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiot (jelly donuts), playing dreidl (a gambling game with a spinning top), and, in present day America, gift giving.. It just doesn’t work. For all Jewish families, and especially for interfaith families raising Jewish children, Jewish family memories associated with Hanukkah will not hold a candle (not even eight candles with a A four-sided top bearing the letters "nun," "gimel," "hay," and "shin" for "nes gadol haya sham" - a great miracle happened there. In Israel, dreidels have a "peh" for "po" (here) -- a great miracle happened here. Played with on Chanukah in a gambling game, traditionally using chocolate gelt as the wager. added for good measure!) to Christian family memories associated with Christmas.
First of all, Christmas is perhaps the most significant holiday of the Christian year, filled with family memories for most Christians. Most Jewish families have family memories of time spent together on December 25th, too. After all, as a “national” holiday, most people are off from work. Children are not in school. Relatives can come to visit.
Being together is what family memories are made of. For Christians, and many Jews too, December 25th is a prime time of year when families are together. Special shared family times create family memories.
So what is a Jewish family to do? Unless Hanukkah falls right around December 25th, parents are usually working, evening meetings go on, children are in school. So, it is impossible for children, or parents for that matter, to mark this holiday or sadly, many other Jewish holidays, as “special family time” when the family can enjoy being together without being encumbered by their daily routine.
One solution is: Take Jewish holidays off from work. Do not work on Friday evening and Saturday. Teach your children that Shabbat and the Jewish holidays are important times for your family to spend time together. Make the Jewish holidays and the full cycle of the Jewish year a priority for your family memory bank. Take time off to be together. Special shared family times create family memories.
The Jewish year holds virtually unlimited rich opportunities for families memories. Start the New Year with a family outing to an orchard to pick the sweet The Jewish New Year, also considered the Day of Judgment. The period of the High Holidays is a time of introspection and atonement. The holiday is celebrated with the sounding of the shofar, lengthy prayers in synagogue, the eating of apples and honey, and round challah for a sweet and whole year. Tashlikh, casting bread on the water to symbolize the washing away of sins, also takes place on Rosh Hashana. apples to be dipped in honey. Together, make a favorite apple dessert for a The holiest day of the Jewish year and the culmination of a season of self-reflection. Jews fast, abstain from other worldly pleasures, and gather in prayers that last throughout the day. Following Ne'ilah, the final prayers, during which Jews envision the Gates of Repentance closing, the shofar is sounded in one long blast to conclude the holy day. It is customary to begin building one's sukkah as soon as the day ends. break fast. Build a Lit. hut or booth A temporary hut constructed outdoors for use during Sukkot, the autumn harvest festival. Many Jews observe the mitzvah of living in the Sukkah for the week of Sukkot, including taking their meals and sleeping in the Sukkah. in your backyard so that you and your children can share the fun of decorating it and eating outdoors together. Participate in a synagogue celebration of The holiday at the end of Sukkot during which Jews dance with the Torah late into the night. The yearly reading cycle of the Torah is completed and a new cycle is begun. Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah mark the end of the holiday season. In some congregations, the Torah scroll is unrolled in its entirety, and selected verses are read or sections noted. to witness the The Five Books of Moses, and the foundation of all of Jewish life and lore. The Torah is considered the heart and soul of the Jewish people, and study of the Torah is a high mitzvah. The Torah itself a scroll that is hand lettered on parchment, elaborately dressed and decorated, and stored in a decorative ark. It is chanted aloud on Mondays, Thursdays, and Shabbat, according to a yearly cycle. Sometimes "Torah" is used as a colloquial term for Jewish learning and narrative in general. being fully unrolled—dance, sing, and study Torah together. Keeping the year filled with memories will enable Hanukkah to have its proper place as a minor festival within the context of the Jewish year.
Of course, the most important Jewish holiday for family memories is Shabbat. You have a wonderful weekly opportunity to pause together as a family to enjoy and appreciate the family you have created. Make Shabbat home rituals a sweet and special time in your home. Create Shabbat traditions unique to your family as you welcome the weekly gift of setting time apart from the rest of your busy week. Sing Shabbat songs, eat special foods, say the blessings together, and bless each other. Invite friends and family to join you; encourage Christian friends and family to learn about Shabbat at your family table, too. Special shared family times create family memories.
Celebrating Shabbat and the full complement of the Jewish year will enable you to build wonderful family memories and a clear identity as a Jewish family. As December approaches, the Christmas season will not threaten the Jewish identity of a family that has built these memories together. Just as a solid Christian identity of friends and family will not be altered if they join you at your Shabbat table, so a solid Jewish identity of your children will not be altered if they participate at a Christmas dinner.
Especially for interfaith families, Christmas may provide another important Jewish learning moment for you and your children—how to “Honor your father and mother.” Helping others to celebrate joy in their lives is a Jewish value. Enable your children to understand that they are helping others celebrate Christmas and learn about an important Christian holiday. However, be clear with yourselves and your children—Christmas is not a Jewish holiday. Hanukkah is not a Jewish Christmas.
Interfaith families will see that as the years go by, as your family has experienced the beauty of Shabbat and many other Jewish holidays together, by the end of December, you and your children may be looking forward to planting a tree for Tu B’Shevat or may already be anticipating Lit. "Lots." A carnival holiday celebrated on the 14th of the Jewish month of Adar, commemorating the Jewish victory over the Persians as told in the Book of Esther. Purim is celebrated by reading the megilla (Book of Esther), exchanging gifts, giving money to the poor, and holding a festive meal. At the megilla reading, merrymakers are dressed in costumes, people drink, and noisemakers (graggers) are sounded whenever the villain Haman's name is mentioned. costumes and Purim gifts. As years are shared together, the box of homemade Sukkah decorations may have as much or. perhaps, more meaning than as a box of cherished Christmas ornaments. (Possibly, some of these festive ornaments may even hang in your Sukkah!)
Optimally, over the years, your non-Jewish friends and family will have learned about your Jewish holidays, too, and have shared in your Shabbat meals, Passover is a major Jewish holiday that commemorates the Jewish people's liberation from slavery and Exodus from Egypt. Its Hebrew name is Pesakh. Its name derives from the tenth plague, in which God "passed over" the homes of the Jewish firstborn, slaying only the Egyptian firstborn. Passover is celebrated for a week, and many diaspora Jews celebrate for eight days. The holiday begins at home at a seder meal and ritual the first (and sometimes second) night. Jews tell the story of the Exodus using a text called the haggadah, and eat specific food (matzah, maror, haroset, etc). Seders, Sukkah parties, or they have joined you in the apple-picking adventures that launch your family memories of another sweet Jewish year. Optimally, your Christian friends and family have learned to honor you and your holidays and have been a part of your shared family memories, just as you have celebrated with them.
So—”Is it okay for my Jewish child to sing Christmas carols?” I ask the question—”Does your child sing Jewish songs with the same joy and enthusiasm?”
In the question lies the answer. Happy holidays!
This article was originally published on Interfaithfamily.com.