Who’s Santa?

December 5, 2018

Celebrating your culture while respecting another’s

Just before Thanksgiving, my 4-year-old son said something to me that stopped me in my tracks.

“If I’m naughty, Santa won’t come,” he said matter-of-factly.

Now, many reading this are probably thinking, what’s so startling about that? But as a Jewish mother raising a Jewish family, this statement was a bit more complicated than a jolly ol’ elf.

My first instinct was to shake my finger and say “Santa doesn’t come to our house!” and leave it at that. But of course, that isn’t going to fly with most 4-year-olds, and certainly not mine.

And then I thought better of myself. So, I reminded him about Hanukkah and how we have eight nights of presents, instead of just one. And did what every resourceful modern mother does: I crowdsourced answers on Facebook.

I posted: To our friends who have had to explain to their kids that ‘Santa doesn’t come to our house,’ and that’s OK, were there any books that helped explain it? Does Mensch on a Bench make toddlers feel like they have someone to look forward to? How do you explain being Jewish to someone who still freaks out if he doesn’t get the right spoon at breakfast?

And the suggestions and advice started rolling in. Here’s some of the advice I received, and how I tackled the “Santa Conundrum” with my kids.

As a Jewish mother raising a Jewish family, this statement was a bit more complicated than a jolly ol’ elf.

Amp up your traditions

Part of what makes Santa intriguing is it’s something special to look forward to—the surprise on Christmas morning. So, make Hanukkah something special. One suggestion was to make a blue and white paper chain to countdown to lighting the menorah. Plan craft projects like making paper dreidels or felt menorahs. Or let your kids pick out a decoration for their room.

We are introducing the Mensch on a Bench, the Jewish equivalent to the Elf on the Shelf. We hope it will be something fun to look forward to during this year and years to come.

By emphasizing your own traditions, it won’t feel like your kids are missing out on anything.

Educate those around you

When we start sending our kids out into the world—even if it’s just to pre-school—they start learning about things that are different than what they experience at home. And this is a good thing!

Our son learned about Santa at school. So, I decided to talk privately with his teacher. While I didn’t want the classroom to be cleansed of all things Christmas, I am happy to let our son participate in programs with Christmas songs and doing arts and crafts projects. It’s fun and part of being a member of the group at school. I simply asked that in direct conversations with my son, that she leave Santa out of it. She was apologetic and very receptive to this, and I reassured her that I appreciated her future efforts.

Effective teaching connects your students’ own experiences with what they are learning. So, incorporating different cultures and traditions into teaching can help round out learning for an increasingly diverse population.

I feel like along with teaching my own kids about our traditions, this situation has helped the school grow a little bit, too.

Participate in traditions, without celebrating Christmas

There are lots of Christmas traditions to participate in with friends, neighbors, and even family without celebrating Christmas. We love looking at Christmas light displays, baking cookies, and joining friends’ parties and gatherings.

We also have made a tradition of hosting our own party. While we don’t celebrate Christmas, we all still have the day off from work and like to take the time to enjoy the company of family and friends. And from what I gather, that’s what holiday traditions are really about.

Rachel Lemieux lives in Salt Lake City with her husband and two children.

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