By Laura Seymour
The season is definitely upon us and those glancing at the calendar already understand that Christmas occurs smack in the middle of the Festival of Lights.
We sometimes call this the “December Dilemma” — we try to answer the questions of our children as to why they aren’t getting visits from Santa Claus or even getting a Christmas tree, while trying to instill the importance of the Chanukah story.
Fortunately, the JCCs and synagogues have programs to help parents deal with this dilemma. The goal of such programs is to help us, as parents, understand how to handle our children’s questions and desires. Following are some ideas from these programs.
Let’s face it — Christmas is part of our society, and cutting our children totally from it would be nearly impossible. Instead, take the time to visit your non-Jewish friends and celebrate their holidays with them, while ensuring they are included in your holiday events.
Help your children understand by explaining, “When we go to play at Bobby’s house, we enjoy his toys but when we leave, we do not take the toys home because they belong to Bobby. When we help decorate Bobby’s Christmas tree, we have a good time, but we don’t bring it home because we don’t celebrate Christmas as Bobby and his family do. So let’s invite Bobby and his family over for Chanukah (or Shabbat or Passover).”
Don’t compete — create meaning
Chanukah isn’t a competition or compensation for Christmas. It shouldn’t be treated as such, nor should it be just about the gifts. This year, make traditions for Chanukah, traditions that will carry meaning in the years to come. We’re fortunate, as Jews, in that we celebrate just about everything! Why not make a big deal about Shabbat? This is a weekly celebration.
Along those lines, Deborah Da Costa’s book, “Hanukkah Moon,” discusses the custom celebrated by Sephardic Jews during this time of year. As Chanukah is the only Jewish holiday that spans two months (Kislev and Tevet), Rosh Chodesh, the new moon, takes place at that time as well. The Rosh Chodesh tradition is that women are not allowed to work while the candles burn — but tradition, rituals and meaning can be built into the new moon observance as well.
Talk with friends
No doubt you’re not the only one experiencing the December Dilemma — no doubt you have friends and family who are going through the same things. Get ideas from them about how they handle things like Santa Claus, lights, songs and so on.
Chanukah also provides a valuable instructive tool. Why not use each night to learn about a different country, and the way in which Chanukah is celebrated there? Are there different foods, customs and songs? Even more importantly, what is the same? What connects us to other Jews around the world?
Celebrating Chanukah means remembering the story of the Maccabees and their fight to keep our traditions and beliefs alive. Today it continues to be a challenge to keep the essence of our Jewishness alive — we are the link in the tradition. So let us teach our children how to appreciate their differences first, by teaching and modeling Jewish life and all the beauty of it, and second, by learning about others and then going home to what we know and love.
Laura Seymour is director of Jewish Life and Learning at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.