A mom wrote me with this question: Last year we took our preschool age daughter to celebrate Christmas with the Christian relatives. Everything went smoothly because she was so young and didn’t ask any questions. This year she knows that we are helping to celebrate her cousins’ holiday not ours, but she is asking if Santa will bring her a gift. What should I say?
The first thing to do is to ask your self, what do I feel and believe about this question?
1. Do you wish you could celebrate Christmas and this is a way to break down that wall?
2. Are you afraid this means that Christmas is encroaching on your child’s awareness and about to compromise her Jewish identity?
3. Did you grow up with Santa and consider failure to instill a Santa belief to be a deprivation for your child?
4. Are you worried that your child will ‘spill the beans’ and tell her cousins that there is no Santa if you pursue the truth?
5. Do you not want your child to feel left out when all the other cousins receive gifts from Santa?
For your child this is still just a question. For you it is probably bringing up the baggage of a lifetime – whether you’re Jewish or not. For starters, don’t load your emotional memories or worries onto your child. To prevent that you need to:
Figure out what you are feeling
Find out what your partner and any other parental figures are feeling
Have an adult conversation with them while putting the wellbeing of your child first.
Now let’s walk through the concerns.
If your child’s innocent interest in getting a present feels like a way to get Christmas back then it is time to review your feelings of loss and discuss them with your partner. Is your feeling of loss being honored and is there effort made to provide nurturing experiences for you that meet your needs?
If you are afraid that this question is the advance guard to crush her Jewish identity, you’re feeling hemmed in and isolated as a Jew/Jewish family and you need to enrich and expand your Jewish lives.
If you grew up with Santa and all things Claus and feel that the entire glorious fantasy is as close as it gets to innocent and total joy on earth you need to pause and remember that the Santa extravaganza is a relatively modern and very American commercial invention. The majority of children around the world do not experience it or even necessarily know about it. Not having Santa visit is not at all necessary to a joyful and happy life. However, it has made a huge impact on you and you need to explore your feelings of depravation with your partner.
If your concern is that your child is too young to keep a secret and will tell her cousins that there is no Santa and those presents are all from Mom and Dad, then you could (a) tell her that yes, Santa will bring her a present – and bring along a Santa gift. You’ll tell her the truth in a few years. Or you can (b) tell her that Santa will not bring her a gift because you asked that he now because you are giving/gave her all those Hanukkah presents and that’s enough.
If you are worried that your daughter will feel left out when the others receive a gift from Santa you could do what I mentioned above about kids who are too young to keep the secret or you could say Jewish people don’t get gifts from Santa, (a) you have plenty of presents already or (b) Mom/Dad and I are bringing you a special present for the celebration.
If your particular concern is not addressed here, please feel free to email me. I love to hear from you.