Let’s talk about Christmas for the children in an interfaith family. Let me remind you of two truths:
1. Your child is not exactly like anyone else, so you can’t duplicate another parent’s choices.
2. Your child is not so unique that you can’t learn from other parents.
In today’s world there is a bonus, many people have grown up in interfaith homes and can give us personal accounts of things that were successful and things that were not. Guess what? What works for child 1, didn’t work for child 2. So you need to stay tuned in to your child. If your child is normal they will go through the same developmental stages as all children and you can use developmental guidelines to help you with your decisions.
The big question this time of year is, Is it OK to have Christmas in our home? How will it impact our children?
Yes, Christmas matters. So let’s look at how it matters to kids.
First there is how you as parents handle it. Are you both comfortable? No one is unusually quiet or holding their breath? Because if one or both of you are tense, your kids will know that there is something stressful about Christmas. They may love the presents, food etc, but they will also feel bad. Talk to your partner; talk to me. Try to put your children’s needs first. The argument is not about which one of you “wins,” it’s about seeing to it that your child wins. In order for that to happen you have to find a comfortable meeting place.
Are you raising them as Jews? Christmas is a big symbol; even if you don’t believe in Christ and are not religious at all, the world sees observing Christmas as a Christian act. (Christmas stands for Christ’s Mass.) Be aware that the world around your kids may see this as evidence that they aren’t “really” Jewish. Other children may say things like, “You have Christmas so you’re not Jewish.” The kids aren’t saying that to be mean. They are trying to sort out life and its many parts. You need to be ready with a non-defensive, non-angry statement. Something like, “Dad isn’t Jewish and he loves having Christmas because he did it as a child. So we have Christmas now to show how much we love Dad.” Or to the little friend, “Actually, Christopher, we are Jewish. We have a Christmas tree because Adam’s mommy isn’t Jewish and we have Christmas with her because she loves Christmas and we love her.”
There is something else you want to think about. You are developing in your child a love of Christmas. When your child grows up and moves out of your home do you want him/her to continue celebrating Christmas? When the Christian parent who is the “holder” of Christmas eventually pass away, what do you expect your adult child to do about Christmas? Often we think only in the present. But think into the future. Your children may go through some challenging times as they sort out their Christmas celebration questions. I have adult children of interfaith families who are very conflicted about their continued attachment to and/or practice of Christmas. Others are not bothered at all. My point is that you need to be aware. Think about what you’re instilling in your child. Notice what they say about themselves. As they reach the teen years and adulthood, be ready to have them make different choices, possibly even different from their own siblings. Be ready to talk about your choices and about how they see your role in their choices. Most of all, be ready to love them just as they are.
You’ll note that none of this is religious – it’s cultural and familial. Much of Christmas is about family. And frankly, all of Judaism is inextricable tied to family.