A friend of mine who is in an interfaith family recently told me, “I’m jealous of Christmas. My kids absolutely know they are Jewish but they LOVE Christmas and no Jewish holiday can touch it.”
It is true that there is nothing we can do about the massive marketing blitz that this country launches for the Christmas season. Garfield becomes Christmas Garfield, cars become Christmas cars, blenders become Christmas blenders. The entire world is transformed into a saleable object or moment. I’m not suggesting that you compete with this. Instead let’s think about what parts of it are good and which are bad.
Massive materialism isn’t good for anyone. Parents tell me that they want to raise their children with values other than greed and conspicuous consumption. So please, don’t go down the slippery slope of Christmas plus Hanukkah means more presents so our children are luckier; they get more! More? More what? More future landfill trinkets?
Studies show that it is human interaction that makes us happy, being with others whom we love or at least enjoy. Our strongest memories are those of experiences that have an emotional charge. So chances are you remember that surprise birthday party your friends gave you ten years ago but you don’t remember the presents they each gave you.
Now what about Christmas envy? Forget about competing in the world of presents, go for experience. There are Jewish holidays that are packed with fun but most Jews don’t know how to access them. In the words of Auntie Mame, “Life’s a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death!” Sukkot, which begins tonight, wasn’t just A holiday in ancient times, it was THE holiday.* It was a week of harvest festival, community barbeques, huge communal meals, and I feel confident, some singing, dancing and drinking! What about the kids? We are commanded to build a ‘hut’ a temporary structure in which to live during the week. We are to eat our meals there and to sleep there. How would your kids like to have you build a little wooden structure in the yard, equip it with some chairs, a small table and in the evening, a sleeping bag? You can have a little fire in your patio fire pit and roast marshmallows! Sounds like a blast!
A huge part of the Christmas, and any holiday, is the anticipation and build up. With Sukkot there is the gathering of the building materials, the actual building (more fun when done with friends), and then there’s the decorating! My daughter and I are absolute suckers for crafts and decorations. We also love to add those little strings of lights.
So what to do about Christmas envy? Try offering some awesome Jewish experiences. I’m not saying they will replace Christmas, but you’ll probably feel happier to see your kids’ enthusiasm and anticipating for a Jewish holiday.
As for Christmas, if you celebrate it, work on making it about family over presents.