Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Maybe this I'm just bitter that Santa ignored me all these years

Entering this holiday season, I did not consider that the time had come to address our religious practices with Hayden. I feel completely unprepared for this, yet the issue is loud and clear, and had to be addressed immediately. In general, I don't feel that I am militant about my Jewish identity, and find it immensely interesting to learn about other faiths and customs. As a child, we only celebrated Jewish holidays at home, but I was allowed to enjoy other festitivities as well. I would always go decorate my friends' Christmas trees, understanding that Christmas was their holiday and Chanukah was mine. Friends were welcome to join us as well as we would light the candles for eight nights. There are always plenty of latkes and jelly donuts to go around. I never felt like I was missing out on anything because I knew we had our own special traditions. Each week we celebrate Shabbat and my boys are familiar with the rituals. Hayden even recites most of the Hebrew prayers on his own. My feeling is that children will learn what we live rather than something that is just presented once a week at religious school and not practiced at home. However, our boys are still so young that I imagine it would be hard to distinguish the differences in holidays and that we only celebrate certain ones.

Recently, I had a discussion with a friend of mine about where to draw the line on these celebrations. We had a difference of opinion on this. I would like my children to experience Judaism and the traditions, building their own Jewish identity. I would also like them to have an appreciation for the beauty of other traditions and faiths, yet understand that those traditions are not our own. My friend was less comfortable with this. He was concerned that by letting our two year olds participate in Christmas and Easter festitivities, it might be confusing to them, or give them the wrong message. It was a great discussion with both of us acknowledging that the other had some really good points. I got off the phone from that conversation feeling like a very liberal parent who is open minded, ready to "someday" teach my boys about acceptance of everyone along with the value of our faith.

Fast forward to yesterday, when my approach to all this was accelerated before I had considered how timely this would be. When I went to pick up the boys from preschool, I read a letter on the classroom door explaining that the children would be writing letters to Santa, as the post office said they may receive a response back. Santa. As in Claus. As in asking and expecting to receive requested toys from a fictional character associated with a holiday we don't celebrate. Ughh. Well, I was knee deep in it now. I spoke with the school assistant director and explained that I had a real problem with this activity. She acknowledged that it is a sensitive topic and initially was concerned because they were going to be learning about Chanukah, Christmas and Kwanza at school. I quickly clarified that I am happy they are doing this and that Hayden should learn about all the holidays. However, writing a letter to Santa would give him the unreasonable expectation that Santa would bring him presents, which is not going to happen. I didn't want him singled out either by being told he had to be in another classroom during the activity. I suggested he write a letter to Mommy and Daddy or Grandma and Grandpa saying what he would like for Chanukah. She agreed that this was a good compromise, and mentioned again that this week the children are learning about Chanukah in the classroom with related activities and art. Great. Situation under control. I am Super Parent!

Bedtime last night-
Hayden and I are settling down for his bedtime story when he says "Santa isn't going to bring me anything." This was surprising. We haven't spoken about Santa, so I asked him to tell me why he said that. "Miss M said if I didn't take a nap, Santa wouldn't bring me anything and I didn't take a nap." Long pause as I absorb the implications of this. Miss M is not even his regular teacher. Due to staffing shortages he spent time in another classroom today. Every now and then, my little man discloses something very innocently that shakes my very soul. How dare she presume that we are giving our son expectations for a religious holiday? How dare any teacher use Santa as a weapon? How dare she make a threat that would make little kids feel like they are bad kids simply because they didn't receive something from Santa? How dare she usurp a parent's right to teach their child as they wish? Even if I were Christian and teaching Hayden about Santa, I would not use one nap as the benchmark by which he gets his Christmas presents. Being that we don't even celebrate Christmas, I was angry on so many levels.

Hayden and I spent a great deal of time last night talking about this. We talked about how we will be lighting candles, spending time with family and friends and opening presents. We were already going to read a Chanukah book, but it was preceded by rehearsing his response should he be threatened about Santa any more. He very clearly states "Santa is a story. I celebrate Chanukah." Now I do realize the risk here of messing it up for the other kids. I have no desire for Hayden to tip them off that Santa isn't real. It is a magical time for children filled with wonder and excitement and I would not want to rob a child of that experience. However, I feel so strongly that he needs to understand that his not receiving gifts from Santa is in no way a reflection of his behavior. Fillip was concerned about the words I gave Hayden, so we have revised his response to say "Santa is for Christmas. I celebrate Chanukah." I also spoke directly to his regular teacher this morning and she understood my concerns. I later spoke with the school Director, who first the very first time got an angry phone call from me. She seemed very upset when I told her what Hayden had said. When I asked her how the day was upon pickup she said "The kids had a great day. Some of the teachers, well, not so much."

Although I am satisfied with the school's response to my concerns, it opens my eyes to all we will face in the years to come. Our society is saturated with Christianity. While it is widely acknowledged that other faiths have equal importance, it is an uphill battle. We need to be constantly vigilant in forging a solid Jewish identity in our impressionable little boys, without them feeling like they are missing out on the other things.

Parenting is hard.


cg said...

Oi Marlo I hear you on the struggle to celebrate your identity! I so wish people were more sensitive to religeous and cultural differences. Even though we have a christian background we do not celebrate Santa Claus neither do we do a christmas tree as I just do not believe in it and it is very difficult to manage expectations.

Ann said...

Marlo - I think you handled it beautifully.

While I sit on the other side of the fence as we celebrate the Christian holidays (but not much else!), I do want my children to learn that other children don't celebrate Christmas but have their own holidays. The easy job for me is 'my' holidays are the majority so I don't have the world butting up against our beliefs.

I think your comments and concerns are exceptionally valid. Especially the teacher who said Santa woulnd't bring presents - no teacher should ever 'threaten' a child like that (that is for me, and only me - I happen to use that one a fair bit).

Congrats on following through.

Oh, and btw, Happy Chanukah (one day early!)