As young children grow, their interest in and experience with the winter holidays change. This includes learning that different people celebrate different holidays in different ways—Christmas,Chanukah, Kwanza to name just three. It is well within the range of normal development for young children to want for their own anything and everything that appeals to them. With all the trappings of Christmas so prevalent, it is not unusual for a Jewish child to want to claim trees and lights and Santa for his own. Knowing that lots of Jewish families have this experience, I offer the following tips.
- Keep your own feelings in check. If you feel sad or even guilty, as if you are depriving your child of something, (Santa for the Jewish child; 8 days of celebrating for the Christian child) your child will absorb those feelings. You need not feel guilty that Santa isn’t a part of your celebration.
- Take this opportunity to walk your child through her/his feelings of disappointment. Life is filled with times when we can’t have it all. Learning to accept that and allowing your child the opportunity to reflect those accompanying sad feelings is a gift to him. You will be helping him to develop coping skills. And it will teach a tolerance for disappointment which is a life long lesson.
- Take pains not to position yourselves as Jews who are missing out on something. It needs to be about what you have and not what you don’t have! Be creative in your celebration of Chanukah. Create all kinds of family experiences, rituals and traditions. You have 8 days to celebrate, and on each of these you can do something different and special (a dreidle night; a baking night; a game night; a making-gifts-for-others night; a party with friends night; and a few gift nights, too.) But don’t make up for the lack of Christmas by giving a gift every night. It only creates an insatiable thirst for getting more stuff and makes the holiday about gimme gimme gimme.
- Teach about Chanukah and tell the exciting story of the oil that lasted 8 days, the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, the Macabees winning the battle. There are super heroes and there is magic in the story! Do science experiments with fire and oil and candles.
- Make the holiday season more about give you than gimme. Give your child the gift of experiencing the good feelings that go along giving rather than getting. Create experiences that are all about sharing with others. Choose “Secret Elves” who do surprise acts of kindness or help for someone in the family, leaving a note that says “From your secret Elf!” Ask your child to make a list of people whom he would like to honor with a gift (he has made). Do activities in which whole family participates, making cranberry bread or popcorn balls. Then give what you have made to those who don’t expect it (the crossing guard, the school janitor, etc..). Create surprise coupons to give that are favors you will do for others. The list is endless!
- Help your child to learn that you can love and appreciate something without bringing it into your home. You can get yourselves invited to a friends’ house to trim their tree. You can go to a Christmas tree lot and play hide and seek as you smell the delicious trees. You can pile in the car in your pj’s and search for Christmas lights all over the city.
The joy and richness of whichever winter holiday you celebrate comes through the traditions and rituals you create and repeat each year. The best memories of the holidays come from family experiences you remember and cherish, not from gifts you receive nor from bringing Santa into your home. It’s never to late to begin again.