A common dilemma that Jewish parents living in the Diaspora face is the winter festive season. Even those Jews living in the most sheltered of Jewish communities cannot help but notice that everything turns green, red and tinselly from early winter through to the end of the Gregorian calendar. Children, in their innocence, cannot help but ask their parents what these cheerful colors, jolly characters with big white beards and red-nosed reindeer are for and of course, it doesn’t take long for the inevitable question to be asked- why don’t we celebrate too?I think it is safe to say the following. Children who grow up in the warmth of the weekly Shabbat candles and family Shabbat meals; children who dress up on Purim and eat candy until their tummies ache; children who experience the magic of Seder night with all its strangeness and stories and children who get lifted on to their father’s shoulders as they dance in honor of the Torah on Simchat Torah can understand when their parents gently explain to them that Xmas does have lovely decorations, catchy songs and a beauty all of its own but we have our own celebrations.
The desperate attempts of parents in recent years to placate their children with the idea that Hanukkah is simply a Jewish Xmas are simply set to fail from the start. No, Hanukkah is not a replacement for Hanukkah and no, Hanukkah cannot compete with the intensive Xmas celebrations that end up taking up a good three months in the Diaspora. Indeed, the irony is that trying to compete with Xmas is the absolute antithesis of the whole theme of the holiday of Hanukkah! Hanukkah is a celebration of the survival of the small Jewish flame in the face of the powerful adversary; it is the strong hold against the sweeping tide of assimilation. The threat of assimilation is stronger than ever nowadays in Diaspora- there is not one Jew who can say that they don’t someone who has married out. The message of Hanukkah is one of religious liberty and pride in our minority way of life. It seems a shame to short-change our children of this timeless message as we attempt to prove that Hanukkah is just as enjoyable, if not more, than Xmas.
There is no need for us to stoop to apologetics with our children regarding the subject of Hanukkah and how it relates to Xmas (it doesn’t). In fact, if we provide them with positive, enjoyable Jewish experiences; they won’t feel the need to go looking elsewhere for festivities. Yes, we can acknowledge that Xmas is a religious celebration as Hanukkah is too and yes the decorations can be beautiful but beyond that- expose them to the beauty of Hanukkah, retell the Hanukkah story and revel in the Jewish miraculous existence!