Santa Claus isn’t Jewish.
That was my daughter the other day, explaining to her friend why, though she believes in Santa, he isn’t coming to our house this, or any other, year.
Well, can’t say she’s wrong, can I?
I was relieved to hear her give her friend such a casual explanation, because I’ve been wondering how my kids feel about the fact that Santa doesn’t come to visit us. Even in New York, which feels like a Jewish town, it can make you feel a bit left out.
Since Thanksgiving – hell, since Halloween!!!, every store, every streetlamp, every …everything, it seems, has been festooned with Christmas paraphernalia. And the music. Endless loops of Frosty the Snow Man, and Baby it’s Cold Outside. Not that I’m complaining. (Well, maybe about the music) I realize that Jews make up less than 1.8% of the US Population and I don’t remotely expect equal time. In fact, I kind of like the decorations — they’re festive and twinkly, and make even the dingy bodega on the corner look sparkly and happy. It’s just that I don’t buy that people who do celebrate Christmas are somehow being pushed out of the mainstream.
Christmas is the mainstream. And that’s as it should be. We live in a country that’s predominantly Christian, so Christian holidays and customs get a lot of play. As long as I’m allowed to be Jewish, to practice my religion as I see fit (which to me mean lighting Shabbat candles followed by a nice roast loin of pork – wrapped in bacon), and as long as everyone else is allowed to be whatever they are, too, the number of Christmas decorations at the Hardware store really doesn’t matter to me. In the immortal words of every professional sports coach in America — “it is what it is.” (Is it just me? Or do losing coaches always invoke that phrase at press conferences?)
But that’s me. My two eight year olds are a different story. Can a little menorah compete with the majesty of an 8 foot tree? No. Can Mom and Dad giving little trinkets complete with twenty tons of presents? I think not. Can anything complete with the myth that is Santa? (For a while when I was a kid my brother tried to convince me there was such a person as Hannukah Joe – who came in through the window, cause he didn’t want to ruin his seersucker suit. I may have been five years old to his fourteen — but I wasn’t buying it.) So with no Hannukah Joe, no elves, no endless and incredibly annoying endless loops of the MOST annoying Christmas music on nearly every radio station 24/7, no appliqued Hannukah sweaters (for once, a plus!), no stockings hung by the chimneys with care. (really, do Jews ever get their clothes sooty? I think not.), no claymation figures singing about snow and red noses (I love those specials)
Without all of this…stuff… I worry: do my kids feel marginalized? Do they feel that the kindly old guy in the red suit — who brings gifts to ALL the good little children is somehow telling them they’re rotten?
So when I overheard them nonchalantly talking about how Santa just isn’t MOT (member of the tribe), I heaved a sigh of relief. Maybe they’ve already realized what Christmas in New York teaches Jews in this city: it’s OK to be whatever you are. It’s OK to enjoy the celebrations of others, to go to Rockefeller Center and ooh and aah at the tree. And it’s OK to be MOT, too. And to know that while Santa Claus is coming to town, he just isn’t planning on stopping by. It isn’t depressing, it isn’t a slight, it isn’t marginalizing, it just “is what it is.”
And if they want to get their clothes sooty on Christmas Day? What do I care? It’s not like we’re going to a party.