Is it Bad if I Take My Jewish Kids to See Santa?

Dear Jew in the City,

Is it bad if i take my Jewish kids to see Santa? They keep asking me.

 

Thanks,

Michelle from Bethesda, MD
Dear Michelle,

Great and very timely question! How much exposure to non-Jewish holidays should we give our Jewish children? My kids have some curiosity about non-Jewish holidays since we live in America and it’s the predominate culture, so if they’re watching a video on the computer and a non-Jewish holiday themed episode comes on, I don’t always make them turn it off  because I don’t want them to feel like it’s this forbidden thing that they can only learn about if they sneak around. Since our philosophy is to live as observant Jews in the secular world, they need to have a basic knowledge of the culture and religions around them. When these episodes come up, it gives me a great opportunity to discuss with them why we believe what we believe and don’t believe what other religions believe.

However, I would not take my kids to an event centered around a non-Jewish theme because I believe that’s far too actively engaging in something that’s not ours. Why not take them to the local Chabad Chanukah lighting in your town instead? I looked up what your local Chabad has planned, and there’ll be a “Chanukah Candyland” lighting with music, a magic show, latkes, donuts, and cotton candy! Meeting Santa might be fun for them, but there are certainly many ways to make their own holidays exciting and meaningful.

But don’t stop with just extra effort for Chanukah. What the interest in Santa seems to indicate is that they’re not being fulfilled by their own heritage and so they’re taken in by someone else’s. I think the best response for the long terms is to find ways to make Jewish tradition so much a part of their lives they have no desire to look elsewhere. Were my kids curious this year when trick or treaters came out on Halloween and we gave out candy? A little bit, but they get tons of candy every Shabbos, Simchas Torah, and Purim, so the curiosity came and quickly passed.

Being more involved in Jewish holidays and especially Shabbat will give them Jewish things to look forward to. A weekly Shabbat dinner where you make their favorite foods and desserts, turn off all technology and give them the extra attention that most kids don’t get when the technology is on would be a perfect start. This looking towards other religions with curiosity or even envy is something you want to nip in the bud. Since we are a minority in a predominantly non-Jewish world, the best chance for Jewish continuity is to build a strong, positive Jewish foundation for them while they’re young which will, with God’s help, carry through into adulthood. Just as we pass the light of one Chanukah candle onto the next, so too may your children merit to pass the torch of their heritage onto future generations. Good luck and Happy Chanukah!

 

All the best,

Allison (a.k.a. Jew in the City)

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  1. Richard G. Moss says:

    When we arrived in the US my daughter had just turned 2 and the first Halloween asked about it and after a basic explanation decided on her own to ignore it because it wasn’t one of our holidays. After a few years she organised her friends, then told us that they were going trick or treating, “but we won’t tell them that we’re Jewish”, many buckets of candies later they asked that they be donated to seniors who didn’t have any!!

  2. That Chabad Chanukah sounds like so much fun! Much more fun than visiting Santa…I wish I were Jewish!

  3. I am a conservative jew trying each day to be more religious. When I was a kid I always asked my parents to drive me around town to see the christmas lights in the trees and houses; I still think the town looks gorgeous and has some magic looking like that. I have non jewish friends that invite my husband and I to Christmas dinners that we go just to share their joy with them and nothing else, but I don’t take my kids.. I will never go as far as to take them to celebrate non jewish holidays. One of my family members that i used to see every Shabbat left a non jewish girl pregnant and now he is having an interfaith marriage with her; This may sound harsh but since that happened I’ve decided to stop celebrating Shabbat with that person; simply because I don’t want my children exposed to things and people that go against our culture’s principles..

  4. I have an issue with not allowing my kids to participate in the secular part of Christmas. One of my daughters asked if it was ok for us to make gingerbread cookies because they are Christmas. Where in the Torah does it say you can’t make gingerbread cookies, or eat candy canes? These are traditions from pre-Christian times in Europe – they have become symbols of a religion – does this mean we should not eat knaidlach? (german dumplings), Rugelach?( Lithuanian/russian word for wheat)… we just adopted some not others.

    While I would not allow a Christmas tree in my house, I see nothing wrong with going to other people’s houses to join in their celebrations. We as Jews live in a world where we are in the minority. Knowing that we have something special – that HaShem chose us to receive the Torah – is what makes us different. Accepting the fact that others do not live the way we do is a good lesson.
    We live in a secular world – where most people are nothing – we are Jews. And should we ever forget that we may be with the rest of the world but still a bit apart, there will be in every generation those who will remind us.

  5. Simon Lissak says:

    Santa is a fictional character…. The rededication of the temple is historical fact! Santa is only red and white because of Cocacola… Let's teach our kids to know the truth and it will set them free!

  6. Honestly, I find some of these answers ridiculous. I am Roman Catholic and see nothing wrong with other cultures partaking in other holidays, as I love participating in other people’s in order to be united with them, understand them and the meaning behind what they celebrate, but in this case it is not even a true holiday setting. Santa Claus (who is not originally fictional by the way, Simon) is not a true symbol of Catholic faith nowadays, he is simply a commercial representation of a time of joy and family (which also applies for Hanukkah – time where people come together and share their happiness!!!), not of the true symbolization behind Christmas, and anyone should be allowed to go see him. He will not corrupt your children, I promise. My best friend is Jewish and has a Christmas tree, I think not partaking in any of this is ignorant, as it is just a social ideal in relation to the holidays that occur in December no matter the religion they come from. You don’t have to go to church and pray to my God, I don’t expect you to (this might be uncomfortable for you, which is completely understandable :), it’s still nice to experience, as is Hanukkah on my part), but you can most definitely buy a tree and eat candy canes if that’s what you wish to because the religious connotation is in the nativity scene, not in the tree. A tree is just a tree, it too will not bite you.

    It’s good to see and try to understand the world and communities around us, I am living proof – I am on this website and find it extremely intriguing.

    • Rabbi Jack Abramowitz says:

      You may see nothing wrong with sampling other religions – and for you it may be perfectly acceptable to do so! – but Jews are specifically prohibited from doing so. Leviticus 18:3 prohibits us from copying the ways of other nations. Santa may not be part of the Christmas story as written in the Gospels, but he is definitely part of the holiday as it is observed today. This is true for Christmas trees as well – decorating a tree for Chanukah would be copying the way other religions celebrate their holidays. Accordingly, observant Jews do not celebrate Halloween or Valentines Day (St. Patrick’s Day, Mardi Gras, etc.), even though they may have strayed from their original religious significance.

      Conversely, many Orthodox Jews DO celebrate Thanksgiving (I do!), as it is not associated with any religious observance. No religion ever mandated eating turkey on the last Thursday of November; it’s a uniquely American practice. Even if the Pilgrims happened to be Puritans, Thanksgiving was never part of the Puritan faith.

      (As an aside, some people feel that Chanukah gift-giving is inappropriate because it copies the Christmas practice but in reality, the giving of “Chanukah gelt” is an ancient tradition.)

      • Most of the religious practices of Europe that are not Christian, are actually holdovers from pre-Christian paganism; usually they’ve been incorporated into Christianity to some superficial degree.

        So, just for example, celebrating with living foliage (mistletoe) in the white of winter, when the oak on which it grows is bare, likely has roots in the cult of Diana.

        A living tree 🎄 (this emoji came up just from typing the word ‘tree’ !!) symbolizing the life-force of a god, or protecting its shrines, is a very, very, ancient cultural belief. Every culture, from the Druids to the Shinto, had their sacred trees, either worshipped as a manifestation of the godhead, or planted beside altars, temples, or in the case of ancestor-worship, burial grounds.

        Needless to say, the Torah absolutely forbids this, particularly in the Temple (Beth Ha’Mikdash).

        The Christian custom of gift-giving probably derives from the story of the three Magi bearing gifts to the Christian god.

        The Jewish custom of giving money (not gifts) has to do with the story of gambling being used to deceive the Greeks when Torah study was banned on pain of death. (You gamble with cash, not gifts.)

        Chanukah gelt would be gambled by children with a dreidel. Men would sometimes even play cards for real stakes. (In the sexist shteitel, gambling for stakes on Chanukah, and drinking oneself drunk on Purim, were considered less than ladylike.)

        Chanukah presents were borrowed from American commercial conspicuous consumption, indirectly, of course, from Christmas.

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