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Will Santa Claus Be Coming to Town?

December 13, 2012

The other night, Sophie asked me the question. … The question I managed to avoid for the past five years.

“Mommy, is Santa Claus coming to our house this year? He didn’t come last year and I really want him to come. Will he come to our house?”

As many of you know, Bryan and I are an interfaith couple. I am Jewish and Bryan was raised Catholic (although he probably considers himself a lapsed-Catholic-turned-Jew at this point). When we got married, we knew we would raise our children (or in this case, child) in the Jewish faith. And as you have seen from my blog posts chronicling our celebrations, and Sophie’s attendance at a Jewish preschool, we have done that.

I am the first to admit that I fully embrace the Christmas season. I love the lights, music, baking, greeting cards, decor, the television specials, the entire magical feeling of this time of year.  And while we participate in both Hanukkah and Christmas celebration, we have never participated in the Santa Claus ritual with Sophie. Not because I was opposed to it, but just that it didn’t come up until last year when Sophie was 4-years-old. And even then, she did not fully grasp the concept.

In addition, Bryan and I are not big gift givers. We rarely buy Hanukkah – or Christmas gifts – because we provide for Sophie year around. In fact, we only this year bought her a birthday gift (because she always receives SO much from family and friends). We both feel very strongly that neither religion or holiday should be about gifts.

The topic of Santa did come up last year as Sophie and I were driving in the car.  I was not prepared to answer her question about which homes Santa visits. I didn’t want to be the one to shatter the Santa Claus myth and have her run to all her preschool friends telling them Santa is a fraud. And I’m sure that’s exactly what would have happened because these kids talk!

I also was not comfortable telling her Santa doesn’t visit Jewish houses. When I heard that explanation from my parents at as young age, all I wanted was to celebrate Christmas and leave Judaism at the door. Potato latkes and dreidels could disappear for all I cared if it meant Santa, presents, and stockings stuffed with treats!

So I responded to her in the only way I could, which was, “Look Sophie, I think I see snowmen and lights up there!” That tabled the conversation.

This year, however, is different. As soon as Frosty the Snowman aired on television and the Christmas music was on the radio (mainly from my music collection, mind you), Sophie began asking if Santa is coming to our house this year. So after Sophie told Bryan he needs to move the couch from the fireplace because there’s no way the “Man with the Bag” will be able to get inside, we knew we had to decide if we would go with the Santa Claus myth or shatter her reality.

I felt very strongly the decision to engage in Santa Claus is ultimately up to Bryan. He grew up with the magic of the season, writing letters to Santa, and having that fitful sleep Christmas Eve, hoping that Santa would visit and bring the toys he wanted most. I wanted Bryan to experience that joy and magic with his daughter the way he experienced it as a kid.

I also feel that Sophie has an incredibly strong sense of Jewish identity (that both Bryan and I have nurtured and encouraged). And while many people may not agree, I honestly don’t think having a Christmas tree or engaging in Santa Claus is going to shatter her strong sense of Jewish faith or make her any less of a Jew.

And with that, we made the decision that Santa will visit our home this year.

But like many of our decisions, there are parameters around St. Nick’s visit. Sophie needs to write a list of what she wants and we are stressing to her that these are requests; Santa is not obligated to bring each and every item. We are also instituting a family donation policy in which Sophie (and Bryan and I) will donate toys, clothes and books in order to make sure kids that don’t have presents do not go without.

Both Bryan and I want Sophie to fully understand that religion, faith and holidays are not about receiving material gifts. Religion is a set of core values, traditions to follow, and a sense of belonging. Holidays are a time to embrace those traditions with family. Santa Claus is just the icing on the cake (or Christmas cookie). To me – whether it’s Christmas or Hanukkah – that’s what faith is all about.

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11 Comments leave one →
  1. December 13, 2012 3:43 am

    Good for you! As her Jewish education continues, she may let Christmas go.. or not. I always wanted a tree growing up. We hung stockings and I did with my kids too– and that all stopped — it was just fun and had nothing to do with religion. Happy Celebrating! Another great post inspired by Sophie’s questions.

  2. December 13, 2012 6:16 am

    Thank you Leah for sharing your thoughts — and Sophie’s questions — about this topic. Should we be lucky enough to have a child, JB and I often talk about this since we too will be raising a child in a Jewish home while being an interfaith couple. I always worry about the aspect you mention of a child of mine ruining Santa for the other little boys and girls! If he/she is like me, he/she won’t be able to keep their mouth shut! But seriously, I enjoy reading how you and Bryan handle these important issues that come up. Thanks for sharing your insights.

  3. December 13, 2012 6:24 am

    I love how thoughtfully you consider the questions Sophie asks. You always seem to find just the right solution that will work for your family. I’m sure Sophie will enjoy Santa’s visit this year.

  4. December 13, 2012 8:32 am

    This is an excellent piece, Leah, and very thought provoking. You address rich, complex traditions and the questions they evoke with insight, care and beauty. Thank you for sharing.

  5. Emily Jennewein permalink
    December 13, 2012 8:49 am

    Leah, I love your article! The struggles you are sharing are so universal for so many interfaith couples. We certainly shared the same struggle, and even made the same decision for several years. Eventually our Jewish family persuaded us that one religious message should prevail. Chris was unhappy, but we muddled through.

    As you wrote yourself, you and Bryan are providing Sophie such an incredibly strong sense of Jewish identity. Thank you for sharing this very universal struggle for so many interfaith families!

  6. December 13, 2012 11:37 am

    Thanks for considering the aspects of other traditions and appreciating the value of them all. I believe Sophie is learning true positives value of love and family and faith by following your & Bryan’s example. That’s some of the most important things. Well done. 🙂

  7. December 13, 2012 11:37 am

    Fabulous post, Leah. Sounds like you and Bryan have mastered the interfaith relationship, so that you’ve come to a sensible solution for Sophie is no surprise. I loved what you said: “religion, faith and holidays are not about receiving material gifts.” Yes, yes, yes!

  8. December 13, 2012 12:58 pm

    Lovely post, and very true. My husband–second husband–was not Jewish and we both had kids from former marriages who were told old for Santa so it wasn’t a problem for us. We always celebrated Chanukah and other Jewish holidays and opened presents on Christmas as a nod to his background, but other than that, our Christmas celebrationw as the traditional Jewish one–a movie and Chinese food. A widow now for 7 years, I still celebrate Chrsitmas with my kids and granddaughter in the same way.

  9. December 13, 2012 4:47 pm

    SO appreciated this post! I have many friends who are inter-faith as well. And have managed to combine the magic of both, with the spiritual nature. The commercial aspect of the holidays has gotten a bit overwhelming.

  10. Samara permalink
    December 17, 2012 1:22 am

    I grew up celebrating Christmas with my atheist father and his family, but like you and Bryan, my parents had agreed to raise me Jewish. Perhaps it is a testament to my strong Jewish identity that I met you and Sophie teaching at the aforementioned Jewish preschool. I don’t think Santa and the tree weakened my connection to Judaism at all.

    I do distinctly remember asking my mother if Santa was real when I was slightly older than Sophie, to which she replied, “How should I know? I’m Jewish.”


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