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 Holiday Heroes

12/18/2019 03:59:55 PM


Rabbi Dan Dorsch

Every year I inevitably get an email from a concerned parent of a young child asking what to do about Santa Claus. Their child has asked them if Santa is real. Or, he or she is worried that Santa Claus won’t come to Jewish houses.


Forgetting for a moment that the modern day conception of Santa Claus is more a marketing concept of Coca-Cola than the historical St. Nicholas, I do have a few pointers I usually share with parents.


My initial inclination, as an educator, is to advise parents to always tell the truth to their children. Keep in mind, however, this does not mean that you always need to tell them the entire truth. Most of the time, for example, when very young children ask about whether Santa Claus comes to Jewish houses, what they are really asking about is if they are going to get gifts like the kids they see on TV. Therefore, instead of an entire talk about Santa, I would perhaps answer: “No, but you’re going to get Chanukah gelt from your parents, bubbe and zayde, aunts and uncles, for all eight days of Chanukah.” This type of answer gives you both plausible deniability and also doesn’t put you into a camp of having to teach them something you are going to have to “unteach” later on.


I also want to caution against a trend in recent years (I’ve even heard of teachers in Hebrew schools doing this, with not such great results) to advanced prepare your child by telling them that Santa does not exist, while simultaneously telling them that they should not tell their Christian friends. It’s a nice thing to do in theory, but I have to admit that I feel rather conflicted: foremost because as a parent, I have learned that when you tell your child not to do something they had not even considered in the first place, the likelihood of his or her doing it has exponentially increased. By telling your child that they shouldn’t tell their non-Jewish friends, you’ve given them perfect ammunition to do precisely what you didn’t want them to do in the first place.


Rather, if a child asks you if Santa Claus is real, I think the best approach is to spend your time educating your child about Chanukah. Take a simple, face value question--“Is Santa real?”--and carry it to the next level. Grab a Chanukah book off the shelf and answer that while “Santa may certainly be a hero in the Christmas story, let me tell you about our hero in the Chanukah story, Judah Maccabee, who saved the Jewish people.” Is this deflecting? Absolutely. But will you have taken a moment of confusion and turned it into a potential moment of Jewish pride? Without question.


If all else fails, and your child is unrelenting, go with Hanukkah Harry


Okay, I am definitely kidding about that last one. Actually, I am only kidding a little.


May this holiday season be one that illuminates and brings peace, joy, and religious freedom to the darkest corners of our world.

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Tue, April 7 2020 13 Nisan 5780