Raising a Chanukah Kid in a Christmas World

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Remember that kid you used to know who celebrated Christmas AND Chanukah? That kid that EVERYONE wanted to be?  

Well, my daughter is THAT KID.

And at the age of almost four, she is just starting to wonder what that means… besides a LOT of presents.
Raising a Chanukah KidThe questions keep coming – fast and furious: “Mommy, why don’t we celebrate Christmas?”  “How come we celebrate Chanukah?” “Why does FaFa (her name for my Swedish mother-in-law) have a Christmas tree and we don’t?” “Who else do I know who lights a menorah?”

And the one that REALLY threw me:  “Mommy, what is Jewish?”

(I came up with pretty good answers for most of them, but the last one had me stammering “Um, uh, well… let’s wait and talk with Daddy about that later.”)

But let me back up a bit. I am Jewish. East coast-born-and-bred, family helped start our synagogue, grew up in a kosher home and went to Brandeis University kind of Jewish.

My husband is…not.

Well, technically, since his father is Jewish, he is HALF-Jewish.  But according to most members of my tribe, it’s the “wrong” half.  By Jewish law, religion is passed down through the mother. 

So, since I am Jewish, our daughter is Jewish.  And since my husband’s Swedish mother is NOT Jewish… well, you get the picture.  (Did I mention that the man’s last name is Finkelstein? Talk about false advertising, right?)

Unlike me, my husband grew up without any formal religion. I went to Hebrew School; he went to Swedish school. We celebrated Jewish holidays religiously (no pun intended); he had secular Christmas and Easter celebrations (i.e., a tree and a ham, but no church and no Jesus). I grew up with belief and tradition, history and culture; my husband STILL is not sure what he believes.

So where does that leave our daughter?

We are lucky. We live in a very culturally diverse city. But you would never know it if you took a ride through Los Angeles during December. I admit it: it’s easy to get “sucked in” to the Christmas spirit!

We go to The Grove to see the humungous Christmas tree, just like everybody else. 

We love Knott’s Berry Farm more once it becomes Knott’s Merry Farm.  

We use snowmen, dreidel AND Christmas tree cookie cutters.  And…here it is folks, the BIG ONE:  we go to my mother-in-law’s place to decorate her tree.

OF COURSE, my child is confused!!!!

To be fair, all is not completely lost for a Jewish child in L.A.!

Chabad held a free Chanukah party at the Westside Pavilion and a huge outdoor Chanukah carnival. The Grove has an annual menorah lighting celebration.  And our favorite Chinese restaurant IS open on Christmas Day, thank goodness. But there is nothing for Jewish kids that can remotely hold a candle (no pun intended) to getting your picture taken with Santa Claus.

So, what’s a nice Jewish mother to do?

First, we keep looking for a synagogue that will welcome our unique family dynamic.

Next, we treasure the free Jewish children’s books that come once a month from PJ Library.  They have made discussions about Jewish culture, holidays and traditions SO much easier.

And since I don’t want my daughter to feel like a freakish minority at preschool, I will continue to pack up menorahs, dreidels and matzo, download Shalom Sesame videos, and teach her classmates (and teachers) about the Jewish holidays.

Looking for a challenge? Try explaining Chanukah, Passover and Yom Kippur to a bunch of preschoolers without using the words religion, G-d or kill. Good times.

So… the next time my daughter asks “What is Jewish?,” I think I’ll tell her that the Finkelstein family is still figuring it out. Together.

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Originally from suburban New York, Tracey moved to La-La Land many years ago to earn her M.A. from UCLA’s School of Theatre, Film and Television. After an exciting 15+ year career in entertainment, Tracey left the rat race in order to start a family. Being a SAHM also gave her the opportunity to get back to her theatrical “roots.” She now teaches “Broadway Beatz” dance classes to children and adults throughout her community, choreographs and directs musical theatre, and coaches private students. In addition, Tracey works as a freelance writer, contributing blog posts, marketing pieces and scripts for various clients. Tracey met her high school teacher husband, Marc, in a musical theatre workshop (that they are still in!) 10 years ago, and they recently celebrated their fifth wedding anniversary. They live in Los Angeles with their 4 year-old spitfire of a daughter, Marissa, who keeps them on their toes (…and doesn’t let them sleep).