The question of whether Jewish kids are responsible for keeping the Santa secret from their non-Jewish friends has been making the rounds on social media this year. What’s your take?
Jewish kids are not responsible for keeping the “Santa secret,” and yet it’s nice if they can do it anyway. I know it seems like a lot to ask of Jewish kids: Don’t ask for a tree, don’t be jealous that all your favorite TV shows have Christmas episodes and don’t ruin your friend’s childhood. But, you can ask it of your kids and then be totally understanding when it doesn’t go as planned.
Jewish parents should be telling their Jewish kids, “I know that you know the truth about Santa. But it’s up to your friends’ parents to tell them about Santa, not you.” In fact, you could substitute a lot of things for “Santa” in that formula, and you could have a really solid basis for parenting kids in a diverse world. Also, kids learn from each other, and it is completely unrealistic to think that kids aren’t going to tell each other about all kinds of things. Santa is only the beginning.
The entire experience of Christmas is all part of one lesson for Jewish kids this time of year: It’s not our holiday. That means we can enjoy the parts we can enjoy (festive decorations, candy cane-flavored everything, days off from school), and ignore, or at least not actively engage in, the rest. We can even enjoy these things in other people’s homes (or, for some interfaith families, in our own homes) while still understanding the difference between their traditions and ours.
I do find it interesting that I haven’t heard a single discussion, not this year, and not ever, that centers on the concern that Jewish kids might tell Christian kids that they don’t believe in Jesus. Santa is clearly a more fragile belief because, at some point, everyone agrees that he isn’t real. For actual theological discussions, either no one expects kids to have serious opinions, or no one expects them to have an impact on anyone else.
It’s probably just as likely for a Christian kid to break the news to a fellow Christian as it is for a Jewish kid to ruin the secret, though it somehow feels worse if it comes from someone Jewish. But insomuch as we’re all responsible for respecting each other, let’s teach that lesson, whether it’s about Santa or anything else.
And since, despite sometimes feeling otherwise, Santa is pretty low stakes, it’s a good test case for many other challenges and tensions your kids will experience in their lives, and how you discuss and handle them together.
Be well, and happy Chanukah!