Little kids want to believe. Teenagers don’t want to believe. We are Jewish but we are not religious. I am glad we aren’t, especially for the upbringing of my 5 children.
If we had been religious Jews I could not have dressed as Santa and brought gifts to my kids at a young age. I would have missed their faces of delight, and their smiles when they knew it was me, but pretended not to know. I can understand Jews refusal to celebrate Christmas because of Jesus who said he was God and we did not believe him. I can side with anyone who refuses to believe that a certain person is God. The whole story of Jesus is very alien to Jews and to many Europeans who have abandoned religion in the last decades, especially in Spain and Italy. But most religious Jews fail to realize that in many countries Jesus has lost its prominence to Santa a much simpler and easier to like character. Yes I know Santa is also about consumerism and I do feel sorry for the parents who can’t buy toys for their kids (my kids know this and we donate toys for them). And the world sucks in many ways. But you have to agree with me that there is something beautifully simple for young kids about a man who comes from the North Pole with lots of gifts. Especially if they have been good kids ;).
And later on, with my older kids, not being religious spared me of trying to convince them of the literal interpretation of the Bible. A struggle that many still go through, especially in USA the only developed country in which most people are still religious. This would have been painful for me, as the Bible has so many absurdities in it that I would have been unable to defend it as true. I am so glad I did not have to tell my kids that we believe in all the absurdities of the Bible “because we have faith”. Starting with the universe being but a few thousand years old most of what I read in the Bible is of no scientific value and what is even worse, frequently of dubious ethical value.
During the Jewish holidays I have manage to explain to my kids that we celebrate because we are part of the Jewish people who share a common heritage as a people not only as a religion. We celebrate as many of my non religious Christian friends celebrate, as a tradition not as a literal belief. I also explain that most of the founders of the State of Israel were not religious and that most of the achievements of the Jewish people are way outside the realm of religion, mostly in literature, entrepreneurship and science. I frequently like to tell the story of Golda Meir, one of the founders of Israel who was an atheist and when asked if she believed in God she answered wisely “I believe in the Jewish people and the Jewish people believe in God”. In our home there are only two kinds of answers to any question a child may pose: the most likely to be true answer and as frequently, the I don’t know answer. I don’t know feels better than religion to me.
So today, right here in St Barts in our sailboat, I will dress as Santa again, this time for our baby and 5 year old. I can’t wait to see how happy they will be. And yes, they are also getting their Chanukah gifts. We celebrate all that there is to celebrate. And we are happy this way.