I will never forget the gut-punch I felt when my sweet 5-year-old girl looked at me with tears welling in her big brown eyes and asked, “Have I been a bad girl this year? Is that why Santa isn’t coming to our house?”
Of course, I don’t believe there are “bad girls” or “bad boys” or that kids are, in essence, “naughty” or “nice.” The verbiage of these lists has always felt slightly cringey to me. However, traditionally speaking, this girl had never broken a rule in her five years of life. She followed directions to a T, and she certainly never threw tantrums. By the standards of old St. Nick, she was definitely a “good girl.”
I wrapped her in a hug and said, “Of course not! Remember how we talked about different religions celebrating different holidays? Since we are not Christian, we don’t celebrate Christmas. We have our own special holidays and traditions.”
“Well, I told that to a boy in my class, but he said it’s not true. He said Santa goes to everyone’s house if they’re good, and if he doesn’t go to your house, it means you’re bad.”
Oof. Another punch in the gut. Since she had gone to a Jewish pre-school, this was her first time in a class and school with mostly Christmas-celebrating peers. It was her first year of many, the start of a journey every non-Christian knows too well. If it’s the Christmas season and you don’t celebrate, it’s hard.
It’s one of those things people who do celebrate Christmas can’t fully understand, try as they might. How many times has someone said to me, “But you guys get EIGHT whole days of presents! And we just have one!” Please. Please don’t patronize me. I’ve seen the pictures of your living room on Christmas morning. Last night I got a toothbrush.
My daughter’s tearful experience was three years ago, and I’ve picked up a few tips since then. One is to play up Hanukkah like nobody’s business. While not religious, I am Jewish. So for Hanukkah, we decorate, sing songs, do Hanukkah crafts, make Hanukkah foods, play Hanukkah games, and get Hanukkah presents. It’s a regular Lifetime movie over here (even though I’m not sure there are any Lifetime Hanukkah movies).
Even more important for my kids has been to emphasize that we are not alone. We are not THE ONLY family that does not celebrate Christmas, even when it feels that way. So each year, I seek out our cousins, aunts, grandparents, friends, everyone we love who does not celebrate Christmas and try to get together with them at some point during the Christmas season.
One weekend we have a pizza party, another we go snow tubing. One night of Hanukkah, we invite family over, another night friends. On Christmas day, Chinese food and a movie with others who are not partaking in Christmas festivities.