When my daughter was 3, her preschool celebrated many of the winter holidays by studying different traditions, and putting on a winter celebration. My daughter’s class did a short Kwanzaa skit, singing a song and lighting the Kwanzaa candles, which she, of course, referred to as a “menorah.” The year before, at 2, she had a stuffed menorah toy, and would demonstrate putting “da ‘mash in da ‘norah.” It was incredibly cute.
By the age of four, things had changed. Friends at preschool celebrated Christmas. She noticed the lights on neighbors’ trees. Her best friend had a big tree in her living room, complete with all the things a girly little girl likes: sparkly tinsel, twinkling lights, little dangling figures, and, of course, gifts under the tree.
Sometimes, a quick trip to the drug store feels like a mine field. “No, honey. We don’t celebrate Easter. We’re not getting chocolate bunnies… no, no colored eggs… no, no chocolate shaped like a cross…”
And, actually, she’s pretty good about it. She usually takes “no” well. Sometimes, I point out that we have Purim, and hamantaschen at home (though I’m not sure that’s ideal). But even so, she asks, about the eggs, and about the you-know-what tree, still, months later. I’ve begun to realize that she isn’t asking because she’s longing for those things.
It’s more subtle. She wants to know if the answer is still the same, and why. We still can’t have a tree, right? But what if I want one when I grow up?
She’s too young to understand the theological differences, and I don’t want to get into the habit of implying that our holidays are somehow better than those her friends celebrate. After all, I wouldn’t want someone telling her that Christmas is better than Hanukkah. But I do want her to focus on our traditions, and our customs, and our way of doing things, without feeling like she’s missing out on what her friends have.
It’s a dilemma that I’m sure I’ll face over and over through the years, in a thousand situations far more serious than those a 4-year-old brings up. This year, it’s coloring eggs. She has already asked if we can do it, and I asked for time to think about it. And so I consider it: It’s a co-opted pagan fertility symbol–not something I particularly want her indulge in, but not something with deep, competing theological significance, either. It’s something her friends are likely to do and talk about, and an absolute prohibition probably gives it more importance than it deserves.
And so, after giving it thought: I’ve decided that if her best friend asks her over to color eggs, I’ll say, “Yes.” Just as I’d be happy to have her friend over for Shabbat, and lots of non-Jews sit at our seders, it’s totally fine for her to learn about her friends’ families’ customs–at their house. But her friends aren’t going to light Shabbat candles in their homes, and we’re not coloring eggs in ours.