Last week while grocery shopping, I happened to notice that in the “Easter” candy display (I wish English-speaking Christians had less pagan name for this holiday), all of the candy that had a Christian theme was drastically marked down to a fraction of the original price. Since we have two great-nephews and two great-nieces in Oklahoma with whom we are close, I decided to buy these religiously-oriented treats for them.
After buying four identical bags full of candy, instead of being excited that I had found a bargain and our nephews’ kids were going to be thrilled, I gradually felt more and more “blue” from realizing that the Christian-themed candy wasn’t selling as well as the “bunny and egg” candy. Hence, that was the reason why it was at such a deep discount, and it is probably only a matter of time before the stores quit carrying these items all together. This seemed to be very telling about the priorities our society has, and that religious observances of holidays are getting swept away and replaced with the secular.
We could blame all of this on the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus, but some indescribably unique set of human beings had to make up the fanciful stories behind these fictitious icons to add whimsy and magic to the Christian holidays. To make things worse, at Christmas, people had to throw in (at a much later time) other created characters like Frosty the Snowman, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, The Elf on the Shelf, and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. (And why exactly was his nose so red? Was it from drinking too much alcohol-infused egg nog? What kind of example was he [not to mention The Grinch] for impressionable children?) What is the worst part, these characters are invented as if the Lord required some made-up entity to bring elements of surprise, delight, and awe to any religious holidays which celebrate miracles!
This is one of the many things I admire about Judaism – there are no fictitious characters associated with Jewish holidays. There has been limited compromise with the world and pagan practices. Sure, there’s an egg on a Seder plate which represents concepts of fertility and renewal of life. But considering everything else taking center stage at a Pesach Seder, it is hardly noticeable! One bite of bitter herbs and “fertility” is the last thing on anybody’s minds!
Now, some might blame my negative attitude towards bunnies hiding candy and colored eggs on traumatic events from my childhood, and they could be right to some extent. Egg hunts were never my forte nor fun for me because I had a hard time keeping up with the hordes of other children loosened onto the egg hunting grounds. In childhood, I was very small compared to the other kids my age, and even though I bravely attempted to compete in egg hunts, I was at a distinct disadvantage.
For example at one egg hunt, two bigger kids pushed me down onto the cold, wet ground which was sparsely populated with a newly-sprouted winter-rye grass. Not only did my tights (i.e., thick, opaque, warmer “pantyhose” for females or ballet dancers) tear on impact, but my knee was skinned, both legs were covered in mud, and the two candy eggs in my basket spilled out where some other kid ran off with them! (Why in the past little girls were ever encouraged to wear dresses at an egg hunt is beyond me!) Later in the car driving, my brother shared one of his candy eggs with me because mine had been stolen. After unwrapping it and taking a bite, I realized it was the most horrible candy I had ever eaten! It hardly seemed worth it for me to even attend the egg hunt!
Also, one of the worst days of my young life was discovering there was no Tooth Fairy, no Santa Claus, and no Easter Bunny. I remember when I was 8 or 9, two girls from one of the poorest families at my school secretly told me on the playground, “Our mom is the Easter Bunny.” Instead of thinking the whole thing was a ruse, I thought their mother was part of the fantasy plots. And I marveled at how wonderful it was that Kay and June’s widowed mother earned a living working as the Easter Bunny for our area! (Just like she was a door-to-door brush salesperson in a territory!) If ever any family needed a decent income, it was theirs! Months later, upon learning absolute the truth, there was a double rude disappointment for me that dreary day – I realized no mythical holiday characters existed who would ever bring me presents and candy again, and I realized Kay and June’s mom wasn’t getting ahead working as the Easter Bunny!
One physician colleague of mine, whose family were Christian immigrants to the US from China, once said that his parents always felt it was wrong to lie to little kids about Santa Claus. This conversation happened one Christmas day when a nice Muslim colleague asked us in the ICU, “Why are two Christians working today, and not at home celebrating Christmas?” But, what my Chinese-American colleague said made an impact on me – why do Christian people who cherish the Words of G-d and His Commandments every year break a Commandment by lying to kids in our society about these holiday figures? It definitely didn’t feel right at all.
Sometimes, it is problematic to say the right thing to the children who believe in these icons when they start asking questions. Especially when, in the distant past, I taught elementary kids in Sunday School and they would come right out and ask, “My older brother says there is no Santa Claus. Is that true?” In good conscience, I couldn’t stand there as their Bible teacher and lie by saying, “no”. But then the kids would never sit still long enough after such an inquiry and any truthful answer to hear that “there really was a Saint Nicholas in history, who was a righteous, generous bishop who gave to the poor. Today’s Santa Claus was based on this saint,“ Usually at those times, the kids left Sunday School pretty disgusted with me!
Although, there are distinct advantages to have these “characters” being the “morality police” for little kids. When the neighborhood kids used to act up right after Christmas, it was always a relief to say, “You know – it’s never too early to start acting good for Santa’s visit next year!”
In fact, one of my neighbors’ daughters was convinced that my dog “was a direct spy for Santa” who would report immediately to Santa if the little girl got out of line. Once, when she was caught deliberately disobeying me in my yard, she looked down at the dog, and innocently asked, “You’d never tell on me, would you?"
This dog would always wag her tail whenever she got attention from anybody, even if you were just talking to the dog. So my dog stood there energetically wagging her tail back at the neighbors’ daughter. The little girl interpreted the wagging tail as “the dog wouldn’t tell Santa” on her. It was quite an adorable scene and I hated to burst the little girl’s bubble!
But I countered with, “Since she can’t talk, you never know what the doggy is going to do in a situation like that.” (Just to get some control back in my own yard!)
When I first starting writing this piece, I was inspired with the idea of introducing a fabricated figure for Passover which Jewish parents could use as “moral police” to get their children to behave ahead of the Seder. I thought about creating a “Chametz Hobgoblin” who plants bread crumbs and cracker crumbs in the recently leaven-cleansed bedrooms of bad kids just to get them in trouble with their families (especially whoever deep-cleaned the bedroom!). If a naughty kid was singled out by the hobgoblin which planted the dreaded contraband, not only does the kid have to clean up the offending crumbs in the room, but then there was no Passover Seder for the misbehaving child – they had to stay in their previously-chametz contaminated room all night.
But, after a while, it seemed best to me that children attend a Seder no matter what kind of mischief or trouble they can cause. Hopefully, participating in the observance will make them better people and better Jews. And, after writing about all of the negative aspects of any holiday characters, it seemed better if no new fabricated figures are imposed onto anybody’s culture. Plus, there was the whole “lying to kids” issue again -- which over time, seems best to avoid for parents who always need to appear credible and not hypocritical (especially on issues related to faith and religion). So, if a character shows up at your front door on Passover night, I hope with all my heart it is only Elijah!
Have a blessed and joyous time during this holiday season with your friends and loved ones!