Shabbat Goy:Taking the Christ out of Christmas

If my son starts to talk about the renegade Jew who declared himself the son of God, there’ll be a lynch mob at my doorstep before nightfall.

Santa cartoon 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Santa cartoon 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
I tried. Honestly, I did. If there is a single pagan symbol of the holiday-whose-name-shall-not-be-mentioned in Eretz-Israel that I didn’t introduce our small child to, I’d like to know what it is I missed.
There’s the Christmas Tree – which, just to play safe, I neutralized with not one, but two Hanukka menorahs. There’s the consumerist frenzy of buying presents I can ill afford for people who won’t appreciate them, and the whole business of Santa Claus coming down the chimney with his bushy beard and fat round tummy.
Heaven knows, I did everything I could to take the Christ out of Christmas.
But the child had other ideas.
“Daddy, why isn’t Santa Claus in this book about Christmas?” Naturally, I have no idea. Admittedly, I didn’t even look at the book. But I dispatch him to his mother all the same. Mothers have answers for everything, I’ve discovered. But not this time...
Mrs. Goy pokes her head around the door.
“Last time I checked, you were the resident Christian. Deal with this.”
She shuts the door firmly behind her. Charming.
The child clambers onto my lap and places the book in my hands.
“Grandma in London bought it for me. It’s a Christmas book. But there’s no Santa Claus.”
I flick through the pages slowly. Indeed, there isn’t a Santa Claus going “Ho, Ho, Ho!” Rather, there are drawings of an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes. Stables in Bethlehem. Stars in the sky and Wise Men from the East.
Y’know, theological stuff. Christian theological stuff, at that.
Frankly, I’m not sure how my mother managed to smuggle the book into the country. The way things are at the moment, surely one can get done for engaging in missionary activity for much less than this.
But that’s not the immediate problem. True, I’ve strayed so far from the path of God-fearing Catholicism that even my mother calls me a heathen. But technically, I still swear allegiance to that fellow in Rome who wears the funny hats. And with those restive letter-writing rabbis and all that, now is probably a good time to keep a low profile.
They’re bound to tire of Arab-baiting at some point and look for new targets. And everyone hates a Catholic. Even Catholics hate Catholics...
But none of this is of any importance to the small child, who wants to know why some anonymous infant has superseded Santa Claus, the great bringer of gifts, in this particular narrative.
“WELL...” I begin, uncertainly. The child looks up at me expectantly, his eyes filled with trust.
“A long time ago, a little baby was born in a city near Jerusalem...”
Keep it simple, I remind myself. Don’t confuse him – or yourself – with the facts.
“Before Santa Claus?” “Yes, before Santa Claus.”
“So who was this little baby?” Mmm. Good question. My small child is due to play the role of “Shabbat Daddy” in kindergarten this weekend. They’re all very nice in his gan, but if while the Shabbat candles are being lit he starts to talk about the renegade Jew who declared himself the son of God, there’ll be a lynch mob at my doorstep before nightfall.
“Well, he was a special gift to his mummy and daddy, because they’d really wanted to have a baby.”
Inspired, I improvise on this promising premise.
“And that’s why Santa gives presents every year to good boys and girls. It’s a reminder of the gift of this very special baby.”
But my own small child is too clever for his own good and is having none of this evasion.
“But what was so special about this baby?” If I go much further along this track, I’ll be turning him into a bona-fide Jew for Jesus. Not good. With the urgency of a hunted animal, I scan his bedroom for an escape route. Superhero toys on the floor. Superhero cuddly toys in his bed. A poster of his favorite superhero on the wall.
“Well, he was a kind of superhero...”
His eyes light up.
“Really? Like Superman?” “You could say that, yes.”
“So, like Superman, he came to Earth as a baby? And he discovered his superpowers when he grew up? What superpowers did he have when he grew up?” Great. Now we’re in Mel Gibson territory. If I start on the crucifixion, I might as well pack my bags and prepare for deportation as an Enemy of the Jews.
(I make a mental note to ensure that Mrs. Goy is the one who gets to deal with the Birds and the Bees in due course.) But as it happens, the small child has a superpower of his own – a very fertile imagination – and he solves the conundrum all by himself.
“Was his superpower to make all the presents that Santa gives to all the good boys and girls around the world?” Well, Jesus was supposed to be a carpenter, wasn’t he? “Absolutely correct!” Satisfied, the small child clambers off my lap and cheerfully starts to sing a little ditty he’s made up, probably the first ecumenical carol in the Hebrew language.
“Yesh le kol hayeladim matanot b’Christmas/Yesh le kol hayeladim matanot b’Hanukka...” (All the children get presents on Christmas/All the children get presents on Hanukka...) And off he ambles to count the presents awaiting him under the tree.
Sometimes, I think my child is a very lucky boy, in all sorts of ways that I’m not sure I fully appreciate yet. I hope I can keep it that way.
Peace and good tidings to all at Christmastime.