Confessions from a Former Santa Claus Lap Sitter by Aviva Meshwork
Aviva Meshwork is an educator, writer, and Trip Director for the JWRP. Originally from Toronto, she now lives in Israel with her husband and 4 children.
It’s true, I admit, that I used to sit on Santa’s lap at the mall. I eagerly waited in line with my younger sisters for an opportunity to have a one-on-one with the jolly ‘ol Santa himself. I waited for my turn with anticipation so I could get my picture taken with him and then get my candy cane. I just loved the scene they erected of a living room with a tree in the corner garnered with decorations and beautifully wrapped presents carefully placed at the bottom in shiny, inviting wrapping paper just begging us children to open them at once! Not to mention the gorgeous elves who, with warmth and patience, steered me towards the highly coveted spot on Santa’s lap where the real experience would begin.
While I was always so excited for this private time with Santa, there was a part of it that made me a bit tense. It wasn’t the picture they would take- I loved that part- and it wasn’t the fact that I could not comprehend how Santa could be in two places at once, for my other friends were at different malls all doing the same thing at the same time with the one and only Santa Claus too. No, that wasn’t it. What always made a bit tense and uncomfy was the question that he would ask us all; “What do you want Santa to bring you for Christmas?” Ugh I hated that question, because with a sense of embarassement and shame for being on his lap in the first place, I would shyly and somewhat awkwardly reply, “I don’t celebrate Christmas. I am Jewish.” I still think Santa also felt a tad unfomfortable with us Jewish kids who were on his lap too. What is a mall Santa supposed to say to that??
I was leafing through some old photo albums a few years ago (remember those things?) when I stumbled on one of the many pictures of me and Santa and I couldn’t help but ask my parents how they could ever have allowed me, a Jewish kid with a tiny bit of a Jewish identity (I went to shul three times a year for goodness sake!!) to sit on the mall Santa’s lap?! The response I got was innocent in nature, but deeply significant. In truth, they really thought nothing of it for they knew that I knew that I was Jewish (whatever that meant) and that it was just a nice thing to do on a weekend during a really nice time of year. It was no big deal, totally innocuous and harmless. Besides, I was Jewish and we celebrate Chanukah- which is good too, right?
I tried to hate it, but I just couldn’t. The lights and the warmth of Christmas were really beautiful to me- there was something so awesome about it that Chanukah seemed to pale in comparison. When I got older, and more Jewishly connected, I grappled with how to make my children not fall into the same trap of ‘oh-how-I-wish-Chaunakah-was-as-awesome-a-holdiay-as-Christmas-is.’ I didn’t want them to feel that Chanukah was inferior to Christmas in any way whatsoever and so I tried a few different tactics when they were younger. One was barricading ourselves in our home for all of December- but that didn’t work. The second was trying to explain to my then really young children that Santa was just a creation from the Coca- Cola Company, but that wasn’t registering. I was about to give up when a friend of mine told me what she does. She would validate her children when they remarked on the beauty of the Christmas holiday (good idea I thought) and then she told me that instead of trying to de-emphasize Christmas, instead she would emphasize the inner meaning and beauty of Chanukah. Not the parties, the latkes and the jelly donuts per se, but the deeper meaning stuff that is the essence of Chanukah- and rather then just waiting for the Christmas season to pass so her children can stop feeling inferior she found that imbuing her children with a sense of Jewish pride was a much better antidote.
And I agree. Rather than being coy regarding our observance of Chanukah, as I was so many times while on Santa’s lap, it’s time to channel our inner Maccabees and show some Jewish pride at this time of year- and always- since there is a lot to be proud of! Learning about the courage of Yehudit who so bravely and so boldly started the revolt that ended up in the Maccabees waging a war against the Syrian Greeks is truly inspiring. Connecting to the self-sacrifice and bravery of the Maccabees who for 25 years fought against their far more prepared and battle tested rulers is also quite moving. And that is just the tip of the iceberg for we are related to a multitude of ordinary people who have done extraordinary things- things that have propelled the Jewish people to even further greatness that we can be so very proud of. When you connect to this pride and to your birthright, you change the game in your head and begin to reframe your inner conversations.
A Jew need not feel suffocated by the Christmas presence felt all around because it just doesn’t matter when you have an identity; one that is rich and strong and replete with greatness.
Connect. Be inspired. Inspire.