The December Opportunity
I was recently on a trip to Washington, DC with a wonderful group of 10th graders. After seeing the Christmas tree in the hotel lobby, one of the students said that he always wanted a Chanukah bush. I told the student that you can respect and enjoy the beauty of other people’s traditions without having to make it your own. On the same day, my colleagues showed me an article about a product being marketed to Jewish families that is very similar to one sold for those that celebrate Christmas. Then, I walked into a store and saw blue and silver garland on the small shelf of Chanukah items. When I was standing there, a woman walked over and said, “Isn't it great that our kids aren't left out anymore?” No. They were never left out. It isn't their tradition. We have beautiful traditions of our own.
Why is there such a need to ensure that our children have everything that everyone else does? It is so powerful that we cannot even stick to our own religious traditions anymore. I am not Christian, and yet I object to the Americanization and commercialism of Christmas. Christmas is their religious holiday. The tree has religious significance as does the wreath. I respect what it stands for in their culture enough that I will not diminish it by teaching my children that anyone should have one. I expect the same respect of my beliefs. I am pleased that schools in my area close for Rosh Hashanah & Yom Kippur and that non-Jewish people don’t walk around wearing Tallit (our prayer shawl) just randomly as a fashion item that they do not understand.
Since the trip, I have thought a great deal about what seems to be an overwhelming need to ignore the importance of individuality and difference. The United States is a melting pot and we have all assimilated since the time of our immigrant ancestors, but when has it gone too far? When does it reach beyond religious melding and become fear of being different? It is a far bigger problem than one that is only noticeable in December.
Today, every child has to be a champion. The classes, lessons and sports begin in preschool. They dance and cheer and play every sport like everyone else. Parents worry if their child isn't ready to read as soon as the next child. Soon, the children will become product conscious and want the same toys, clothes and smartphones as everyone else. I have heard parents compare the number of advanced placement classes that their high school children attend as if one more advanced placement class makes you a winner in the game of life at the age of 17. I interact with anxious students who compare everything – classes, grades, number of extracurricular activities, possessions – to each other. Wanting to do well for your own satisfaction is one thing. Having to keep up to the point of anxiety disorders is another.
Perhaps the lesson that we are each of value as individuals should begin with respect for individual cultures. When children are young, use the December holidays to say, “Isn't what they do nice?” Teach your children from the time they are young that we should respect differences and not consistently seek ways to be a part of everything and everybody. That lesson can translate to every aspect of their lives. You are not the same as everyone else and that’s terrific. Other people have value and so do you – as individuals. December provides an opportunity to embrace our individuality. If you are raising children in an interfaith home, it is an opportunity to celebrate the individual traditions of each branch of your family.
The younger generation has a saying that I like – “Do you.” When I ponder a decision about buying something or going somewhere aloud, my 17 year old will say, “Do you.” He means that I should do what is right for me. Let’s teach our children to “do you” and not “do everyone else.”
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