Making an Advent Calendar consisting of a construction paper Santa head with a paper chain dangling from the beard - one link for each day till Christmas.
I still remember the project, and the sad, sinking feeling that went along with it. There were many such art project throughout my grade school career, along with often religious Christmas Carols, Christmas-themed stories and the like.
Now, don't get me wrong. I am not for taking Christmas celebrations out of the schools. I realize that people who do not celebrate Christmas in one form or another are in the minority and that Christmas is fun and can be a jump off point for some great lessons. Never would I want to deny a class of third graders the delight that can only be found in The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. Case in point, nice Jewish girl that I am, I have still written posts and brain teasers that are Christmas themed. I also realize that unlike the 1970s, today's public school observances are of the secular variety and that we try to give time to Hanukkah (Oh dreidel, dreidel, dreidel...), and other observances as well. Just the same, please keep in mind:
- Unlike Christmas, Hanukkah is based on a Lunar calendar, so it is at a different time each year. It is early this year - starting on December 8th and ending eight days later. It can be hard for kids to see everyone else celebrating when their holiday is...well, over.
- Originally, Hanukkah was not that big a deal in the Jewish faith. It is a minor holiday. It has been made into a big one in an attempt to rival Christmas. But the truth is, there is no way on earth that Hanukkah can come close. We light candles. We eat potato pancakes, we play a game with a four-sided top. Yes, most Jewish kids get a present every day, but often many of those are small things. It doesn't compare with a mountain of gifts magically appearing under a decorated tree. We have no mythical fat guy traveling the world in a flying sled. We don't bring dead conifers into our homes and decorate them (try reading Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Fir Tree before you get your tree this year). We don't set up giant, lighted, plastic menorahs and Stars of David in our yards. So, please remember that the lone Jewish kid in your class might be feeling just a wee bit left out, and though he might never admit it, possibly wishing that he could have Christmas too. Or she might just be angry at having to do all this stupid Christmas stuff that has nothing to do with her real life.
- Not every Jewish kid wants to share Hanukkah with the class. Some do, and that is great. If you have a kid that wants to bring in the menorah, tell the story of the Maccabbees, and teach everyone how to play dreidle, go for it! But some kids don't want to be pointed out as different. Make sure you know which one is in your class.