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Joshua Ostroff


Should My Child Believe in Christmas If I Don't?

Posted: 12/24/2012 1:50 pm

My three-year-old son Emile came home from daycare a few weeks ago singing, "Dreidel, dreidel, dreidel / I made it out of clay." My first reaction was, "Oh great, Chanukah is early this year!" (What? The date changes, like, every time.) My second was, "Oh God -- when's he gonna start asking about God?"

Earlier, he'd come home saying "hallelujah," a simple word he picked up from another pre-schooler, but one requiring a rather complex explanation -- and that's but the tip of the religious iceberg, especially this time of year.

We're a proud Chrismukkah family, but neither myself nor my lapsed-Catholic wife are religious. We love the culture and traditions that our families bestowed upon us, many of which are, yes, tied to religion. But unlike our toddler, we're both rationalists who believe in science, not magic or miracles.

Since Halloween passed, Emile has been fixated on the upcoming Judeo-Christian celebrations. I've kept our holiday-book reading relatively secular thanks to the Grinch, 12 Days of Christmas, and Let's Nosh. But we've been also playing a lot of carols, which invariably include references to God, Jesus, and angels we have heard on high. He hasn't asked about those guys yet, remaining quite firmly focused on Santa, but at some point he will. (I'm actually surprised he hasn't inquired about our Portuguese neighbour's lit-up Virgin Mary, Baby Jesus, and anachronistically adult Jesus.)

It's a particularly contemporary parenting issue. Back in the day, you were raised by whatever religion your parents were. My folks were hippies, but they were Jewish hippies -- so, even though we didn't go to temple often, we had Sabbath dinners on Fridays, I had a bar mitzvah (my sister opted out of her bat), and we celebrated most of the holidays. But we did Christmas, too, because we were basically the only Jews in our B.C. town and it would've been unfair to not have a tree and stockings and chimney visit from the fat man.

My wife actually attended Catholic school, and did all the holidays, of course, but neither of our upbringings provided us with faith in an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-good deity.

And, as I get older, the whole concept of belief in any god, much less one true God, seems ever more peculiar to me. Before you dismiss me as a heartless heretic, please know I've done the legwork on this subject. I've taken religious-studies courses in university, spent Easter in Vatican City, saw the Dalai Lama in Dharamshala, bathed in the Ganges with tens of millions during the Maha Kumbh Mela, visited Tunisia during Ramadan, travelled to ancient and modern holy sites in Egypt, and met Buddhist monks in Laos and Tibet.

I once spent a month criss-crossing Israel, staying in a nunnery in Galilee, picnicking at Armageddon (known locally as Tel Megiddo), and sleeping on a rooftop in Jerusalem's Arab Quarter right on the Via Dolorosa, minutes from the Western Wall, Al-Aqsa Mosque, and Church of the Holy Sepulcher. I even visited the Tomb of Saint Nicholas (yes, that St. Nick) in Bari, Italy.

I also recently had the good fortune to discuss religious fundamentalism with with Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who assured me "it is not the faith that is the problem, it is the faithful." An interesting argument, but not one that gets me past the literalism that drives both, a literalism predicated on the existence of a supernatural being.

Two-thirds of Canadians profess a belief in God, albeit that number dwindles the younger the respondent. It's hard to know how many take The Word at its word but, as a National Post writer argued, in response to a Globe column questioning the influence of Stephen Harper's evangelical beliefs on his anti-science public policy, religion demands that you do.

"The belief in the real presence of Christ in the communion wafer is the absolute height of Catholic worship," Charles Lewis wrote. "It is not an option, nor is it an option to believe in the resurrection, the ascension into Heaven and the final judgment."

That's what makes me wary of how to address the subject of religion with my extremely literal toddler. (Emile loves dinosaurs, so you'd think at least Creationism would be off the table, but a 2007 poll found 42 per cent of Canadians believe dinosaurs and humans co-existed.) And I do intend to introduce Emile to the bible -- I actually still have my Children's Old Testament from when I was a kid -- as it is a great and influential book with historical and cultural import. But I would never teach it as anything but Aesop-like allegory.

Perhaps the blurred line between religious, cultural, and ethnic Judaism allows me to thread this needle easier than some. We'll be lighting the menorah candles and decorating our Christmas tree this weekend because we deeply enjoy the cultural continuum of religion-based holidays, regardless of my personal belief that Jehovah is no more or less real than Zeus and the stories of his prophets/offspring are not much more or less non-fictional than, say, Robin Hood, no matter how righteous their teachings.

I could just pretend. After all, I'm already pretending that Santa Claus is real. Like Jesus and Moses, Santa is based on an actual historical figure and, personally, I find rising from the dead or parting the Red Sea about as believable as delivering millions of presents down millions of chimneys in a single night. (Though I do believe St. Nick was nice to kids, Jesus was a revolutionary, and Moses likely led Hebrew slaves out of Egypt, if in less epic fashion.)

Last December, I published an interview with Justin Bieber that went viral because he admitted, "My mom always told me there wasn't a Santa. This was her logic: She thought if I grew up knowing about Santa then finding out he wasn't real, that it would be like she was lying to me. And then when she told me about God, I maybe wouldn't believe her."

I'm of the opposite position, but Biebs makes me realize how similar Santa and God are -- if you believe in them, then they encourage you to be a good person. But childhood belief requires parental participation. I'm fine with the great Santa deception because it's temporary and is about delight without the threat of damnation -- a lump of coal hardly compares to hellfire. But it's my job as a parent to teach Emile morality, regardless of supernatural opinions on the matter.

Oh, and if he does becomes interested God on his own, we're certainly not going to discourage him (same goes for hockey) because something we do believe in is free will.

WARNING: Your ears may hate you, but these are 10 of the most annoying holiday tunes out there:

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  • You'll Never Be Alone On Christmas

    <strong>WHAT IS IT:</strong> This is awful, but they get an "A" for effort. The good news is, this video was made simply in the name of comedy. Goldie Lookin Chain is a comedic rap music group based in Newport, South Wales. <strong>LYRICS:</strong> You don't have to worry It's Christmas time, everything will work out fine It's Christmas, it's Christmas Christmas time It's always Christmas on my mind

  • Drummer Boy Remix

    <strong>WHAT IS IT:</strong> So last season, Justin Bieber and rapper Busta Rhymes got together and wrote a remixed version of 'Drummer Boy." This is what we were left with, awful rap verses by both dudes. <strong>LYRICS:</strong> Rum pa pa pum, rum pa pum pum pum pum. Yeah I'm on the drum, yeah I'm on the snare drum. Yeah I'm on the beat cause the beat goes dumb. And I only spit heat cause I'm playin' for the Son. Playin' for the King, playin for the Title, I'm surprised you didn't hear this in the Bible.

  • Wonderful Christmas Time

    <strong>WHAT IS IT:</strong> Okay, we know it's Paul McCartney, but that's still no excuse. This song always seems to be stuck in people's heads during the holiday season — and that constant "ding dong ding dong" is just the worst. <strong>LYRICS:</strong> The word is out About the town To lift a glass Ah, don't look down Simply having a wonderful Christmas time Simply having a wonderful Christmas time

  • Christmas Shoes

    <strong>WHAT:</strong> This song seems beautiful, about a young man wanting to buy shoes for his mother. Sweet, we know. But singing about your journey to buy a pair of shoes for five minutes is pretty annoying. <strong>LYRICS: </strong> Sir I wanna buy these shoes for my Momma please It's Christmas Eve and these shoes are just her size Could you hurry Sir? Daddy says there's not much time You see, she's been sick for quite a while And I know these shoes will make her smile And I want her to look beautiful If Momma meets Jesus, tonight.

  • O Holy Night

    <strong>WHAT IS IT:</strong> You know the classic, but not like this. According to the video, this song was shared online for years, but turns out, singer <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LiAuyM3gB5U">Steve Mauldin is the rightful owner.</a> <strong>LYRICS:</strong>O! Holy night! The stars, their gleams prolonging, Watch o'er the eve of our dear Saviour's birth. Long lay the world in sin and error, longing For His appearance, then the Spirit felt its worth. A thrill of hope; the weary world rejoices, For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

  • Have A Cheeky Christmas

    <strong>WHAT IS IT:</strong> Clearly this one has to be a joke — nobody wears shorts in a snowstorm. This number is performed by Romanian twins Gabriela and Monica Irimia, or The Cheeky Girls. <strong>LYRICS:</strong> Lots of wine and the boys get cheeky Oh baby baby Underneath the mistletoe Oops baby baby Getting sexy in the snow Yeah baby baby

  • I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas

    <strong>WHAT IS IT:</strong> Realistically, this would never work. Who will take care of your hippo during the day? What will it eat? The singer's voice also makes us stop this track before even reaching the 10-second mark. <strong>LYRICS:</strong> I want a hippopotamus for Christmas Only a hippopotamus will do No crocodiles or rhinoceroseses I only like hippopotamuseses And hippopotamuses like me too!

  • All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth

    <strong>WHAT IS IT:</strong> There's a fine line between cute and annoying — and this is pretty annoying. And look, you can still wish someone "Merry Christmas" without your two front teeth. <strong>LYRICS:</strong> Gee, if I could only have my two front teeth, then I could wish you "Merry Christmas." It seems so long since I could say, "Sister Susie sitting on a thistle!" Gosh oh gee, how happy I'd be, if I could only whistle (thhhh, thhhh)

  • Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer

    <strong>WHAT IS IT:</strong> Christmas is supposed to be about quality family time, not one of your oldest family members being trampled by a reindeer. <strong>LYRICS:</strong> Grandma got run over by a reindeer, Walking home from our house Christmas Eve. You can say there's no such thing as Santa, But as for me and Grandpa, we believe.

  • Marshmallow's Christmas Sock

    <strong>WHAT IS IT:</strong> YouTube comedic web series <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jQnqyMOQmlA">The Annoying Orange</a> (the name says it all) put together a holiday song last year describing all things rainbow and puppies. Hey, we like the list, just not the voice. <strong>LYRICS:</strong> On the best day of Christmas My true love gave to me....... 12 rainbows raining, 11 pandas panting, 10 lambs-a-leaping, 9 kittens cuddling, 8 bunnies bounding, 7 puppies pawing, 6 penguins playing, 5 jack-a-lopes..... 4 chocolate Santas, 3 Pokemon, 2 Midget Apples, Midget Apple: Uuuuuuh....not again! And a unicorn that really loves meeeee!

A version of this blog was originally published by The Grid.


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