Christmas Specials: A Jewish Parent's Guide

What to eat, drink, buy, and think during that special time of year
Dec. 6 2013 6:30 AM

Oy, Hark!

A Jewish parent's guide to Christmas specials.

It’s that time again. Repeated Showings of Frosty the Snowman (Friday, 8 p.m. CBS, for starters), A Christmas Story, and  How the Grinch Stole Christmas are inescapable during peak holiday season.  And the onslaught of Santa-heavy TV programming can be pretty confusing for Jewish kids. That’s why, in 2008,  Dahlia Lithwick compiled this handy guide to help Jewish parents navigate Christmas hysteria. The article is reprinted below.

If you are a little Jewish kid, Santa Claus does not enter your home via the chimney on Christmas Eve. Instead, he arrives in late fall, usually by way of the Target catalog and the television set. And if you are a little Jewish kid confronting old St. Nick for the first time via Frosty, Rudolph, Charlie Brown, or the 1966 animated version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, you may find yourself with a lot of questions. "Mamma, who is Center and where are my presents?" asked my 3-year-old, rather randomly, in October. "Mommy, is Santa real?" my 5-year-old asks pretty much daily. In the way of 5-year-old boys everywhere, he follows that one up with "Mom, if Santa and Judah the Maccabee got in a fight, who would win?"

Dahlia Lithwick Dahlia Lithwick

Dahlia Lithwick writes about the courts and the law for Slate. Follow her on Twitter.

Advertisement

One needn't be virulently anti-Christmas to experience the seasonal anxiety felt by parents who want their children to enjoy the winter holidays while avoiding religious indoctrination. That's what makes parenting Jewish kids at Christmastime such a fraught proposition. Jewish women who as children were whisked away to Jewish vacation resorts in Florida marry Jewish men who hung Hanukkah stockings next to a Hanukkah bush, alongside the plate of gefilte fish they'd left out for Santa. It's hard enough reconciling two deeply held versions of the Jewish holidays. Just try blending two deeply held traditions regarding the noncelebration of Christmas.

I, for instance, grew up in a household that viewed only How the Grinch Stole Christmas and A Charlie Brown Christmas as acceptable Jewish holiday fare. My husband, on the other hand, tells me he grew up with unfettered access to the whole panoply of animated Christmas specials. When we discussed this for the first time last weekend, I gasped: "They let you watch Rudolph?" I confess that I spoke the words as though his family had permitted him to spend his Decembers camped out in a crèche.

1_123125_2135002_2180608_2206104_081217_fam_christmasmoviestn

Illustration by Mark Alan Stamaty

Whether you are Christian or Jewish, come Easter and Passover, The Ten Commandments represents one-stop entertainment shopping. But there are few winter holiday movies that speak to all religions. So last week I sent out an e-mail and posted on Facebook asking Jewish friends how they decided on the permissibility of the Christmas television specials. The responses were amazing. And also bonkers.

Overwhelmingly, the consensus was this: Jewish kids of my generation were permitted to watch one or all of: How the Grinch Stole Christmas, A Charlie Brown Christmas, and The Year Without a Santa Claus. Therefore, their children are also allowed to watch them. But ask them why these movies pass muster and prepare for whomping exhibitions of illogic as only the People of the Book can practice it.

I learned this week that there exists an unspoken "no Jesus" rule, a "no Santa" rule (thus no Rudolph), a "no saints" rule (thus no Night Before Christmas),a "no resurrections" rule (even if it's resurrection by proxy; thus no Frosty), and also a "no bad music" rule (thus no Pee-Wee's Playhouse Christmas Special). Perhaps my favorite e-mail laying out a Unified Theory of Jewish Christmas Viewing drew the line thus: "claymation and puppets, esp. from Europe = yes; cheap animation and pop music, esp. from US = no."

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

The Irritating Confidante

John Dickerson on Ben Bradlee’s fascinating relationship with John F. Kennedy.

My Father Invented Social Networking at a Girls’ Reform School in the 1930s

Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

The All The President’s Men Scene That Captured Ben Bradlee

Medical Examiner

Is It Better to Be a Hero Like Batman?

Or an altruist like Bruce Wayne?

Technology

Driving in Circles

The autonomous Google car may never actually happen.

The World’s Human Rights Violators Are Signatories on the World’s Human Rights Treaties

How Punctual Are Germans?

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 22 2014 12:44 AM We Need More Ben Bradlees His relationship with John F. Kennedy shows what’s missing from today’s Washington journalism.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 21 2014 5:57 PM Soda and Fries Have Lost Their Charm for Both Consumers and Investors
  Life
The Vault
Oct. 21 2014 2:23 PM A Data-Packed Map of American Immigration in 1903
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 21 2014 3:03 PM Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 21 2014 1:02 PM Where Are Slate Plus Members From? This Weird Cartogram Explains. A weird-looking cartogram of Slate Plus memberships by state.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 21 2014 9:42 PM The All The President’s Men Scene That Perfectly Captured Ben Bradlee’s Genius
  Technology
Technology
Oct. 21 2014 11:44 PM Driving in Circles The autonomous Google car may never actually happen.
  Health & Science
Climate Desk
Oct. 21 2014 11:53 AM Taking Research for Granted Texas Republican Lamar Smith continues his crusade against independence in science.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.