Ah, the holiday season. As our oldest child gets older, it gets a wee bit more complicated every year! Lately we've been having frequent discussions about religion and religious traditions--ours and others'. I was asked to come speak to her preschool class about Hanukkah and my daughter herself was requested to come speak to a class of the younger kids about Hanukkah and our family traditions. These days, our talk in the car and as we go about our day is all about Hanukkah and Christmas, and what it means to be Jewish or Hindu or Christian or something else.
One problem we have in helping her understand her own and our family's identity is that, frankly, it's complicated! There are a number of intersecting concepts here--religion, national origin, ethnicity, language, culture, beliefs, customs and practices. Some of these are confusing even for adults. So it's very hard for a five year old to understand that a person can be Indian but also be Christian instead of Hindu, or speak Spanish but not BE Spanish or Latin, or be ethnically Indian but a born or naturalized U.S. citizen and thus be Indian and also American. Daddy is from India and therefore speaks Hindi--therefore, the fact that Mommy can speak Spanish should mean that she IS Spanish! My daughter has a hard time sometimes understanding that I am not in fact Spanish or Mexican and thus neither is she. :-)
Sometimes she is very excited about celebrating Jewish and Hindu holidays. Sometimes she just wants a Christmas tree and presents from Santa like all the other kids. A drawback of being a multicultural, Hindu-Jewish family is that we don't have as much of an easy answer for her as an alternative to Christmas and the mainstream Christian culture. Now that we have growing children, we need to do more to find and cultivate relationships within the Jewish and Indian communities and also with other children and families whose identities are multifaceted. We had those relationships when we lived in Tucson, but haven't really found that here in Kentucky yet.
I think this is especially important here, because the predominant vibe is strongly Christian. In previous places I've lived, people generally seem to a bit more conscious that you can't assume that everybody you meet is Christian and folks tend to use more pluralistic greetings like "Happy Holidays" when talking to strangers. Woe betide the poor friendly stranger who strikes up a conversation about Christmas with my daughter, though--they usually get an earful that they didn't plan on!! A typical conversation in a store goes like this:
unfortunate stranger: Hi there, aren't you a cute little girl?! Are you excited for Christmas? Is Santa going to bring you some toys?
dear daughter: We don't celebrate Christmas. My mommy is Jewish and my dad is from India. So I'm part Indian, and part Jewish too and American, and kind of Spanish because my Mommy speaks Spanish and I know how to say things in Spanish and in Hindi too! So we celebrate Hanukkah, and Diwali. And Santa isn't really real, but I'm not supposed to tell the other kids in my class.
unfortunate stranger: Oh, well. Isn't that interesting! Well, uh, Happy Hanukkah then!
Sometimes it's fine . . . and sometimes, well--awkward!! :-)
I imagine that as time goes on we'll be having a lot more conversations amongst ourselves and with others about who we are, what our traditions are, where they came from, and what they mean for us. In the meantime, I hope everyone is enjoying the season no matter what they celebrate!