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Stephanie Silberstein

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Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Santa, and... anti-Semitism?
by Stephanie Silberstein   
Rated "PG" by the Author.
Last edited: Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Posted: Wednesday, December 10, 2008

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A follow-up article on the subject of Jewish children and holiday concerts, based on a recent news event.

I saw on the news this afternoon that a Jewish woman in Wilmington objected to her child being made to sing Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. The song makes references to Santa and Christmas, and the woman did not want her child to sing the song. Apparently the school initially took the song off the holiday concert list, but a superintendent reversed that decision because the other children's parents complained that their children "love" the song and that Santa is a "secular" figure. Besides, the superintendent argued, the non-believing child could always not participate in the concert.

Surely there are more important battles to be fought than this one. In Winter's Silence, Emily becomes embroiled in a perpetual battle not to sing songs glorifying Jesus when her family doesn't believe in him.

But while the mother's concern may not have been, in the scheme of things, particularly important, the school district's response to it is disturbing.

First of all, let's look at the claim that Santa is a secular figure. This concerns me because Santa is a figure associated primarily with Christmas. As a Jewish child, I was never told that "Santa" brought ME presents; that was something my non-Jewish friends believed in. Other Jews I know felt excluded because Santa visited their friends' houses but never theirs.

The Santa legend does not really have to do with Christmas either*, but it has become ASSOCIATED with Christmas--NOT winter holidays in general, NOT Kwanzaa, NOT Chanukah. Christmas.

The message behind Santa being a "secular" figure is that Christmas is a "secular" holiday--i.e. one that everyone celebrates regardless of religion. This leads directly to the covert, and mainly accidental, anti-Semitism exhibited during Christmas time. It is assumed that everyone celebrates Christmas... therefore there is no need to devote equal time to non-Christian hoildays in the public schools,  no need to have Chanukah decorations or items in holiday displays at stores, no need to grant consideration to anyone who doesn't celebrate.

This is why I take issue with the superintendent's second point, which is that the individual parent can choose to remove hir child from the concert. On paper, this seems like a fair solution. The parent's concerns are addressed, the child is not forced to sing songs that go against hir family's beliefs, and the other children's parents are appeased. However, in reality, the Jewish (or other non-celebrating) child's needs are not fully addressed.

During the holiday season, Jewish children are bound to feel excluded, especially if they live in mainly non-Jewish neighborhoods. Their friends are putting up Christmas trees and getting ready for visits from Santa, who never visits the Jewish child's home. Even if the family is making preparations for Chanukah, it isn't the same as what everyone else is doing, so the child may still feel left out.
To be the only child not singing in the holiday concert will deepen the feeling of isolation. The child may resent the parent for pulling hir out of the concert or wish s/he was not Jewish.

It is for this reason that the father in Winter's Silence tries his best to avoid Emily being removed from the concert. "You know," he says to the school principal, "my kid is the only one who doesn't celebrate Christmas. It would be nice if she could at least participate in the concert like everyone else."

If the solution isn't to remove individual children from holiday concerts at their parents' discretion, then what is it? I think that a true solution goes deeper than deciding whether to sing Christmas songs or not.  School administrators--and everyone else--would have to realize that Christmas is not a "secular" nor an "American" holiday**. It is a religious holiday, even if many families celebrate it in a purely secular way.

Armed with this knowledge, school administrators could feel secure in allowing teachers to teach an inclusive curriculum during the Christmas season, one in which children study MANY religions' winter celebrations. They also could feel secure in requiring that holiday concerts cover many winter celebrations if they are held at all.

Public schools are supposed to be places where children of ALL backgrounds can learn. Children should not be made to feel uncomfortable or isolated because they do not celebrate a particular religion's holiday.

The only way to do this is for Christmas to become part of a multicultural study and celebration rather than the main holiday celebrated in public schools during the holiday season.

* For a brief, but excellent, discussion of the evolution of the Santa character, see

** Even the celebration of American holidays can be problematic due to the influx of immigrants to America, but that's a separate issue.



Web Site: Narrow Path Publishing - Winter's Silence

Reader Reviews for "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Santa, and... anti-Semitism?"

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Reviewed by Robert Magnuson (Reader) 12/15/2010
As I understand it, Jews have a phrase for "repairing the world", tikkun olam. Did those of Ms. Silberstein's tribe ask non-Jews if we felt the world needed repair? I don't recall any such question. Christmas and Santa Claus - joined inextricably - need not be changed in any manner. Oh, is the true contention here that in the present day some people are offended or have their feelings "hurt"? Rather than repair the world for offended people, the time is long past where those who perceive some offense or "hurt" seriously need to rediscover having a thick skin. The idea that (for one group), through changing society, all people will be guaranteed not to be offended is utterly absurd.

To wit; I am offended that there is any inclusion of manufactured or bona fide non-Christian Christmas-time celebrations in Public School. But, of course, Public Schools are no longer giving attention to academic mastery, and instead are indoctrination centers.
If something offends me, rather than recreate society, I express my dissatisfaction and move on. Of course, if something offends enough people collectively, then society will change naturally. I close by noticing that Jews - historically and persistently - convert being offended or hurt into a survival technique, also known as use of the power phrase "anti-Semitism". This is not abusive or hateful on my part, it is plain observation of behavior. No other racial or socio-political group has established for its own tribal interest their own counterattack strategy.
Reviewed by D. Kenneth Ross 6/21/2010
I weaved through this article looking for the deep pain which I assumed should accompany someone who has been harmed because they were deprived of the right to do or not do, something. Didn't find that, but found a suggestion to make Santa a multicultural study. For who? MOST EVERYONE IN SCHOOL KNOWS WHO sANTA IS. So who's interest is representesd in such a course? I guess us mean spirited folks who enjoy Santa and gift giving should give all that up for those immigrants from other countries who are sure they will be offended. Having gone to schools in other countries I can't ever remember asking someone to give up their traditions for me. But I sure as heck enjoyed many different things like Cinco De Mayo, crushing wine grapes in Italy, Reggae dancing and singing in Jamaica, and a host of other things theat became part of me when I allowed myself not to be so selfish as to insist I was more important than the majority of my classmates. But then again, most Liberal views would naturally see the need to read into Rudolph the Red Nosed reindeer some anti-semetic meaning in the rest of us having the effrontery to think someone might want to learn something about the culture they are opting into. D. Kenneth Ross - 'Dave'
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