It was a regular day at the local shopping centre. Being December, the centre was decorated with tinsel and holly and all things Christmas. Carols were creating jolly white noise and the atmosphere was festive as we went about our business.
My kids know about Christmas and we give presents to our Christian friends (we’ve also been known to sneak next door to help decorate our neighbours’ tree) but, as practicing Jews, we don’t celebrate Christmas. We don’t have a tree. We don’t receive presents. We don’t do Santa. (I do sing Christmas carols, though, can’t help myself. Really, who doesn’t love a red-nosed reindeer?) Chanukah happens to coincide with Christmas, as calendars go, but there’s really no competition – lighting a candle and spinning a dreidel don’t have a hope of matching up to the excitement that Christmas brings.
We were talking about Christmas and what it means to our friends when we walked past Santa Claus. This red-tracksuited, red-faced (no doubt, from boiling in that red tracksuit in an Australian heatwave) man grinned at my kids and cheerily declared, “Ho ho ho! Merry Christmas!” They shyly smiled back and we carried on, leaving Santa scratching his head and wondering about these weird kids, not enthralled by him.
We needed to go to the supermarket to pick up a few odds and ends and while we were in there, the kids huddled together and had a “private chat”. I was not allowed to listen but I could see, from their expressions, that whatever it was they were discussing was S E R I O U S.
Chat over, they came to me, a little gang of three, and asked, “Mum, can we each buy something for $2?” They looked so serious and I was hot and tired. So I agreed.
Armed with $2 each, they spent the next ten minutes painstakingly choosing ‘special treasures.’
We paid and, with huge grins, walked out of the shop. Again, we walked past Santa Claus. This time, in a rare pocket of sibling solidarity, they held hands and approached him.
“Ho ho ho! Merrrrry Christmas!”
Miss M and Little Man stepped forward, with Baby G peeping out from behind them. Miss M quietly and sweetly spoke, “Hi, Santa. We have some presents for you.” With such tenderness, my three children held out their hands and proffered their carefully selected $2 gifts to Santa: a bag of lollies, a Ben 10 watch and a bag of chocolate coins.
Santa looked up at me, startled, then knelt down on the ground and looked into my children’s faces, studying them. “Why did you bring me gifts? You’ve got it all upside down!”
Miss M explained, “We are Jewish, so we don’t have Christmas. But we know all about Christmas and we know that all the kids in the world who celebrate Christmas get presents from you. But nobody gives you anything, so we wanted to give you a present so you could have a happy Christmas too.”
Santa shook his head and looked at me again as I snapped mental pictures of my own three miracle gifts who so open-heartedly decided to reward someone else for his generosity – despite the fact that they had never been on the receiving end.
Santa Clause’s eyes crinkled at the corners and he asked me, “May I give your kids a gift from my toybox?” I smiled and nodded.
And that’s how my three Jewish kids found themselves in front of Santa and his toy box.
They were each given a little pot, a shovel, a water squirter and some seeds. Santa smiled at me, high-fived my kids and off we went.
I looked at their gifts and smiled at how the world works.