When Jewish Kids Spill the Beans About Santa Claus

Telling Truth About the Man in Red Suit Can Cause Trouble

library bot/wikimedia commons

By Lenore Skenazy

Published December 19, 2013, issue of December 20, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Multi Page

Santa! Santa! The name is joy itself to children all over America….

Except if they happen to be Jewish. Then, it’s a bit more problematic.

“I’m Jewish, but went to a church-run nursery school,” said Michelle Suconick, a 20-something publicist living in Brooklyn. “Our teacher would tell us stories about how Santa goes all over the world, delivering presents to kids everywhere, but I distinctly remember being distraught that he skipped my house.”

Puzzling over why that would be, the preschooler came up with the only obvious explanation: “Santa hates Jews.”

Yes, she pictured Santa right up there with Goebbels. So one wintry day, when her teacher announced that the jolly ol’ National Socialist would be visiting their class, Michelle went into pre-K panic. “He’s going to smell me and figure out I’m a Jew!” she remembered worrying. “He’s going to be so mad at me!”

“I can’t go to school today,” she told her mom. “Santa’s going to be there.’”

Mom replied: “He’s nice! He gives kids presents.”

“Not to us,” Michelle said, quivering.

Whereupon Mom had to tell her The Truth.

The Truth is not a minor thing for a child to learn; it’s a little like being entrusted with the biggest possible secret that you cannot possibly share: the location of a nuclear bomb, for instance, or Dad’s name before he entered the witness protection program. The Truth bestows upon children a sense of shame and superiority all wrapped up in — well, let’s not say a big red bow. Let’s say blue-and-white wrapping paper.

Video: Nate Lavey

“I grew up in a school where I was one of maybe two or three Jewish kids my age, so it was really confusing to me that all my friends got to do something I didn’t get to do,” Chicagoan Carly Scaduto (née Kaufman) recalled. “So my parents took the ‘you’re-going-to-know-something-all-your-friends-don’t-know’ approach, and it kind of backfired.”

Kind of? “I remember I was hanging up my coat at school, and next to me was this boy Tom — not Jewish — and I was just like bursting with, ‘I know something you don’t know!’ And I told him point blank. No conversation. And of course — he cries.”

By the time Carly arrived home, her mom had already gotten a call from Tom’s mom — whom Carly had to apologize to directly. An adult! “That was tough,” she said. Then again, she understood. After all, Tom was the eldest child in the family, and she just might have ruined the holiday for every sibling after him, and also for the parents… and grandparents… and cousins….

Her family started looking at houses in a more Jewish neighborhood.

They moved.

A similar event with a very different ending happened in another kindergarten class. “My daughter and her partner in crime — a little Jewish boy she had a crush on at the time — told all the other kids in their class that their mommies and daddies were really Santa,” Manhattan lawyer Lisa Weiss recalled. “This caused a huge amount of consternation, but their kindergarten teacher came up with a really clever way to save the magic.”

The brilliant lady brought a gingerbread man into the classroom and later told the kids he’d run away.

Of course, she’d simply moved him to another room while the kids were at recess. But she had her students go hunt for him, and when they found him in another classroom, that’s all it took. Clearly, magic was real, so Santa was, too. The Christian kids were happy, and the Jewish kids were absolved of the kind of guilt that has been haunting the lives of some of their co-religionists for decades.

My editor, Naomi Zeveloff, still winces to recall her preschool “truth rampage.” In damage control, the teacher had to tell her to shut up about Santa’s non-existence.

“I was only 5 years old,” Zeveloff said, “but I felt like the only sane person in the room.”

That’s got to leave some scars. But there’s the other kind of pain, too — the pain of wanting to believe.

“I always loved Santa, but felt guilty for obvious reasons,” said a banker who wishes to be identified by only his first name, Adam. “When I was young, my mom took me to Alexander’s on Fordham Road in the Bronx.

When it came time to sit on Santa’s lap, I told him I didn’t know if I could get a gift. He asked: ‘Why? Were you naughty?’ I said, ‘No, I’m Jewish.’ Santa said, ‘That’s okay,’ and proceeded to give me a gift-wrapped jigsaw puzzle.”

This only made Adam love Santa (and hate himself) all the more.

It actually sounds like a lot of Jewish kids have confessed their religion to Santa only to find a very understanding guy.

“I’m Jewish, too,” one Santa whispered to a friend’s younger sister. Another little girl — the niece of public relations consultantTracy Bagatelle-Black — visited Santa at the mall and told him that the Hanukkah Fairy was coming. Santa said he knew her well and that they had dinner all the time. When the little girl asked where the Hanukkah Fairy lived, Santa didn’t miss a beat: “Miami.”

He sounds like he might be one of ours, too.

Lenore Skenazy is the founder of the book “Free-Range Kids” and the blog of the same name. Her show, “World’s Worst Mom,” airs on Discovery/TLC International.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "I’ve never bought illegal drugs, but I imagine a small-time drug deal to feel a bit like buying hummus underground in Brooklyn."
  • We try to show things that get less exposed to the public here. We don’t look to document things that are nice or that people would like. We don’t try to show this place as a beautiful place.”
  • A new Gallup poll shows that only 25% of Americans under 35 support the war in #Gaza. Does this statistic worry you?
  • “You will stomp us into the dirt,” is how her mother responded to Anya Ulinich’s new tragicomic graphic novel. Paul Berger has a more open view of ‘Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: Hundreds of protesters marched through lower Manhattan yesterday demanding an end to American support for Israel’s operation in #Gaza.
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.