Should Jewish parents let their kids watch Christmas television specials? Maybe, writes Slate senior editor Dahlia Lithwick in a column yesterday. On the one hand, “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,” she contends. And characters like the Grinch are stand-ins for “grumpy old Jews,” Lithwick writes, akin to dragging kids “to see The Merchant of Venice.” On the other, Jewish parents find all kinds of rationalizations to allow their offspring to tune into “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” and “The Year Without a Santa Claus.”
“Ask them why these movies pass muster and prepare for whomping exhibitions of illogic as only the People of the Book can practice it,” Lithwick writes. After sending out e-mails to friends about their Yuletide viewing regulations, the columnist learns “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”].” Regardless, all Jewish children are apparently allowed to watch “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” Lithwick observes, rendering all of the viewing regulations irrelevant.
So what should Lithwick tell her own toddlers about “the sudden appearance of Santa in their lives?” The question remains unanswered. But as Lithwick learns after screening “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” maybe there aren’t such big differences between us and them anyway. As she puts it: “Rudolph’s immortal words to Hermey the Misfit Elf may be said to poignantly encapsulate 5,000 years of Jewish aspiration: ‘Goodbye, Hermey. Whatever a dentist is, I hope someday you will be the greatest!’”