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Magic Oil and the Birth of Jesus

On Monday evening, I covered Maya with a fuzzy blue blanket, gave her a big hug and kiss and said goodnight. This is part one of a bedtime ritual that often includes being called back at least twice for extra hugs, a redo on the covers, a random thought, or sometimes "Mommy I had a bad dream." (My daughter does not seem to know the difference between an actual dream and a scary thought she has while lying awake in her bed. Or she just wants me to come back in...again.) I turned the water on for a hot bath, tidied up the couch cushions and was about to undress when I heard it.

"Yes Maya." I poked my head in through her doorway.
"What is Hanukkah?"
"Hanukkah is a holiday that Jewish people celebrate."
"But what do they celebrate?"

Oh boy.

I am not Jewish. (Although if you ask the Jews I most certainly am Jewish, since my mom was raised Jewish. Please don't get me started on this. ) But I think I get Hanukkah. I told Maya something about magic oil that burned for 8 nights. (Real Jews please forgive me.)
"Is it real, mommy?"
"Some people believe it is."
"But what do you believe?"

Really? Do we have to get into this now? At bedtime?
I just want to take a bath,

"We don't celebrate Hanukkah but other people do and that is fine. It is fine to believe different things."

How's that for avoiding the question?
But then...

"Then what's Christmas about?"
"Well we get a tree and presents and spend time with family. But other people think it is a religious holiday and they do other things too."
"What's religious mean?"
"Religious people believe in something called God and they go to places like churches to learn about God. And there are all different religions in the world like Jewish, Catholic, Muslim, Buddhist. And it is fine to be whatever religion you want. But daddy and I aren't any."
"Buddhist." Giggle giggle.
(Sorry Buddhists, she's five.)
"But what do religious people celebrate on Christmas?"
"Well they celebrate a man named Jesus Christ."
"Like daddy says in the car when he's mad."
"Yup, that's the one. He was a man who did a lot of good things. But some people believe he also did some special, magical things. And they say he was born on Christmas Day."
"I believe he did magical things too mommy."

Well ok then. Glad that's settled.

I then did what I probably should have done when she first asked about Hanukkah. I told her that religion was a very big grownup thing that was really hard for her to understand right now. I told her that when she was bigger she could read books about it and learn more about it and then she could decide what she wanted to believe. I told her that most kids her age just believe what their parents believe.

"So what do you believe, mommy?"

Hmm, asked for that one didn't I?

"Well daddy and I don't know if the stories are true are not. So we don't believe in any religion. We just believe in things we know are true, like one plus one is two. Stuff like that."

Then I said that we could talk more in the morning but that it was time to go to sleep. And then I ran the hell out of there. And drowned myself in the bathtub.

Religious people, you have it easy. You can just lay it all out on the table, clear as crystal. Yes there is a God. And Jesus Christ was born in a manger on Christmas Day. Oh and also, he died for our sins. So be good dammit!  And while you're at it, God is also how babies are made and he has a plan for your grandma in heaven, and also for Fido. In fact, whenever your child asks a difficult question you can always say "God did it."  Easy, peasy, lemon squeezy.

Except you shouldn't just say that. You should also point out that what you believe is not what everyone believes. And that it is ok to disagree, so long as you treat everyone with love and respect. And when your daughter asks the inevitable question: "But which is true?" you should be honest and say
"I don't know."
Because none of us do. We just think we do.  We believe we do. We have faith that we do. And faith is a wonderful, beautiful thing, so long as you don't confuse it with certainty. And so long as you don't, under any circumstances, combine it with hate.

I want my daughter to know what her mommy and daddy believe, or rather, what we don't believe. But I am fine with her also knowing what others believe. And, when she is old enough, to decide for herself what she wants to celebrate. I really am. I am not one of those militant, angry atheists who thinks that everyone who believes in God is an idiot. I genuinely respect our difference of opinion, and so long as you do the same for me, you can worship whomever you choose. And I want Maya to have the same respect. To know that everyone is different and that it is ok to be different. To somehow understand that while her mommy does not believe in God, other people's mommies do and that is ok too. It is a very difficult thing to teach and almost impossible to explain to a five year old.

"Which is true?" is the wrong question. The question needs to be, "which is true for us?"

My family celebrates Christmas in that we get a tree, give presents and try to spread a little joy among those whom we love. We also try really hard to not get caught up in the commercialism of the season. Our holiday time has little mention of magic oil, candles, Jesus or even Santa really. It is all very simple, and very real life. That is what works for us.

It does not need to work for you and your family. I accept you anyway. My daughter will accept you. Please teach your kids to do the same for us.

Spread love. In the end, it is the only truth that matters.


  1. I'm so proud of you and how you reacted to all of Maya's comments. Also this post was hilarious!


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