EXPERT ADVICE:

Can the Easter Bunny Visit Jewish Kids?

How does a Jewish family family tackle the arrival of the Easter Bunny?

“Mommy, can we have a Seder?” my daughter asked after I picked her up from her friend Hannah’s house. As I wracked my Catholic-raised brain to come up with an answer, I listened to my daughter breathlessly tell me all about the Passover meal Hannah’s family had just celebrated.

I love it when she is enthusiastic about something new, but to actually hold a Seder of our own? That seemed like going a little too far. Or is it? What about Jewish kids who want nothing more than for the Easter Bunny to pay them a visit? Or a Hindu family who decks out the house at Christmas? Should we deny or encourage children to explore other customs and traditions?  If so, what are the limits?

To answer these questions, I spoke with family therapist Suzanne Cooper.

— Jacqueline, TMC Content Producer

Why do some children become so curious about holidays that are outside their own family’s faith background?

If you are doing your part in raising a child who is curious and inquisitive about the world around him, it’s natural that sooner or later, depending on your family’s faith, he will start asking questions.  “Why do some families put up a Christmas tree in December and we don’t?” “Why do some kids receive baskets full of candy on Easter and we don’t?” These types of questions are completely normal.  In most cases, offer a simple explanation. “Because Billy’s family is Christian and this is a part of how some Christian families celebrate Easter.”  Something short along those lines is usually enough to satisfy a child’s curiosity.

However, when a child becomes VERY curious, or even obsessed, about a particular holiday, there is usually a deeper issue in play. If your child is passionate about having a Passover Seder after attending one at her friend’s house, try to get at what your child saw and felt that she so clearly wants to duplicate. Was it a large family gathering with lots of aunts and uncles and cousins? A small, intimate gathering with just the immediate family and your daughter as a special guest? Unusual for your child to see an entire family sit down for a meal together without any of the usual distractions?

This may require some gentle questions on your part to coax this out.  You will likely find that the real celebration your daughter wants to partake in here is a celebration of family.

Let’s say a Jewish girl is talking non-stop about the Easter Bunny. Should her parents respond to this or try to discourage her interest?

If it puts your mind at ease, a child who wants a visit from the likes of the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus is probably not experiencing a crisis of faith. In today’s environment, it is nearly impossible for kids from minority faith groups to walk into a store and NOT be confronted with holiday customs that are completely outside their own traditions. Seeing a wall-to-wall display of brightly colored Easter eggs is incredibly stimulating for children — and what kid wouldn’t want to celebrate a holiday that, on the surface, seems to be all about chocolate and jelly beans?

Figures like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny are attached to Christian holidays, but carry no religious value on their own (in fact, some Christians object to including the Easter Bunny and Mr. Claus in their celebrations). If you feel comfortable approaching the Easter Bunny with the same secular light-heartedness that you do with the Tooth Fairy, then there is probably nothing wrong with having the Easter Bunny stop by your house to drop off a basket of goodies Easter morning. In some families this will not work out due to a variety of reasons.

Be prepared to have an honest discussion with your child about why you don’t celebrate any form of Easter.

Then follow this up with a rundown of what you do celebrate! Remind your child about things like the relatives coming over for Passover, how much fun it will be for your child to play with his cousins, and some of the special activities you have planned.

Is there ever a point when you know it’s time to draw a line with what you are willing to celebrate?

The place to draw the line is at your own comfort level. Simply ask yourself; do you like how and what your family celebrates? Is your child happy? When our own family celebrations are different than what we experienced as a child, we may think we are somehow failing or not raising our children the right way. This simply isn’t true.  Good parenting and family-centered holiday traditions can come in all shapes and sizes. If everyone is content, there is no need to feel guilty that you are doing something wrong by including other traditions.

What about children of families who are being raised without a particular religion? Where do they fit in?

Families in this category may have to do a little soul-searching to find a balance of customs that work best for them. Are you part of a mixed-faith couple? Including traditions from both your religious backgrounds can give the richness of two faiths to your children. Raising children without religion of any kind? You will need to make a decision about whether or not to celebrate the secular side of these holidays. You might be comfortable with Santa stopping by on Christmas Eve.  Then how much wall-to-wall Man in Red do you want in your family’s life between Thanksgiving and Christmas? Do you want to include the Easter Bunny in your family’s life? Would you be happier with a spring celebration centered around Earth Day?

One good rule of thumb for families:

Whatever you celebrate, in whatever form, what matters most is not how much chocolate or how many gifts a child receives on a certain day.  It’s that there are special days set aside for joy, laughter, family togetherness, and fun. Trust me, it’s these things that your child will look back and remember in the years to come.

Suzanne Cooper, LCSW, is a family therapist and teacher from Colts Neck, New Jersey. She has served as a faith and parenting expert for BeliefNet.com and several parenting websites. 

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Posted in: Expert Advice, Holidays, Learn

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