How should one explain non-Jewish holidays and churches to young children?
I'd actually err towards inclusiveness:
Even though they're not Jewish, Hashem still wants them to be nice to each other, so they get together to talk about how to do that.
It's definitely a difficult balance, you don't want your kids thinking "oh why bother being Jewish if it's not really needed", but you don't want them spitting on every non-Jew they see in the street either.
Your approach may also depend on what your kid is seeing -- how to explain an an Eastern Orthodox church with pictures of saints all over the outside of it may be different than a Unitarian or Methodist church that just looks like a big brick building.
2Points well taken. But I don't think that telling them "a church is a place for idol worship" is going to lead them to "spitting on every goy" either. If anything, it may make them want to take an axe to the statues, like Avraham did - but then, it's not that difficult to keep the axes hidden away. :)– AlexDec 8, 2010 at 15:43
How about simply teaching your children to respect the differences in people based on their culture, religion, colour, nationality etc. There is no need for long explanations when we accept that people are different. And notice that I said the word accept and not tolerate.
4alice, welcome to Judaism.SE, and thanks very much for sharing this perspective! You could improve this answer by editing in a bit more about the distinction between "accept" and "tolerate," as you see it, as well as the benefits of the approach you're advocating. Also, please consider registering your account, which will give you access to more of the site's features.– Isaac Moses ♦Apr 30, 2012 at 2:03
Well, if it's avodah zarah (Rambam), then we could have ourselves a problem...– user9907May 23, 2016 at 0:08
I've always used something like these:
Churches: these are places where the non-Jews pray to their getshkes (idols). They're familiar with the concept of idols from hearing the stories of Avraham Avinu's childhood, for example. No need to go into the detailed theological issues of whether Christianity is or isn't real avodah zarah - that can be left for when they're a little older.
Non-Jewish holidays: we have our holidays when we do certain special things (the Seder on Pesach, shofar blowing on Rosh Hashanah, etc.). Lehavdil, the non-Jews have their holidays too; those aren't for us, just as Pesach, etc., aren't for them.
Re "we have our holidays...; l'havdil, the goyim have their holidays too; those aren't for us": I've been wary (just of my own initiative, not having discussed this with a rav) of using this explanation for non-Jewish religious holidays, as it seems (to me) to lend legitimacy to them. I've tried instead a similar explanation ("we have ours; they have theirs"), with the added comment that theirs are baseless, or incorrect. Thoughts?– msh210 ♦Dec 9, 2010 at 5:37
2True, although I guess the question is what ages we're talking about. For a three-year-old, it's going to be a little difficult to go into specifics - and if anything, with a popular and very noticeable non-Jewish holiday like X-mas, maybe the less you focus their attention on it, the better. On the other hand, especially if he or she is asking a lot about it, I guess you might say that these holidays are in honor of their getshkes, "and you remember from what Morah taught you about Avraham Avinu, how silly it is to bow down to a getshke, right?"– AlexDec 9, 2010 at 17:48