My son had a friend sleep over the other night. He would be in first-grade, like my six-year-old, who, really, I should have held back a year because all the rich little boys in New York City are being held back a year, and I want my son to be able to compete with them. But water under the bridge, right? Because we are not doing school. And I can just send him to college a year later or something.

So anyway, this boy would be in first-grade, same as my son, and I confess that I grilled the kid about what is going on in school.  I wanted to know what math he was learning. Is he typing? Does he read books with no pictures? Is there fun gym equipment? I start prying:

“So, what are you doing in school?”

“We are doing a Leprechaun hunt.”

“Like, looking for them in the school?”

“Yeah. The class that finds him gets a prize.”

My son says, “Leprechauns are like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. They are fake.”

I glare at my son.

The guest looks at my son. Confused.

But my son does have a point in that all three are Christian motifs that fill up the school year and annoy the living hell out of me as the only Jew in the school. I remind myself that when my son went to kindergarten I kept him home from school many days that seemed set up for the Christians, like the day Santa came to the classroom and the kids told him what they wanted for Christmas.

Look. Don’t tell me that it’s against the law, okay? It’s not. I called the JDL. They were shocked, but they said it’s not against the law. And, really, you’d think bringing in a man dressed in disguise to a school and telling little girls to sit on his lap would be against the law. Maybe that is. I don’t know.

So  the Leprechaun thing made me so upset about having sent my older son to school through third grade that I didn’t bother doing any more investigating.


20 replies
  1. Ann
    Ann says:

    Can’t see the religious connection with Leprachauns myself.
    OK they’re Irish folklore (and Ireland is a Catholic country). But they’ve always seemed to be a hold over from the original Celtic mythology.
    Objecting to St Patrick, I can understand but it seems as though the schools have rather ruthlessly removed any trace of religious content from these festivals. Santa, Easter Bunny and Leprachauns have little if any religious connection. They’re the secularised face of the (originally) religious festival.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Ann, you could spend your time telling people how they should feel about Santa and the Easter Bunny and Leprechauns. But I think it’s more valuable for you personally to spend your time trying to understand why characters like those do, in fact, feel alienating to non-Christians.

      Something else: Jews have been killed on Easter for hundreds of years. It’s only relatively recently that the Pope told people they should stop doing it. You’d be hard-pressed to find a Jew who wants anything to do with the Easter Bunny.


      • Lisa
        Lisa says:

        I grew up in a Christian home and there are many Christians that discourage their kids from believing in the Easter bunny or Santa….and I’ve never heard of any Christians believing in leprechauns. The latter is definitely perceived to be in the realm of superstition at best, like fairies.

  2. Julianna
    Julianna says:

    The “rich little boys” in nyc go to school later because the cut-off at private schools is Sept 1. Same as Wisc by the way. So 4-year-olds dont go to kindergarten at NYC private schools. Same as Wisc by the way.

    In New York PUBLIC schools, the cut off is Dec 31 so 4-years-olds DO go to K. For people who are hoping to use a good public grade school and switch to private middle of high school, it’s a major issue. What should be happening is a standardization of these dates — pushing it BACK really, not forward — so kids can move from school to school more easily.

    Of course, easier to make fun of “rich little boys” I guess.

    BTW, I doubt the leprachaun was fake if the kids were actually hunting for it. Maybe this is why the kid looked confused. He was right.

  3. karelys
    karelys says:

    haha! before I even read on “read more” the post made me laugh.
    And it’s true about Santa! how weird!

    I am reading “Evolving in Monkey Town” and it has opened up my eyes, even more, about our worldview and how we impose so many things on people who are different than us just because religion is so pervasive that we end up thinking it’s part of the culture or something.

    how weird that school is meant for education but we get so wrapped up in cultural crap that alienates those who are different in religion and worldview (in general). There is so much time wasted in that nonsense rather than real education…

  4. Erin
    Erin says:


    As usual because we are in America which is predominantly Christian you are trying to be helpful and point out that the Jews shouldn’t be so upset about secular/Celtic/mythological figures, stories or traditions because they are not really Christian. Here’s the problem and I recognize you may not know this but Judaism was the first major religion to believe in one God. The whole point of most Jewish traditions are about not being Pagan. Christianity evolved out of Judaism thousands of years after Judaism began. In our current times it seems like there is a Christian vs. Jews thing, especially in western countries but pagan stuff isn’t really any less offensive and perhaps more offensive. It really bugs me when Christians don’t get this because it tells me they really don’t understand their religion. Quick world religion lesson:

    First Pagans (Many gods, deities, nature worship, etc.) then Judaism (One God, laws, etc.) then Christianity (Jesus was a Jew).

    I am sure I am not 100% accurate on all this but I just thought I would put it out there.

    As a Jewish convert I gave up trying to explain why my kids don’t celebrate Halloween but I just couldn’t resist this post.

    • Lisa
      Lisa says:

      It didn’t seem like she was saying Jews shouldn’t be upset, just that they shouldn’t conflate the secular symbols with religious iconography. I mean, really, can you even call them SYMBOLS? I don’t really think they mean anything to anybody, except gifts and candy to kids.

      • Lisa
        Lisa says:

        Although I guess they mean anti-Jewish pogroms to some.
        My grandmother was half-Jewish and she had didn’t have that association. Maybe it’s a regional thing. She lived in Northern MN. To her, Christmas was a secular holiday.

    • Ann
      Ann says:

      Erin, you may be in America, I’m not.

      And my post didn’t say one thing about why Jews shouldn’t be upset over Christian festivals. I pointed out that all Penelope’s examples were secularised (and indeed many Christians are alienated – in a different way – by those symbols).
      Penelope’s post was about being alienated by the specifically Christian festivals. Not about Pagan ones.

  5. Stef
    Stef says:

    I think it is safe to say that the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus and Leprechauns are all European pagan figures that survived–and in some cases, became incorporated into–Christianity. While they have no basis in Christian doctrine (which is why many Christian parents are also against them) they have become associated with holidays that have a basis in Christian doctrine.

  6. redrock
    redrock says:

    Maybe one of the reasons pagan (as in very old, pre-Christianity, pre-Judaism) tradition seems to still prevail in some form or another lies in their connection to the seasonal cycle? The short days, the barren earth in late winter, the fact that one runs out of food before April, the celebration of the new growth (as in now we can eat again)? Can we really completely dissociate from this as human beings of any religious orientation? I think historically the incorporation of some of the pagan festivals in the christian calendar is mostly because christianity moved into parts of Europe very rapidly which had never been part of the judaic traditions and monotheistic religion.

  7. CRLife
    CRLife says:

    Segregating yourself from things that are different, things you haven’t learned to tolerate, is not the same as having principles.

    I think it’s great that you homeschool. It’s also great, when you’re exposed to things you don’t believe in, that you have the strength of character to stay firm in your beliefs, and still find enjoyment for the sake of others, even for just a day. Pulling back when you need to is important….so long as you’re not hiding.

    This is just from my experience. I’m not judging.

  8. Meg
    Meg says:

    Leprechauns are Christian? I learn something new every day. Honestly, though, as someone with a great deal of latent Jewishness (but not actually maternally-descended, nor brought up with a religious traditions, but still with respect toward both Jewish and other traditions), I sort of get it. America is supposed to be about, not stamping out religion, but about giving people the chance to be themselves. I would be as happy to be told Shalom Aleichem (and answer Aleichem Shalom) as Merry Christmas. If someone wants to wish me goodness in whatever way comes naturally to them, I will take it in the spirit intended and be glad for a well-wisher in this world.

    However, there is a difference between a heartfelt wish and a hint that I should adopt someone else’s beliefs. If someone tells me they hope I take Jesus as my personal savior I would feel a bit irritated at their presumption.

    Schools are the mouthpiece of whatever political sentiment is in vogue in whichever area you live in. I am as glad for you, as I am for myself, that in America, we are free, as parents, to educate our kids as we see fit. Not all nations are so progressive, and in many, we’d be on the wrong side of the law, just for homeschooling.

  9. Ani
    Ani says:

    I think your son’s friend was red-shirted. My kids did the leprechaun hunt in kindergarten.

    It’s a math/engineering activity. The kids build “leprechaun traps” and try to catch the leprechaun. They have a party to show off the traps and the best trap wins a prize.

    My daughter spent a LOT of time building her trap, but didn’t even come close to winning the prize. The kids get really into it. I’m not surprised that it was the first activity that your son’s friend mentioned.

    They also cover rainbows and the visible spectrum during leprechaun season.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      This is my favorite comment in the string! I laughed out loud after your first paragraph.

      Also, I’m blown away that Leprechauns are part of the public school curriculum throughout the country. But now that I think about it, I learned about them in school, so some things don’t change.


  10. lala
    lala says:

    How do you and your husband (who I believe is christian) decide what holidays to celebrate at home?

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      We do Jewish holidays with the kids. It was part of the deal when I moved here. He does the Christian stuff on his own. It’s a sacrifice that I really appreciate.


  11. Linda
    Linda says:

    That leprechaun nonsense rubbed off on my younger son, too. Folks, isn’t Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny enough for you? No, you’ve gotta send the kids on a wild goose chase for some Irish fairy, too.

    Younger son got so caught up with a chase (encouraged by a couple neighborhood moms), that when Older Son tried to get into the fun by writing a letter as the leprechaun, well. Younger Son recognized his writing and got mad.

    He was inconsolable b/c he wanted a “real clue” from a “real leprechaun” so badly. Dude, they aren’t real. Like unicorns. Why oh why do they have to push this nonsense in the public school? LOL nothing better to teach?

    All in fun,

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