This is a question that I have never encountered in the Land of Israel, thank G-d. In fact, if I didn’t receive questions like these, and if Arafat didn’t try to make political mileage about appearing in Bethlehem, we would not know it was that time of the year at all. In Israel, there are no holiday decorations on the streets, nor in the stores. No one walks around whistling “Jingle Bells,” and manger scenes are not to be found on lawns. The day itself is a regular work day like any other.
Jewish law states that a person should not behave in the ways of idol worshipers. Nor is one allowed to dress in a garment that is unique to them. There is an opinion, however, that permits wearing their garments, as long as a part of the garb is missing. Therefore, if you were to wear the Santa Claus suit with a shtreimmel and not Santa’s funny red hat, that might be a way of taking the job and still remain within the parameters of Jewish law.
Furthermore, it is forbidden for a Jew to say that he is a gentile, even if one’s life is endangered. To save one’s life, a Jew is allowed to wear the clothes of a gentile. However, to dress up as Santa for monetary reward, there doesn’t seem to be any permission for this. In a similar vein, it is forbidden to wear a green hat, the type that the followers of Mohammed wear.
Finally, fooling children into believing that there really is a Santa Claus is putting a stumbling block in front of the blind, and, by doing so, one adds credibility to the other legends of the holiday as well. This is a Chillul Hashem, a desecration of G-d's Name.
Can we have a Christmas tree for our kids so that they don’t feel like they are different from other children?
Jewish children are different from other children and they should be made to feel proud of this. A Jew is not allowed to celebrate the religious holidays of the gentiles. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein emphasizes this by stating that if a boy is to have a bar mitzvah on the day of their celebration, it should be postponed. Since decorating a tree and giving presents are a part of the Christmas celebration, they should definitely be avoided.
Is there anything halachically wrong with getting drunk on New Year's Day and having a good time?
For the Jewish People, Rosh Hashana is considered the New Year. Yes, it would be very inappropriate to get drunk on Rosh Hashana, when all of the world comes before G-d in judgment. That is why the Jewish People spend their New Year’s Day in synagogues praying.
If your question is referring to the non-Jewish holiday which occurs on January 1, we have already mentioned above that Jews are not allowed to participate in non-Jewish holidays. In addition, except for the Jewish holiday of Purim, on which it is a mitzvah to be intoxicated, it is forbidden for a Jew to get drunk. We are commanded to cleave to G-d. Getting inebriated interferes with this Divine connection and can bring other grave transgressions in its wake. When my Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda HaCohen Kook, had to undergo a leg amputation late in his life, he refused to be anesthetized, saying that he did not want anything to interfere with his cleaving to G-d.
In these times of darkness, may the Almighty give us all the strength to resist foreign ways and hold fast to His Torah and worship.
1. Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah, 178:1.
2. Rama, there.
3. Beit Shlomo, Yoreh Deah, Part One, 196.
4. Yoreh Deah, 157:2.
5. Responsa, Kehunat Olam, Vol. 1:74.
6. Responsa, B’Marei HaBazak, Vol. 3, Question 110.
7. Igrot Moshe, Even HaEzer, Part 2:13.
8. Rambam, Positive Mitzvah 6.