Our Jewish Family Is Celebrating Christmas This Year

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I’m wrapped up in coffee and sugar and knotted pine. Cups clink as customers order and waiters murmur.

Kayli and Chloe and Brody beam into their hot chocolates and croissants. The sunshine, November’s gift to Minnesota, beams into them.

Jason and I take in the crumbs sweetening their lips and the powdered sugar gracing their fingertips. We bite back the urge to pass out napkins.

Sitting up straight, he starts. “We want to talk to you guys about something.” Shoulders back, elbows planted, smile crooked.

Chloe and Brody sip and chew and dig for chocolate.

But Kayli stills. Her impossibly cocoa eyes search my face, her mouth sets.

I lace my fingers around my mug. Breathing in the hazelnut and seeping in the warmth, I meet her eyes.

“Our family celebrates Hanukkah, but Daddy grew up celebrating Christmas. He wants to share that with us.”

I sip my coffee, but it’s them I’m drinking in.

Chloe’s eyes light, “With a tree?”

Brody announces, “Chocolate croissant!” His voices travels far.

Kayli stays quiet.

In my hand I hold what I know and think and feel.

This is new. (I’m scared of change.) 

Others hold Christmas in a different light. (Be respectful of that.)

Daddy was only twenty three when he converted. (That’s not what this is about.)

Neither one of us believes that anything is predetermined. (Or final.)

I hold these pieces of my heart closer, they are gifts for another day.

What I splay is this, “We love Daddy and we want to share his whole story.”

We laugh about Daddy as a Star Wars loving little boy.

Chloe asks about presents and pretties.

Kayli asks about cookies and decorating.

Brody crawls into my lap. I nestle his weight against me. His blond locks tickle my chin.

Change is hard, family is soft.

Write on Edge: RemembeRED

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Comments

  1. Love. My Jewish family (me) started celebrating many moons ago, and there are absolutely many ways to make it work. I have no doubt that you and yours will do the same. Let me know if you want to talk about it at all – more directly. Huge hugs to you, sweet mama.

  2. Great post! I think there are definitely ways to celebrate both holidays – either religiously or culturally. We are a Jewish house and our daughter is raised Jewish (goes to Jewish preschool). But we still honor my husband’s traditions of family Christmases and memories. And I’m the worst — I already started listening to Christmas music!

  3. I think it’s beautiful that you’re sharing traditions with your children. I love the last line, beautiful.

  4. I come from a family who shared both traditions and cultures with us and am now doing the same for our children. I think what you’re doing is great, though I totally understand the fear of change.

  5. I think you are giving your children so much more than just a new holiday to celebrate, you are giving them an opportunity to really experience another tradition from the inside. I think it is brave and wonderful. I know I would be nervous if it were me, wondering if I am doing it correctly, etc. but I know you will handle it gracefully.
    I look forward to hearing all about it!

  6. Change is always hard but I’m sure you and Jason will do a great job of blending the two holidays for the children in a way that seems natural for your family.

  7. Change is always hard! My husband and I are 2 different religions and 2 different cultures and it is always hard to try and find a balance. It is important for us that we teach our kid(s) all aspects of their culture and heritage. I admire you for doing both! I know you will find a great balance.

  8. I love this. Nothing is “final.”

  9. You will find a way to make it work, and yes, nothing is final. All the best with your planning and with the change.

    Now I am curious, although I know Christmas is not part of Jewish celebrations, I realize I have never questioned why. But Hanukkah is around the same time of the year, yes?

  10. I think it’s wonderful. My husband used to work for a Jewish family who held an unapologetic Christmas party for their employees. It wasn’t just a way to be inclusive with their mostly gentile staff–they simply loved Christmas. They never said, “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings” they said, “Merry Christmas”. They celebrated it in their home because they loved the tree and the carols and the other festivities of the season. Why not?

    Besides, doesn’t it make sense that a Jewish family would celebrate the birthday of one of the most famous Jewish people in history?

    I’ve often thought it strange that we (I’m Catholic) don’t celebrate Jewish holidays. After all, Jesus did.

    Party on!

  11. Changes are always a bit uncomfortable but sharing their dad’s culture and history is priceless. I look forward to reading more about this experience.

  12. Great post! Christmas has evolved so far away from its original meaning that for many people today, it’s more about the tree and the music and the gifts than anything truly Christian (please don’t attack me for this, but it’s become such a commercial and cultural holiday rather than a spiritual one). Santa Claus didn’t come out of the bible (yes, I know, Saint Nick).

    I will never forget my second year in college: two Catholic roommates, one Jewish one, and me: not raised in any religion, though Christmas was always celebrated. We agreed we were going to celebrate both Christmas and Hanukkah in our apartment, and were going to bring everything we needed back from Thanksgiving. Unfortunately our Jewish roommate didn’t end up bringing anything, and I think we were all disappointed, since we wanted to experience something new. But I remember how excited she was about our little tree with lights. And I see the tree as a cultural tradition, more than a religious one. (Just wait until you smell the tree in your house!)

    It’s lovely that you’re opening up your family to new traditions. Enjoy!

  13. I really respect you for opening up your children’s minds to a different tradition than the one they’re used to. I understand how scary doing something different could be, especially in the beginning. But your decision to go ahead and celebrate Christmas showed that not only you respect your husband’s roots, but by doing that you also showed your children to embrace different cultures and religions. Not many have that bravery.

    I grew up in a family that was quite a melting pot. My grandma from my father’s side was half-Dutch and half-Chinese. My father was born an atheist, but then converted to Catholicism. My mother, born Catholic, married her second husband and became a Muslim for 25 years. The marriage ended in divorce and recently she’s found peace in Christianity. I was exposed to the many practices since I was young… and one thing I can say is that it really open my mind and makes me more emphatic towards different cultures.

    I wish you and your family a blessed Christmas this year, and a Happy Hanukkah!

  14. Although we are Hindu, we celebrate Christmas every year. It is the spirit of the holiday that is important to remember. I love the last line of your post.

  15. Two things grab my heart as I read this. “We love Daddy and we want to share his whole story.” That says everything about who you are, and what you and Jason are creating.

    Inspiring.

    And I love the last line. Family is soft. So blessedly soft.

    I also adore all the food images here….makes me want to live in a coffeehouse world.

  16. oh this is so awesome, Galit. We are a mixed faith family–well we grew up with different faiths; I think we share many beliefs at this point. We do struggle with how to introduce our children to spirituality and religion.. It is so important to me that they have a foundation of faith. I grew up Jewish but don’t really observe very strongly. We have a menorah and a tree each year. We do what we can at this point, but it’s a work in progress. Enjoy the season!

  17. I’m sure it will be a big tradition, but I think it’s great you guys have decided to share both sets of traditions with the kids. Good luck this season!

  18. Sounds like a great way to teach cultural diversity to your children! I am sure you will find a creative way to merge the tradition!

  19. Sometimes there are words that you read on a page that are so strong you carry them with you always…

    “Change is hard, family is soft.”

    Will be among those words for me now.

  20. I love this. And that last line is fantastic. So true.

  21. I know I have written this in every one of my comments but I’m going to again…I love your written words!! You’re family is so incredibly blessed to have you put everything down into words. It is always so beautiful. I love that you are taking this holiday time to show a side of their daddy that they do not know yet. How incredibly wonderful!

  22. I love that you’re sharing both traditions with your children. I think one of the beautiful things about being conscious and thoughtful about faith is that you can help interpret it in a way that fits for you and your family, since so much of it is based in similar principles if not similar language or methods.

  23. Let’s be hardcore honest….the Holidays are really about the kids aren’t they?

    I bet you all will adjust and have a great one.

  24. I love your last line. Change IS hard, but if you enter it as a family, together, it can be a little easier. I can’t wait to hear how it goes!

  25. This is so beautiful – I felt like I was sitting there with your whole family, “drinking them in” with you. My favorite line: “We love Daddy and we want to share his whole story.” You are an amazing wife and mother. Giving your children the gift of choice is the best present ever.

  26. Lovely-I grew up celebrating both too. We stopped around my Bat Mitzvah, but this year, I put up a small tree in my apartment- It helps me to feel connected to that part of my family.

    I love the description of your daughter’s cocoa eyes-so vivid.

  27. I think it’s so wonderful that you are sharing both with your children.

  28. Okay and here is the rest of my thoughts: my best friend married a girl who is Jewish. She informed him that they will NOT celebrate Christmas in any way, even though she knows that he is still Christian.

    It blows me away that she expects him to totally disregard the first 30 years of his life.

    He still celebrates with his family, but she refuses to have anything to do with it, though he takes part in her family’s celebrations.

    It makes my heart hurt for him that she doesn’t try to understand, though he’s willing to try for her.

    Which is why I think what you are doing is wonderful. xo

    • It is a very complex situation for many people. Wonder if she told your friend about her feelings in advance of the wedding.

  29. This is so beautiful. And the last line rings true for me as well especially this time of year. I love you writing.

  30. The last line is killing me.

    I want that on a bumper sticker.

  31. Family is about open arms, and I think that your family is a beautiful example of that. Pure awesomeness wrapped up in a hug.

  32. Wonderful, Galit!! I think they will be getting the best of both worlds. I love how you told them and the story you shared with us!
    And that last line is perfect…PERFECT!

  33. I just love this. I have never had to compromise my faith for my husband’s – I imagine the wrestling of the heart. I love that you would do this for your husband and for your children. What a gracious mum your children have – they are gonna make you really proud one day. You are teaching them well {coming from a teacher who specialises in teaching kids who come from rough places}. I will now think of you and your family at Christmas and hope that you are feeling the love. Touched. Really. *Sniff*

  34. Change is hard, family is soft. Love that. Absolutely love it. How true. Good luck to you guys on this one.

  35. Oh, Galit, that last line was just perfect. And how very, very true. I wish your family the best holiday season ever (no matter which holidays you celebrate)…as you celebrate together.

    Great post!

  36. This was so sweet. Your words touched me especially this – “We love Daddy and we want to share his whole story.”
    It really made me think. Although my husband and I grew up celebrating the same holidays we grew up celebrating them differently and now as an adult and parent he has his own traditions he would like to pass on, different from some that I’d like. This is a reminder to not just share my story but also allow my husband to share his.

    Thank you this.

  37. Change is SO hard. Every year, I ask my husband if he wants a tree. I feel I am asking sincerely, but I know my heart would drop and I would become nauseous if he ever said yes. In my 37 years, I have never had a tree, never really celebrated Christmas. You are a brave woman, my lovely friend.

  38. When I was in high school, I had several classmates that celebrated dual traditions in their household. Our school was a Catholic school so we practiced those traiditions but because our student ratio was so diverse, we also celebrated other faiths as well. I think it’s important for children to know their heritage and traditions.

  39. Change is hard but it can be a good thing. I think that you & your family will have a great time figuring out how to celebrate Christmas and I can’t wait to read about all the fun!

  40. Oh wow do I love this, “we love Daddy and want to share his whole story” exactly what marriage is about. What a wonderful life you are giving your children.

  41. Aww, this is so beautiful, Galit. Bravo to you for creating a wonderful balance for your family. Change will be different, but will welcome new, great family traditions, hopefully to be celebrated for years to come.

    And can I say something? I’m kind of jealous you get to do both! You’re going to have a memorable season :)

  42. This is going to be so much fun. I promise. My SiL just started doing this last year too. We have always celebrated both in our house. Sometimes I even make latkes and kugel if we have time. This year may be interesting since Chanukah leads into Christmas this year. I can’t wait to hear all about it.

  43. I think your line ” We love Daddy and want to share his whole story” is perfection.
    It is about the whole story, right? The sum of those experiences that make us who we are. May this experience add to your families story!

  44. Traditions are part of the heart, and so they’re very, very difficult to change without someone feeling a sense of loss. If anyone can do this with grace and a loving touch, it’s you.

  45. So beautiful. I think it’s amazing that you are going to share another way with your children. What a wonderful gift. I think the more we share different things with our children, the more it can solidify the beliefs that we hold and teach them. And it can provide such a rich and wonderful family experience. I hope you enjoy this holiday season, both Christmas and Hanukkah.

  46. Love how you drink in that moment…and share it with us. Exciting things to look forward to!

  47. I love that last line, too.
    But I have to add what I think is an important truth:

    Your family is soft because you and Jason make it so.

    Good for you. And chocolate croissant.

    XO

  48. Have fun!

    We don’t celebrate it at out house but Sophie understands the magic inherent in the cultural Christmas that so many people celebrate. And she LOVES being Santa as a Mitzvah to others.

  49. My husband was raised Catholic and I was raised Muslim and though neither of us practice now, we do celebrate everything. It makes the whole year fun!

  50. That last line says it all. I’m going to have to remember that. I want to be the soft place for my family.

  51. Love this Galit! Change is so hard, especially when steeped in so much tradition. having grown up with my Jewish grandparents celebrating Chriistmas (my grandmother just loved the tree), and having my ex-husband not be Jewish—I get it….and it sounds like you are doing exactly what you need to do to help your kids love and respect every part of their family heritage! xo

  52. This post just melted me. This is what marriage and family are all about – accepting and learning from each other.

    your family is lucky to have each other.

  53. You’re such an amazing family and your holidays are going to be so wonderful with ALL the celebrations. Beautiful. xoxo

  54. Galit: I don’t know why I haven’t been receiving emails as I am subscribed. I just resubscribed. If that doesn’t work, I am unsubscribing and resubscribing. Oy!

    I saw this pass my eyes on Twitter and I figured it would be in my in-box, so I’m glad I came looking and so a lot has been going on.

    Your flexibility is amazing. I am in awe of you.

    Because this is what every Jewish family fears. We have heard it from childhood. The Holocaust. How 1 out of every 2 marry out of the faith. How we must give birth to make up for those who have died before us. I understand the breathing deeply. I remember my parents refusing to buy us a tree. Their explanation. And no, it would not be called a Hanukkah bush either.

    To date, my son has never outwardly questioned our Jewish practice. He loves being Jewish and he likes that we do things a little differently from many other people. That said, we also live in a place where there is a comfortably large Jewish population. He goes to Jewish camp each summer. I like to believe that his Jewish identity is already set.

    But I also know my brother married out of the faith. He made his Bar Mitzvah. Why am I different from him? We came from the same place. I love my brother. I do. And I adore my sister-in-law. She is a blessing. But they moved away from us, so they didn’t have to feel the pressure of being something different. I miss them.

    So I admire you. Your willingness to try it. To embrace the new. It is scary. The nuances are scarier than most people might understand.

    As usual, your honesty is radiant.

  55. That’s really neat. We work hard at teaching our kids about different religions and being respectful of other’s beliefs. The thing about Christmas is that it is SO commercial that I actually struggle to share with our kids our beliefs about Jesus during the season. 98% of christmas is about make believe and santa clause and raindeer and sparkling trees and fun songs and presents and giving to others. For us, we tend to celebrate Ash Wednesday and Easter as stronger faith holidays.

  56. I think it’s wonderful that you are introducing both traditions into your home. I was raised Protestant but my family observes the high Jewish holidays and I feel as though I have such a great understanding–and higher acceptance–of all religions as a result. And it’s fun to learn about the different rituals associated with each holiday as well :)

    Your words are moving poetry, Galit.

  57. I love that you are giving your children both experiences even though it’s not your normal.
    You are a wonderful mother.
    You make me smile.
    I truly wish more parents embraced parenting like you do.

  58. I’m so happy to have found your blog through BBCD’s #IPP post. I just love your writing. It’s really neat that your kids will get to experience both holidays. My husband and I have decided to raise our future kids Jewish (I’m Jewish; he’s not), but we’ll be celebrating Christmas with my in-laws.

  59. In our case, I’m agnostic, and my husband is Christian. When I moved away from home, I reveled in no longer having to celebrate Christmas. (Yeah, didn’t get to enjoy that nearly long enough.) I was grateful when our autistic daughter was so terrified that Santa was planning to steal her up the chimney that we had to just tell her the truth. I was so sad when she decided to forget the truth. And now I have to bite my tongue every time she asks something and put out those bland, “What do you think?” questions.

    We deliberately put Caroline in a Jewish Preschool because our other options were all either really awful secular or Christian. And even before we knew for sure about the autism, I knew she was different from the other kids. I wanted her in a Jewish environment because I felt like there was no other religion that would embrace her and tell her to be herself because there was nobody else for her to be.

    If we hadn’t moved away, Sam would go to the same preschool. For those couple of glorious years, we celebrated Hannukah and Christmas both, and I liked Hannukah so much better. It was a festival of lights available to all. It was about the freedom of religion, not the need to be all the same religion. I felt much more at home with Hannukah than I ever did with Christmas.

    I wish I could come at it like you, acknowledging that Christmas is not mine in the first place and working within my unease instead of having to pretend seasonal joy I don’t feel or maintain the pretext that I believe in anything we’re doing.

    I really wish we still celebrated Hannukah.

  60. “Change is hard, family is soft.” = Best line!

    I love this. You and your husband are wonderful parents exposing your children to both traditions. I truly hope it’s a magical holiday season for you all.

    xoxo

  61. This is beautiful, Galit. I was a nanny for two Jewish families when we lived in Washington. One family was split, the mom was Christian & the dad was Jewish. They attended synagogue but they celebrated Christian holidays at home to respect mom’s traditions & culture, too. I loved being able to celebrate and commune with both families during holy days I read about but weren’t part of my religious tradition. You are raising your children well, Galit. Love and respect are taught at home. Religion has the tendency to divide so many people. You & your husband are showing your children that love, God’s love, a family’s love, is bigger and stronger than any differences you may have.

  62. Just be warned – last year I almost ruined my Jewish husband’s Christmas by suggesting we get an artificial tree.

    So don’t do that.

  63. Wow, that’s the kind of different that would challenge me as well. At least not celebrating both. Quite an adventure, I wish you all the merriest of Christmases and the happiest 8 nights ever. And, as usual, beautifully written.

  64. I think it’s wonderful that you are sharing that piece of him. My sister and her husband do both every year. The kids know they are Jewish, but they get to celebrate mommy’s holidays with her. And it’s so not about the religion…it’s about the traditions that she loved as a child. Decorating the tree, baking the cookies, family game night under the tree. In the end, it’s really just about togetherness.

  65. I can imagine the conflict you feel. I think it’s awesome your children get to experience both aspects of the holiday season. This piece, as with all of your pieces, is really, really warm. I always feel better after reading you. :-)

  66. Beautiful. I’m sure you’ll be able to give your kids the best of both worlds.

  67. Thought of you last night on the plane: The inflight shopping magazine has a Star of David treetopper.

    • Jen P. – love that!
      Galit- I’ll repeat what everyone else says; love the last line and the line about loving Daddy and wanting to share his whole story. Galit, you are an amazing wife, mother and writer. May your holiday season be full of joy, laughter and love. Which is as it should be, whether it is around a menorah or a tree, or both.

  68. Oh, that’s big. But it’s not just celebrating Christmas, it’s adding a new tradition to your family. Because even if it’s not something you celebrate all the time, it will no doubt bring new rituals and memories and that can only be a good thing. No matter how we celebrate it, Christmas is so much about family, and that’s a beautiful thing.

    xo

  69. Such a beautiful story. I personally believe there’s beauty and pleasure and peace to be found in any celebration, and it’s great that your children can experience a variety in their childhood. I’ll look forwards to hearing more about how you approach it with them. It’s hands-on religious education :)

  70. What a beautiful story. I wish you festive fun through and through!!

  71. Galit, I know you stopped by my blog a while back and I thought I has subscribed, but just today realized I never had (who knew?!). Saw the link up coming up with Allison and stopped by your place again…NOW I have you subscribed.

    I respect your decision to celebrate Christmas & the exposure you are giving your children what has made you and your husband into who you are today. To give them the opportunity to make their own decisions that will mold them into adults.

    We hope to do the same as parents, however we were brought up of the same faith, but where we differ is that we are a bi-cultural family. There’s not much difference though huh? Thanks for sharing, and I hope it results in your children find their own personal way to celebrate & embrace it’s purpose. Blessings!

  72. I loved Victoria’s answer…I don’t know if I’ve ever shared with you how growing up Catholic I was so enthralled with the Jews…and how I used to tell the nuns that I wanted to be Jewish like Jesus, but that was me….making waves long before I should have been…

    You”re right you know…that change is hard and family is soft (what a beautiful way to express it) when it all comes down to it I hope that Decemeber this year is about peace, history, joy and LOVE my sweet friend xoxo

  73. I can’t wait to hear how it goes. New traditions make for wonderful memories. I love that you are open to new possibilites.

  74. How’s that going for you, G? Very interesting. Thought the comment was especially fascinating that one woman wrote, that she never really questioned why Jews didn’t celebrate Christmas, you know, since Jesus was Jewish and Hannukkah is around the same time of year and all…. Is it a Minnesotan thing? Not a lot of Jews in that neck of the woods, eh?

  75. elissapr says:

    I started with one story of yours and ended up here…Not sure how it happened but it did…and so happy I read this cuz I learned a little bit more about you!!

  76. Holidays without our kids would be ordinary days. Honestly! Since I`m a mom, I really feel a change into our family around the holidays.

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