This Is What An Interfaith Family Looks Like

Last night our family got our Christmas tree. It was a cold Minnesota night. The kind where everything from eyelashes to toes is chilled.

Jason came home late and tired, and the draw to stay home was magnetic. But the magic sparkling in the kids’ eyes and the way they mirrored his younger self’s story, was not to be ignored.

So we went.

christmas

I have two snapshots of what Christmas tree buying looks and feels like. They’re from the last two years that our family has celebrated Christmas. So I was able to place last night’s puzzle piece neatly with the ones I already hold close. Christmas trees are a part of my story, now, too.

But they haven’t always been.

I know that The December Dilemma is hard for people to understand and maneuver. There are some fundamental problems with celebrating Jesus’s birthday at the same time as the Jewish people’s strive to not conform.

Right or wrong, these are not the things that our family celebrates this time of year.

We celebrate and honor how our stories meld and mix and work together. We celebrate compromise and change, two things that you should know are so very hard for me. And we celebrate the breath-taking way our past belongs to us.

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This is how this part of my story, our story, started:

Our Jewish Family Is Celebrating Christmas This Year

Christmas Trees In Our Jewish Home

Interfaith Hearts

What Do Jewish Kids Think When They See Santa?

And this is my favorite post I’ve written about it. I wrote it right after my second Christmas. Thank you for reading, and therefore being part of, our story.

***

What This Jew Thinks About Celebrating Christmas

“How’re you doing celebrating Christmas?” A dear friend asked.

We faced each other across my kitchen counter.

His tall frame slicing the early evening light, his strong voice filling the space, the years, the differences between us.

Last year, our Jewish family started celebrating Christmas. We planted our feet in the sweet spot where traditions are made, and explanations are limited.

And I soaked these gems in for a whole year until I arrived right here, at my kitchen counter, leaning against the hard wood, reaching across warm pizza, trying to answer how I feel about adding Christmas into my (very) Jewish life.

The short answer, the easy one, is that I’m fine.

And the long one, is this.

There’s a thought, a common one, that children need answers and right-nows and clearly-stateds in order to maneuver through this tricky, complicated world with as little confusion as possible.

Jason and I -when we were young and childless and thought we knew more than anyone, really- believed this with our hearts and our souls and our cores.

So much so, that at 23 years old, Jason converted from (non practicing) Catholic to (very much practicing, but by my side) Judaism.

Just a few months before our wedding, we squished onto a small couch, poured into a tiny home, bookended by two rabbis and a clergy member.

They qustioned him and he questioned back and they liked him for it, so he was sure, and I was too, that this was RIGHT (in uppercase letters) for us, and for our unborn children.

And it was.

Jason converted for a love of Jewish food and tradition and food and culture and food and holidays and food and (mostly) me (and then food again).

And while our children were very small, this remained our very RIGHT.

But as our children grew, so did Jason’s discomfort.

Right now, some of you might be itching to tell me that he shouldn’t have converted or too bad or think of the children or buck up or what’s done is done or that religiously, we can’t -andshouldn’t– have it both ways.

And to you, I mostly want to say hush.

And listen.

Because what he missed when he looked into our children’s brown eyes that are mixed and blended and smudged until they’re each their own shade of his cocoa and my hazel, wasn’t religion.

It wasn’t.

It wasn’t the kneeling and the knowing and the Sunday morning services.

What he missed, was the passing of memories from his youth to theirs.

Decorating trees with his siblings, picking new ornaments with his father, baking the most delicious of cookies with his mother.

And I can hardly think of anything more RIGHT than wanting their story, to (also) start with his.

Some of you say that Jason and I are confusing our children, being wishy washy, not making a decision nor passing down a straight forward and easy to digest path.

And you should know that we both think you’re totally and completely, unwaveringly, right.

But we’re okay with that.

Here’s why.

Because what we are passing down from our hearts to theirs, is that everybody has a story to tell, that everybody’s story matters, and that RIGHT can change.

That really knowing someone means understanding where they came from, and really loving someone means hushing and listening while they tell their story.

Last night my family edged that same kitchen counter, meats and cheeses and the finest of scotch and egg nog and Shirley Temples between us.

Music played and the fireplace burned and we were warm and cozy and together, celebrating Christmas in our Jewish home.

What was your favorite present? Did you get to have a tree in your room? What was the best part of Christmas Eve?

Our children questioned Jason like he questioned the rabbis ten years ago.

And he gave his answers the same care and thought that the rabbis gave his questions the night he converted, sitting in that small room, hair still wet from the mikveh.

He was letting them into his story, where they belong.

“Em, Tim, Derek, and I used to sleep together Christmas Eve.” He started.

“Like we are!” They finished.

And there it was right before my eyes, the passing of a story, a tradition, a way from one generation to the next.

Even though this way is new to me, once we married -because it’s his- it became mine as well.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

My old friend is the only person who’s asked me how I feel celebrating Christmas.

But many, many people have asked me, not unkindly, “So what’s winning? Hanukkah or Christmas?”

And the only answer I have to give (for right now), is that’s not how we’re choosing to play.

HolidayCard2012

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Comments

  1. Love your hearts and your stories.

  2. I really love how your story is planted in finding your family’s ‘self’, melding your traditions and stories and making it feel right to your family. It’s fantastic! I think many of us have a hard time finding our own traditions that way. This story really captures what the holiday season means in my head and in my heart.

    Happy Hanukkah and Merry Christmas!

  3. As someone struggling with celebrating the Christmas season without specifically celebrating the birth of Jesus, I love this. I am full of faith, lacking in specific religion and practice. I like to say I practice the religion of love and yoga :) This time of year is about story, it is about spirit, it is about remembering, it is about dear, dear ones, and it is about love. Merry Everything to you too :)

  4. I love this. I really do… I have had a hard time the last few years because, well, I’m pagan. Not the dancing around the fire and chanting Wiccan sort of pagan, but the let’s be in tune with the earth and respect our mother and BE PRESENT sort of pagan. (There’s a difference for me.) And my husband is Buddhist. So you can imagine how fun this time of year is!

    I was raised Christian, so the nativity was a big part of our Christmas. Not super huge, but enough. And now… we’re trying to celebrate Christmas – Solstice, really – on our own terms, but without making it all about commercialism and the getting. It’s been interesting.

    It’s nice to hear that there’s other people who are in this same boat… (even seeing that in the comments). And I love how succinctly you put it: It’s not about choosing, it’s about the memories and letting “what’s right” change.

  5. As a woman married to (quite possibly) the world’s most nostalgic, sentimental man, let me say this:
    You are giving Jason and all your children a gift.

    There is no right or wrong, here.
    There is only love.

    Carry on.

  6. This makes total sense to me – that it’s about traditions, and warmth, and family times, and happiness. We are very active in our Christian faith, but Christmas is honestly not at all about faith for us. That’s something we live on a daily basis (I hope). Christmas for us is about celebrating together, forging family ties, and adding zest to life, and remembering to give to others (again, hopefully). :-)

    Happy holidays to your family!

  7. I think it is so wonderful how you incorporate it all in your family traditions. Such a beautiful and sweet family, you have Galit!!

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