December in the Interfaith House: Holidays Everywhere!

 

Oh, December has arrived! With it comes the holiday season. For most people this means one holiday, but not in our home. This Sunday starts Chanukah and we will be celebrating as a family, and then for 7 subsequent nights after that we will light the menorah and give gifts.

Every Jew reading this knows I am joking already. Non-Jews who are not in the know, here is the big reveal. Nobody in history has ever celebrated 8 days of Chanukah. You do somewhere between 5-6 real nights. You forget a night, one night you end up home too late, etc. Even more shocking to some of my non-Jewish friends is the myth of the 8 presents. There are not 8 presents. There are 2-3 presents. Then there are socks, a calendar, maybe some pencils, bad chocolate, and a few nights where the parents just don’t bother at all. Being a kid on Chanukah after the candle lighting is a spin of a roulette wheel to find out if it’s a real present night or not. This really isn’t a complaint. It’s just why Christmas always looked so amazing as a kid.

So once the actual 6.3 days of Chanukah comes to a close we will have a few week break. Then on December 25th we will be celebrating Christmas. As someone who grew up going to his friends houses on Christmas and seeing the pure joy in their eyes on Christmas day, it’s nice to be part of the magic. Seriously… it’s unreal. I have no idea how you people pull this thing off.

The dog got presents. Don’t tell me Christmas isn’t magical.

Anyway, Christmas being amazing and Chanukah being Chanukah aside. On a more serious note, this is life in an inter-faith family. Like most things it has both it’s rewards and challenges. The hardest part is making sure you balance the discussion of faith and religion with your kid. My goal is never to diminish my wife’s beliefs, I just want to expose my daughter to my religion the best I can.

 

For brief background, my wife is a Christian who is at this point non-denominational. I was raised a Reform Jew who drifts between that and Conservative depending on which synagogue is closer (I’m joking… sort of). We discussed religion early in our relationship, and when it was time for marriage the topic obviously came up again. The conversion conversation was reasonably brief.

Future Wife: “Do you want me to convert to Judaism?”

Me: “Do you believe Jesus is the son of God?”

Future Wife: “Yes.”

Me: “Then no.”

It was very important to me that my wife did not convert merely to make me happy, or out of some perceived requirement. Her beliefs are important to her, and as a Jew I would never feel comfortable pressuring someone to convert. That is not what my religion is about, and frankly it’s just not what I believe religion should be.

Even though she never converted, my wife has always been extremely supportive and involved in Jewish traditions as they come up. We have mezuzahs on the doors, she encourages going to temple, and she likes bagels with lox and cream cheese. It’s about as close to being Jewish as possible without having to sit in a 3 1/2 hour Yom Kippur service apologizing for all the things you did wrong in the last year (for those unaware, due to the fact that Jews don’t believe in Hell, we like to make sure our guilt is piled on in this lifetime by our mothers and a once a year marathon apology session disguised as a holiday. Oh, and you can’t eat or drink that day. Seriously… we are absurd.)

I also try to be supportive of my wife’s traditions and holidays. We have a small Christmas tree in the house and go to my in-laws for Easter every year. When it comes to the more socially religious ideas like Santa or the Easter Bunny, we tend to leave those out, as neither of us had them growing up. I don’t understand a lot of Christian views, but I don’t have to. They are important to my wife, so they belong in our home. Religion does not have to be a competition.

“BUT WHAT ABOUT THE CHILDREN!?!”

This is what you always see when it comes to inter-faith relationships. There is this pressing idea that you cannot possibly have both ideas in the home without confusing or misleading the kids. I simply don’t believe this. I do believe it can be difficult to identify as both Jewish and Christian as you get older due to some non-congruent beliefs, but that is no reason not to have both in a home. Children are smarter than we like to give them credit for, and they can handle different ideas.

My daughter at 6 has started asking more questions about religion. She enjoyed our last trip to temple and wants to go again. Obviously, this makes me happy, but she also has been very clear that she wants to celebrate all the holidays and both “halves” of her. Now I am not quite so naive that I don’t realize part of this is the joy of two holidays and the subsequent gifts that go with them. That’s not really a negative to me though. She gets to see the fun times that both religions can provide and celebrate with both sides of her family.

So, we will celebrate twice this month. We will light candles, sing songs, and make latkes (which only my wife will eat, because latkes are disgusting… I know, I know. Get over it.) Then we will decorate a tree, watch The Polar Express, and have Christmas dinner. My daughter will see both religions, she will ask her questions as she always does, and we will answer them the best we can. The same way we handle everything else that crosses her curious mind.

However, there is one part of interfaith marriage I struggle with every year around now. Since I am always busy on Christmas, I do miss the Chinese food and movie.

Happy Holidays, whatever you may celebrate!

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