Saturday, December 5, 2009

The December Dilemma

It's an actual dilemma - I didn't make up the name. This whole December/holiday problem comes up every year for families that are interfaith. Not that we're technically interfaith anymore, because the kids and I converted to Judaism earlier this year. But unfortunately - it's still a dilemma.

This morning, Marc and I had our annual battle over the holidays. The worst part is that it's all theoretical - we weren't fighting over whether we'd be celebrating Hanukkah (we are) or if we'd be putting up a tree (we're doing that too). For me, Christmas isn't a religious holiday - but it's still a beautiful one, filled with tradition and peace and goodwill towards men. I have wonderful memories of Christmas as a child. And because we were never really a traditional Catholic family (most of my family would self identify as pagan or wiccan if asked), I don't have any religious associations with it.

But for a Jewish person - someone who was raised Jewish - Christmas does have all sorts of negative religious associations. And it's hard for Marc to compromise. Not that he's not going to compromise, not that he's ever said that I can't get a tree or put up my little nativity scene that my mom made me when I was a kid. But he's not thrilled with it - and I want him to feel better about it. I essentially was fighting with him about the way he feels and not the way he's acting. Because actions - he's great with that. He'll go get me my tree, and let me string up the lights and hang the candy canes. He enthusiastically watches all the Christmas specials with the kids, and will come with me to my mother's house on Christmas Day.

I didn't grow up Jewish, and I'm okay with that. I'm very happy with my spiritual path, the road I've taken to get to where I am, and I wouldn't change that. I don't want to pretend that I didn't celebrate what, for me, is a wonderful, life affirming, joyous time of year - and I don't want to deprive my kids from that. But I AM Jewish - and I don't want to change that either. Left to my own devices, I don't have any conflict with lighting the menorah and making potato latkes and putting up a tree and leaving cookies out for Santa. Because one is spritual, one is a celebration of a miracle, it's a way of bringing light into the darkest time of the year - and one is just fun, pretty lights, candy canes and jingle bells. My kids know the difference - and are able to appreciate each holiday for what it represents to them. I just wish sometimes it was easier for Marc to get there.

It would be easier, I think, if Marc had gone thru a conversion process similiar to the one that I went thru. If he had thought about all of this, figured out what's important to him, what he'll compromise on, what he can't, how he wants to raise the kids, etc. But there's no conversion process for Jews who marry girls who aren't Jewish. And even though I've converted, there are still compromises that he has to make, just because I'm not, nor will I ever be, a person who grew up Jewish. I can't magically erase my past, and more importantly, I don't want to. I don't want to hide who I am and my family's traditions from my kids. I'm perfectly comfortable with being a Jewish woman who celebrates Christmas as well as Hanukkah. I'm very comfortable with the December Dilemma - I worked my way thru it over the past couple of years ago. It's just occuring to me that Marc missed out on that - he missed out on that introspection, that really deep thinking about what our marriage means to him, what it means to raise children with someone of a different background.

We'll survive the December Dilemma - we do every year. And in the end, it's precisely because of who we are that keeps us together. I know that he loves me, exactly as I am, and I know that I feel the same about him. Our children will grow up with a strong Jewish identity - but they're also going to grow up knowing all the words to the 12 Days of Christmas and craving candy canes every December. And that's exactly the way I want it to be.

2 comments:

Heather said...

Melissa, when you say that for you, Christmas is not a religious holiday, do you mean because you're Jewish, and don't celebrate it as such?

I was just wondering, since Christmas wouldn't even be a holiday at all if not for Christ. As a Christian, it bothers me when people take Christ out of Christmas. I hope you don't feel that I'm attacking you - that's not my intention. I'm just trying to understand things from your point of view.

Melissa said...

My family has always celebrated Christmas along with the Winter Soltice. I think it's interesting that almost all the major religions seem to have some sort of holiday that runs along the theme of bringing light into the darkness, a recognition that with the longest night of the year also comes the beginning of the turn back towards sunshine. I respect that for many people, Christmas is an incredibly religious holiday, and I would never mean to disparage that, or diminish what it means for people who celebrate it as the birth of Christ. I still love Christmas and enjoy celebrating it even if I'm not Christian. I suppose, to be technical about it, I celebrate it more as the Soltice, which is generally a few days before.