Christmas is magical. The mystic that has been built around it in America is demonstrated in every store and television special. What we expect to feel – and what many do feel – about the entire Christmas season is a sense of elation.
If you have loved Christmas all your life then there are many reasons that make it remarkable for you. Here are three powerful aspects of Christmas.
1. Family – this is one of the two most family-oriented holidays in America. (The other being Thanksgiving.) Everyone gets together; everyone makes an effort to get along. Even cynical Uncle Fred wears a Santa hat and gets into the spirit of family rituals – games, meals, decorating, etc.
2. Ritual – the repetition of words and actions is tremendously powerful. Even two Christians getting married can have conflict over doing it “my” way vs. “yours.” Buying the tree, making Grandma’s special cookies, decorating together – all the things that you did for year after year are rituals that you simply see as a part of you. What you did as a child has, by this time, become a core part of you.
3. Cultural affirmation – the entire country is doing this together. I remember a woman, not religiously Christian, but what I would call American Folkloric Christian, saying, “I love Christmas; it’s the only time of year that everyone is together.” What she meant was during the Christmas season postal workers, BART riders, retail sales people, courthouse clerks, are all more cheerful, wish you a Merry Christmas, wear a Christmas pin and have a small bowl of peppermints on their desk; these a national sense of togetherness.
If you are the non-Jewish partner you ‘get’ what I am saying here. I hope if you are the Jewish partner you can now better understand why you may feel so threatened by the massive event that is Christmas.
If you do not yet have children, experiment with Christmas. Together, practice some or all of the Christmas activities of the non-Jewish partner. Each of you should make note of what you feel about each of activity. BE HONEST with your self and each other. Don’t make excuses like, the Christmas tree is really pagan. NO ONE is putting up a tree because they are pagan.
With each activity consider these things:
*How do I feel? – Elated? Anxious? I would be embarrassed for my parents/friends/ clergy person to see me doing this.
*How does my partner feel? Listen to each other describing how they feel. Take it in.
*Is this OK for us as a couple but I worry about how a child will perceive this? – I worry that this will make any child turn Christian, or at least less Jewish.
*I’m afraid doing ‘this’ will lead to my giving in about something else.
*How would we explain this to our children? – Write down some possible explanations and feel free to run them by me.
Also consider, how long does Christmas last for us? Is it one week, we dash out get a tree, decorate, shop, and celebrate and take down the tree and clean up all in 7 days? Or does it begin sometime in October and last through early January?
If you don’t have kids, or the kids are pretty young, you can do a lot of experimenting with no need for explanation. Go for it.
Have many conversations. Be completely honest with your self. If you are the Christmas lover, let it in that Christmas is not a pagan ritual or we wouldn’t be celebrating it in this country. This holiday is Christian at its heart and in the eyes of other religious minorities – Jews, Muslims, Hindus, etc. That may not be what it means to you, but that is how the others view it. Understand that your Jewish partner has every right to be anxious, unhappy and uncomfortable. He or she may not have the experience of ‘losing’ a family tradition but he has lived in a subordinate culture all his life – frankly, that is hard for a lot of people. Show some sympathy and try to understand what he/she is going through in a Christian country day and especially from October to January.
If you are the Jew, own your discomfort, don’t just act it out. Talk about your feelings; your partner can’t read your mind. If you are having a hard time articulating what you feel, call me and we can sort it out. Notice what it is your partner loves at its core – is it being with family? Creating a fantasy wonderland? Having a buzzing social life? Baking all day? Ask your self, in what ways have I (or could I) offer them Jewishly based activities that would help to meet this need? I’m not saying you will be able to replace Christmas, I am saying that if there is very little fun in your Jewish life you aren’t offering much and shouldn’t expect Judaism to look very attractive to them.
Each of you should mentally step back and try to see Christmas through your partner’s eyes. You don’t have to take on their view, but you should understand it.
Now, Christmas is next week, so embrace whatever it is that the two of you have decided to do. If Christmas is going to be a part of your lives and you want to raise your children Jewish, you have some work ahead of you. But remember, no one said raising children would be easy no matter what you choose for your home observance.