Tree or no tree? Little tree or big? Only at the grandparents’, or at home, too? More than perhaps any other symbol, Christmas trees can trigger a variety of emotional responses for Jewish people in interfaith relationships. Whether you already know how you and your partner will handle this issue, or if you haven’t even started talking about it, the following stories from real couples and discussion questions from our experts can help you and your family talk about the elephant in the room: the Christmas tree.
“The Christmas tree triggered the first holiday crisis in our interfaith marriage. The problem began with the fact that the tree is as laden with emotional meanings as it is with decorations—and it meant very different things to me than it did to my husband. For Devin, the tree symbolized the best of family times: Special sweets, warm family gatherings, carols and the excitement of giving and receiving gifts. For me, the tree carried an opposite set of feelings.
Christmas in my childhood was a time of feeling left out, self-conscious, defensive and different. The tree, more than any other object, symbolized those sentiments. When we shared our feelings, I realized that if we chose not to celebrate Christmas, Devin would have feelings of loss, of being cut off from family and of losing the right to engage in one of the most precious parts of his religious experience.” (Read more of this story here.)
“When it came to putting up a Christmas tree, at first my husband was hesitant because he did not grow up with one. But for me, as it was our first holiday season together, I felt the urge to make our apartment more like a home, and that meant a tree. To make my husband feel like he was really a part of the experience, I got him his first ornament: Odell Beckham from the New York Giants! The excitement in his eyes when he hung his first ornament was something I will never forget. But I balanced out the decorations with a fair share of oversized dreidels and Hanukkiyot (Hanukkah menorahs) and snow globes.” (Read more of this story here.)
“Helping my partner lug the tree up our basement stairs is part of helping him observe his holiday. It’s all part of our life together. I used to walk through the store aisles, see menorah and dreidel ornaments, and feel confused. Now I understand that these are pieces of new traditions we are creating. In a way, when we add these to a Christmas tree, we are resting symbols of a smaller Jewish holiday on the branches of a much bigger Christian one. We all make choices. I never anticipated having a Christmas tree in my home, but I always knew there would be a menorah shining out the window.” (Read more of this story here.)
“I want us to have a Christmas tree at Christmas time.”
“We can’t have one.”
“Because we’re Jewish. We have a Jewish home, and Jewish people don’t have Christmas trees.”
“Because I’m your Mommy and when your Mommy or Daddy are Jewish, that makes you Jewish. But, you know what? When its Christmas time, we can go over to Grandma and Grandpa’s and help them decorate their tree.”
(Read more of this story here.)