fbpx

How to Talk About Christmas Trees in an Interfaith Relationship

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.

Tree as Marriage Crisis

“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.)

Introducing Christmas Tree Ornaments

“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.)

Putting it in Perspective

“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.)

Why Can’t We Have a Christmas Tree?

“I want us to have a Christmas tree at Christmas time.”
“We can’t have one.”
“Why not?”
“Because we’re Jewish. We have a Jewish home, and Jewish people don’t have Christmas trees.”
“Why not?”
[…]
“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.)

Let’s Discuss

  1. What parts of these stories feel familiar to you? What parts are harder to relate to?
  2. How did seeing a Christmas tree make you feel as a child? Have those feelings changed or evolved through your adulthood? Do you think that they will continue to change and evolve (especially if you have or plan to have kids)?
  3. Do you find it challenging to talk to your partner about Christmas trees? Why or why not? Does your partner articulate their feelings in a way that you are able to understand, even if you don’t agree? Do you feel satisfied with the way you are sharing your feelings about Christmas trees with your partner?
  4. Does do the opinions of those close to you impact your decision-making about whether or not to have a tree? If they impact it, why do these particular people’s opinions matter to you?
  5. Would you feel comfortable if you were to have a Christmas tree and Jewish symbols and objects were connected to it? For instance, Jewish-themed ornaments hanging from it or a Jewish star on top? Why or why not?
18Doors

Author: 18Doors

18Doors is here to support interfaith couples and families exploring Jewish life. We offer educational content; connections to welcoming organizations, professionals and programs; resources and trainings for organizations, clergy and other program providers; and our Rukin Rabbinic Fellowship provides offerings for couples in cities nationwide. If you have questions, please contact info@18doors.org.


18Doors

18Doors is here to support interfaith couples and families exploring Jewish life. We offer educational content; connections to welcoming organizations, professionals and programs; resources and trainings for organizations, clergy and other program providers; and our Rukin Rabbinic Fellowship provides offerings for couples in cities nationwide. If you have questions, please contact info@18doors.org.