Growing up in New Jersey, I loved celebrating Christmas. I have lovely memories of opening presents on Christmas morning at my grandmother’s house. We’d find an apple or banana in our stockings and eat a roast with my Aunt Karen’s signature mashed potatoes. But we always knew we were Jews. We knew that we were “different” from that part of my family–we weren’t celebrating “our savior’s birth” but rather a special holiday to share with family.
While my dad is Protestant and my mom is Jewish, we were raised Jewish. I would get mad when other kids called me “half and half.” I went to Hebrew School. I had a bat mitzvah. We were culturally and traditionally Jews, albeit one of just a couple Jewish families in my town. There was no confusion as to our identity.
As luck would have it, in college I fell in love with and later married a Catholic guy from El Salvador who goes to mass every Sunday. When he goes to church, I take our daughter to Hebrew School. We don’t have “interfaith” down to an exact science, but we do what works for us. In our house that means my husband comes to family services at shul with me, and we all accompany him to church for Christmas and Easter mass. We all help him decorate the Christmas tree, and the kids help me light the menorah while I sing the blessings.
Whereas my Judaism is something I wear on my sleeve — I talk about it, am proud of it, I write about it — his Catholicism is a more private thing. He knew by marrying me we’d be raising Jewish children, but he isn’t converting and I’d never ask him to — nor would he expect me to suddenly believe in Jesus as the son of God. And so, we celebrate both December holidays. Our kids know Daddy isn’t Jewish, just like I knew my own dad wasn’t. For now, it isn’t an issue; though I’m sure, as they get older more questions will come.
Which brings me to Christmas mass, something I’ll go to this year like I have every year since we got together 17 years ago. It may come as a surprise to some, but this Jew enjoys Christmas mass! For real. I’ve come to enjoy the expected — the beautiful Catholic rituals, the songs, the kids’ choir, and the warmth of being smushed with hundreds of other congregants. Of course, I don’t kneel or go up for communion, and the pro-life prayer at the end makes me a tad bit squeamish. But on the whole, I enjoy sharing that part of tradition and ritual with him, including the portion of the service when we offer one another “peace.”
Truthfully, there is something comforting in the routine — even if it’s not your own familiar routine. When one of my best friends died suddenly on the operating table almost three years ago, we hadn’t yet joined our synagogue. Her family planned a celebration of life for her birthday a month later, but I still felt compelled to mourn her somewhere. She died on Wed, April 1, 2015 — and the following Sunday happened to be Easter Sunday. As we do every Easter, we went to mass as a family, and I found comfort in being in a house of worship. I appreciated that I recognized the songs and prayers even if they weren’t my own. . I was still mourning when we left and in the weeks and months that followed but the experience was therapeutic.
And that’s why next week you’ll find my Catholic husband, our Jewish kids, and me at Christmas mass. While it may feel like a sacrifice at first (“But I don’t believe in anything they’re saying!”) I hope you, too, can find peace and beauty in the traditions and rituals of another religion while staying true to your own. Right now, the world needs all the love it can get — regardless of what house of worship we belong to.