It’s the conversation topic almost every interfaith couple dreads (that is, if one of the members is Christian). The C word… “Christmas.” While many look forward to the December holiday (it’s mid-October as I type this and I’m sure there’s a woman with a bedazzled denim vest cackling to herself in the back of a Michael’s while she fills her cart with wreaths and ornaments), for interfaith couples this time of year can cause conflict.
For me, this conflict started early. As a Jewish kid who grew up around Christians (both at school and at home), my mother was worried about me and my brother being “tempted” by Christmas like it was the dark side and Santa Claus was Darth Vader. It’s not that she wanted us to hate Christmas, but like a lot of parents, she worried that Hanukkah wouldn’t measure up and as a result tried to make sure we always had the best Hanukkah.
We got our own personalized Hanukkah books, made menorahs at Sunday school, cooked latkes, it was awesome! But the fact of the matter is this is America, and Christmas is as unavoidable as pink eye was at my college (sophomore year, tried to hide it from my germophobic roommate, didn’t end well). Couple that with the fact that both my stepfather and stepmother are Christian and wanted to celebrate Christmas as a family, and soon I was a certified double-dipper. Now it seems old hat to me to celebrate both.
But it’s different when you are a Jew in an interfaith relationship with a Christian discussing Christmas. Many Jews (such as myself) think that once you’re married and have a family that if you bring a Christmas tree into your home you’ll somehow lose a merit badge on your Jewish accomplishment belt. I worried about disappointing my mother (shocking), so I always told myself that if I ended up with a Christian partner that I’d put my foot down and say, “no Christmas in the house.” It wasn’t until I met Femi that I realized that relationships involve two people and two sets of perspectives (again, shocking).
I don’t remember how the conversation came up but when it did we were in the car and I threw down the gauntlet. Here’s how it went:
Me: I mean, we can still celebrate Christmas at my dad’s house but I don’t want a tree or anything at our house.
Femi: Why not?
Me: Um… (dammit, don’t let him know you don’t have an answer for that!) because our future kid’s friends will have questions about why he/she is celebrating Christmas even though he/she is Jewish and that might be difficult.
Femi: Uh, I think our kid’s friends will have enough questions about why mommy is white and daddy is black that this shouldn’t be a problem. Besides, if we have the opportunity to teach our child to value and celebrate his/her differences and that no one can tell him/her that there’s one “right” way to do things, that’ll be great.
Me: Hm…never thought about it like that.
I then went on to ask him why he was so adamant about us celebrating Christmas at home. Femi didn’t really like Christmas when we met. He used to change his Facebook profile picture to the Grinch every year around Christmas-time (note: he hasn’t done this since we’ve been together—leave it to the Jew to teach him the fun of Christmas). When I asked him, he said that he didn’t have fond memories of Christmas from his childhood, and that he’d like the chance to make new and better ones with our future family.
That moment meant so much to me for three reasons. First, any moment in which your partner is being vulnerable and sharing something difficult means that they trust you and feel comfortable around you, which is great. Second, Femi showed me that he thought about our future as a family, which was comforting. And third, that moment taught me the value of perspective and flexibility. Our initial opinions on the matter came from two totally different places, but because we were able to listen to each other, we found a compromise that brought us closer together as a couple.
I still look back on that conversation as one of the best in our relationship. It really highlighted the importance of direct communication. While I still grapple with the fear of disappointing my mother for not being the greatest Jew who ever Jew-d, it’s more important that I work with my partner Femi to figure out what works best for us.
So light a menorah, eat a candy cane, play dreidel, and by all means listen to Mariah’s “All I Want For Christmas is You” on repeat. This holiday season, do you, boo boo.