Introduction and December, Y’all!

Shalom, y’all! I’m Warren, and I’m going to be contributing to the Parenting blog here at InterfaithFamily. I’m the Jewish partner in my marriage — my wife was raised in a church-every-Sunday Episcopalian home — but I’m also the product of an interfaith marriage: my mother was raised as a Conservative Jew, and my father as a Baptist.

My wife, Moira, and I are expecting our first child in February (yay!). Added to this fun and exciting mix is the fact that I’m also a Reform Jewish camping professional. Jewish camp was a huge part of my life growing up, and continues to be, both personally and professionally. I’ve always intended for my children to be Jewish, but because of my family background, my spouse’s religion was never a huge concern.

I’ve been fortunate enough to marry a wonderful woman who’s agreed to join me in raising Jewish children, even though that’s not her faith. We were a long time in coming to these decisions, obviously, just like I’m sure most of you were. So, that’s a little about me & mine — looking forward to the conversation!

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The “December Dilemma” has never been a dilemma for me (though I learned a few years ago that it was an issue for my Jewish mother at first). My parents were always very clear that we were a Jewish household and we celebrated Christmas for my father. Moira and I anticipate doing much the same with our child(ren) in the future. I know we’ll create our own ChristmaHannumas traditions just as my parents did. Their compromise is delicious: latkes & fried chicken.

No, this year my December dilemma is my in-laws’ Christmas traditions in my house. Due to Moira’s pregnancy, for the first time in our relationship (10+ years), we won’t be traveling to either her parent’s home or mine for Christmas. Instead, we’re hosting her parents and siblings for Christmas in our otherwise Jewish home.
I’ve celebrated Christmas with them four or five times, but this will be the first time we host Christmas at all, and that makes me a little nervous.

One of the things I think Moira & I have done well over the years is to identify parts of Jewish traditions that we really enjoy and embrace. So while Shabbat in our home looks a lot like Shabbat at my parents’ home, it’s also importantly different and “ours.” Similarly with Pesach (Passover) & the Days of Awe (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur), Chanukah, etc.

However, because we’ve always traveled for Christmas, we’ve never developed a set of Christmas traditions. And while I like my in-laws a lot, their Christmas traditions are very different from the ones I grew up with, since theirs is a Christian home and mine was a Jewish one. And, as I mentioned before, trying to meet their expectations of what Christmas “should be” in our home makes me nervous.

What’s Christmas like for you all with your non-Jewish family?

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6 thoughts on “Introduction and December, Y’all!

  1. Warren – I think you are moving in the right direction and I hope my now adult son has the same questions. When my son was young, we only went to grandma and grandpa’s for Christmas. This changed the year my mil broke her hip, and I thought the most Jewish thing I could do for her was to make Christmas when she could not. We did and there were several subsequent turbulent years and we now spend christmas eve with in-laws and x-mas morning at home and “Jewish” christmas chinese food with our jewish friends x-mas day. I can tell you some of my regrets — for all the Jewish holidays, we created our own adult version – -but up until very recently (and my son is 18) we did not have an adult version of xmas. As such, my husband never quite made the transition from his childhood expectations to adult expectations. Second, all the Jewish holidays had a religious meaning and Xmas was just about presents — I wish that we had introduced some religious meaning — even if it was not our own, but to show respect for what the grandparents believe.

  2. We celebrate Christmas enthusiastically in our Jewish home. Although my Jewish in-laws try to ignore the fact that we put up a tree, and certainly stopped commenting years ago. The kids know that Hanukkah is the holiday with the spiritual meaning, and that Christmas is more about lights and candy canes, Santa and presents. We do stockings and presents, and then head to my mother’s for Christmas Dinner. We also created our own tradition of Chinese food on Christmas Eve, because, as we tell the kids, we’re Jewish and that’s usually what Jewish people do on Christmas Eve :-)

  3. Good to hear some other people are on the same track. Christmas as a kid didn’t have any religious meaning in my family–my dad listened to “A Carnegie Hall Christmas” every day for a week, we had presents & a tree and went to church where we all slept through the sermon. It remains a cultural holiday for my father–some remnant of his childhood–but doesn’t have spiritual meaning. Though, frankly, neither does Hanukkah.

  4. Warren – welcome! We have three young kids who we are raising Jewish in a Jewish home but with interfaith parents (my wife was raised Catholic and has no current plans to convert). Very early on, we decided that Christmas would be clearly an “at Grandma’s” thing, especially since it is my wife’s family tradition for everyone to get together there each year. However, pregnancy and young babies has meant that we asked everyone to come out to us a couple of times. One tip if this happens again for you (it’s probably too late this year): a vacation rental home for your guests. That way, there is enough space for everyone instead of crowding into your (I’m assuming not huge) home, and all of the Christmas traditions are still kept on neutral turf. This last point has been especially important for my family in not confusing our kids (we help our family, friends, and others celebrate Christmas, but in our family, it is something that is not ours).

    One important thing you might consider (try not to worry too much, though!): Status quos change. As time has gone by and my wife’s family has shifted and changed (her brother got married and has to split time between the families – with a baby now on the way; her parents are preparing to sell their large house and move to a condo), the “everyone goes to Grandma’s” tradition is getting more tenuous. That has caused real angst for my wife; she feels the threat of losing the only time each year that her family gathers and one of the only significant parts of her life that isn’t radically changed by marrying a Jew. Not being raised Christian, it has taken a while for me to appreciate how deep and emotionally tangled this holiday can be.

  5. I have been married to my husband for 29 years. He is the Jewish member of our family group. When we married my mother in law didn’t take it very well and we had some issues. My 3 sons were raised agnostic and were meant to find their own path…… My middle son just got lost somewhere along the way.
    I was raised in Egypt, so alot of customs and traditions are similar between my husband and me…
    I am currently raising my 4 grandchildren. ages range from 4 to 7. 3 are mixed race, and all of them have some identity issues regarding relationships and color. My husband and I have decided to readjust our lives to focus on their Jewish Heritage. This year we are celebrating our first Hanukkah…….and my husband, rather rustly remembered the Hebrew. The children thought it was wonderful and made them special. We do plan to celebrate the christmas too but with out all the hype and the main focus on things that so often happens at this time of year.
    I am at this time, actually trying to reach out to anyone………..you see i am overwhelmed by everything…including the exuberance of small children running around..

  6. somehow that came out wrong now that I read it…….. we plan to celebrate christmas in a samll way………. without all the hype etc…..so they children know its part of them but not alot of the attachment to THINGs……….

    Because they are mixed race, the jewish thing is also different from the rest of the community and tho it makes them stand out as more different they also now feel a sense of unity in the family that I think the older 2 were lacking ……………

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