Nina Amir Lacey is a freelance journalist, nonfiction editor and the author of several booklets about practical spirituality, human potential and personal growth from Jewish perspective. She sees herself as an "everywoman" and her work as crossing religious and spiritual lines. She also serves as the spirituality and holiday expert on Conversations with Ms. Claus, a weekly podcast downloaded by 85,000 listeners each month in 90 different countries and offered on www.yaktivate.com. You can learn more about Nina at Pure Spirit Creations.
Taking Out My Ornaments for an Interfaith Family Christmas Gathering
I haven't taken out my collection of Christmas tree ornaments for at least six years. I guess this year I'll have to crawl into the dark recesses of the closet under the stairs and drag out the box in which they've been packed away. I might even have to purchase a string of lights, since I don't own any of those any more. Otherwise, my mother-in-law and stepson won't feel like they're celebrating Christmas when they come to visit.
Most of my Jewish friends don't even know I have an ornament collection, but, I'm a bit embarrassed to admit, I do. When my stepchildren were young and lived with my husband, Ron, and me before he began to practice Judaism on a more serious basis, and before he converted, each year we purchased a Christmas tree and decorated it. Even after our children were born, we celebrated Christmas for four years.
My two sisters, both raised Jewish, entered into interfaith marriages and to this day celebrate Christmas. When I still celebrated the holiday, we liked to exchange unique Christmas ornaments as gifts for Christmas. So, each year, my ornament collection grew, especially since I would often purchase an extra ornament or two for myself as I shopped for special ones to give them.
At a certain point, however, Ron and I decided we would no longer celebrate Christmas at our house. We realized that each year we would put up the Christmas tree early for my two stepchildren, and then they would leave before Christmas to go spend the actual holiday with their mother. We'd be left with a tree we didn't really care about. When they came back around New Year's Eve, we'd open Christmas presents amongst the falling needles of the all-but-dead tree.
When we gave up our Christmas tradition, our own children were too young to remember they'd had Christmas at home, and we simply replaced the celebration at our house with one at Grandma and Grandpa's home. That seemed more appropriate, since they were Christian. We simply said we were going to their house to celebrate "their holiday." That seemed to work quite well, and the children were happy with that explanation. They didn't mind as long as Santa Claus could find them there.
The only time we ran into a problem was when one of Ron's parents got sick and canceled our visit. My son was still young enough to believe in Santa Claus, and he feared that without a Christmas tree his gifts would not show up. So, our first year in California we visited my friend's Christmas tree farm and cut a very small tree on Christmas Eve, decorated it with my ornaments but no lights, and after the kids went to bed Ron and I "played Santa" by putting the gifts under the tree. We threw the tree away just over 24 hours later.
That was the last time my box of ornaments has seen the light of day. This year, however, my stepson, who is living with my mother-in-law, is bringing her to visit us for Christmas. Her husband died a year and a half ago. Last year she went to England to my brother-in-law's family for the holiday. This year, however, she wants to visit us. And, of course, my stepson, who isn't Jewish, also still celebrates Christmas.
So, we will, once again, go out and cut a tree at my friend's tree farm. We'll probably wait until the last minute, trying not to have a Christmas tree any longer than need be, and then we'll all decorate the tree with my ornament collection and possibly a string of lights. (Maybe I can use the lights for something else afterwards, like to decorate the umbrella on the deck.)
I won't feel badly about celebrating Christmas at our Jewish house. I'll explain it in the same way as I did when we used to go to my in-laws' for Christmas. I'll say, "We're simply celebrating my mother-in-law's holiday and my stepson's holiday; we're creating their holiday here in our home for them. It's a gift for them. It's not our tradition but it's theirs and we can, this one time, do it for them."
At the same time, we'll be lighting Hanukkah candles, since the two holidays overlap this year. They'll watch as we sing the blessings and open our presents each night. And they'll join us for latkes and pot roast and sufganiyot on the first night and maybe on one day of the weekend (when I have time to grate all those potatoes again) just as we'll join them for turkey and mashed potatoes on Christmas Day.
And then, when they're gone, I'll pack up the ornaments and put them back under the steps. I may never need them again, but I keep them anyway. They might come in handy one day. Or maybe I'll hand them down to one of my two children. Who knows who they will marry. One day one of them may want my ornament collection for their own Christmas celebration in their home. I may find myself visiting my grandchildren and admiring my old ornament collection on my child's Christmas tree and celebrating their holiday with them.