I really have to thank cathedral_life
for pointing me in the direction of the Fifty Percenters Blog
. I might blog about it more later. I particularly liked the post The Christmas Tree Debate is a Distraction
. Go read the original post but if you really can't here's a quote which sums a lot of it up:"if my children's sense of Jewish identity was so fragile that the act of decorating a Christmas tree was capable of destabilizing them to the point of not knowing who they were, then there was something very deeply wrong that went far beyond Christmas. Perhaps I am an idealist, but I believe that Jewish identity, when it is steeped in history, community, education, love, reflection, and sincere practice, is strong enough to withstand the temptation of shiny baubles.
On a similar note there's a post on Homeshuling
entitled Playing Christians
in which the author confesses:"But my approach to Christmas has been different. I treat it more like a gateway drug – serve a few glasses of eggnog, or turn on Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, and next thing I know, my children will be signing up for the convent."
Happily she then explains how she came to realise that her children's sense of Judaism was not so fragile that it would be destroyed by a visit to the Nutcracker.
At my conversion course we had a session on "The December Dilemma". I've also been to a session on it at Limmud (which was sort of an excuse to watch Southpark) and I've discussed it with my cheder students (that's December not Southpark). I've come to realise that Alec and my approach is quite different to a lot of Jews so I'll write a bit about it.
The first difference which really strikes me is that the "December Dilemma" pails into insignificance compared to the "March/April Logistical Nightmare". We find December quite easy. Channukah is a minor holiday and only requires minimal preparation (buy candles, find channukiah, eat fat) and the things I need to celebrate it are relatively portable. Christmas doesn't involve too much prep for us, just a bit of dashing about the country, visiting relatives, and ordering gifts from Amazon. Compare that to deep cleaning the entire house, coming up with a week's worth of kosher l'Pesach food and not being able to travel on certain days or eat out at all, all at the same time as your spouse is experiencing the most important festival of his religious year and your relatives want you to visit them and and eat non-kosher l'Pesach sweeties. Apart from the far greater logistical problems there's also a difference in the level of discordance of mood. Alec is a bit of a Prot and therefore doesn't really do Advent other than going to church on the different Advent Sundays. Christmas is a joyful festival as is Chanukah. If you squint you can see lots of the same themes come through: hope, miracles, pretty lights, unhealthy food. Compare that to the complete discordance when the Pesach seder, complete with joyful singing of Psalms and multiple uses of the word "hallelujah" (to shock my more Catholic readers) falls on Holy Thursday. Even better, a few years ago Purim fell on Good Friday. Imagine Alec trying to mourn the death of his Messiah whilst I'm running around in fancy dress getting drunk and eating far too many biscuits. Compared to that, finding a place for your chanukiah where it won't set fire to the Christmas tree is a minor issue.
I think another big difference in our attitude is that we are both religious and both regard Chanukah and Christmas as religious festivals. My parents are practising Anglicans and my childhood Christmases were very much Christian religious festivals. We would go to church on Christmas morning before we were allowed to open any presents, and when I was older I was allowed to accompany my parents to Midnight Mass. A prominent part of our Christmas decorations was a nativity set* and there were explicitly religious ornaments on the tree. I think the fairy on top of the tree was referred to as an angel. Lots of Jews say that they find Christmas easier to deal with if they think of it as a secular festival. I find the opposite. I see Christmas as a religious festival celebrated by many of my friends and relatives. Just as I might go along to Muslim friend's Eid celebration, I don't feel a problem with going to my in-laws for Christmas dinner. I won't take part in the religious services and I don't really feel comfortable singing Christmas carols (which is a pity because I like a lot of them). I wouldn't celebrate Christmas on my own, and some years I haven't taken part in celebrations because I've been at Limmud, but I'm happy to go and spend time with loved ones whilst they celebrate their festival.
On the other side of things, I think being religious helps me to feel more comfortable when negotiating Christmas. Like, Hannah and Amy, my Judaism doesn't boil down to whether or not I have a Christmas tree and isn't going to be vaporised by a verse of Jingle Bells. With a clear idea of what it means to me to be Jewish, I'm able to sort out what aspects of Christmas would come into conflict with it (worshipping Jesus) and what won't (helping Alec pick out tree baubles, eating vegan mince pies). I think that would be harder if my Judaism boiled down to a nebulous 'we must be Jewish or Hitler has won'.
I think one way that we're different to some interfaith families is that we like to keep our religions separate. At our wedding we held two different marriage ceremonies rather than trying to meld our different religious traditions into one. Our religious traditions are like oil and water. They exist around each other but we try not to let them mix. In this context, I'd rather have a Christmas tree in my house than a Chanukah bush. I'd rather my children receive Christmas presents than pretend that gift giving is a traditional part of Chanukah. Being in an interfaith family actually helps me to keep Chanukah more Jewish.*Over the years bits got broken or lost and replaced so that we ended up with two Maries, about ten shepherds but only two wise men.