The first year there was a Christmas tree in my home, the guilt I felt was tremendous. For the first 26 years of my life, there had been no tree. In fact, at Sunday school, we were taught we were absolutely not to participate in Christmas activities, whether it was decorating a tree, singing a song, performing in a play, or even attending a party. I remember feeling almost cocky about it in my warped childhood mind. We were not Christian, and we would not pretend to be Christian. So there, all you Christians!
In truth, I was always envious of my Christian friends. Christmas in my world was just December 25th on the calendar, and almost everyone else I knew spent that day immersed in a wonderful celebration. I remember how excited my friends in college were to be going home for the holidays, and I was always sad. I felt very left out, although I knew that was never anyone’s intention.
Before we had children, Dave and I knew we had to decide how we would merge our two religions. We agreed that because our kids would be exposed to a lot of the Christian world in their everyday lives, we would make an effort to raise them to be Jewish, with the understanding that we would also celebrate Christmas and Easter. That seemed to be a reasonable compromise.
It continued to seem reasonable until we started our family, and my agreement to participate in Christmas activities was staring me in the face. I held up my end of the bargain, though, and jumped into it wholeheartedly. I have to fess up here. I LOVED Christmas! I loved baking and decorating and gift giving and carols and parties. I had a lot of years to make up for, and I was going to do my best to measure up, and really, it was so much more fun than Chanukah, which was a minor holiday anyway.
The guilt, however, was always there. Always. So how did I move past it? It was a bit of a process. I recognized that for Christians, this was a holiday celebrating the birth of their savior. That’s a really big deal. So what’s wrong with celebrating it with them? There wasn’t an invitation-only list at the door. Anybody could join in. So I decided it was okay for me to do so.
Then when Leah was a baby, I overheard a conversation between a relative and a priest. (No, it wasn’t after they walked into a bar.) The priest was told that Leah’s mommy was Jewish, and her daddy was Christian. I groaned inwardly that this was being said to a priest and dreaded his response, but without missing a beat, he said, “Then she’s doubly blessed.”
Whaaat? It wasn’t wrong? It wasn’t cheating? I shouldn’t feel guilty?? Well, that was certainly a different way to look at it. I had never thought it could in any way be a good thing.
Then I read an article written by a Christian mother with a Jewish husband, and she said after much of the same difficulties, they realized they could celebrate the best of both their religions. Again, what language were these people speaking? The best of both? Where is the guilt in that?
Somewhere along the way, I decided excessive guilt was not healthy, and I was going to choose to move beyond it. Now you have to remember, I’m Jewish. Guilt is one of our food groups. This was not a quick and easy decision to make. I remember telling my mom around this time that I decided I would no longer participate in parts of my religion that I only did out of guilt. Her response to me was, “But religion is all about guilt!”
Frankly, my Catholic friends understand this better than anyone. We joke with each other often about Jews and Catholics being the guilt co-champions. It amuses me that our religions are so different, but yet in some ways we are very similar.
But let’s get back to our two-religion household. People would often say how lucky our kids were to get double the gifts. Let me clarify this. They did not get double anything. We never wanted it to be about the stuff. So we decided Christmas would be the gift-giving holiday, and Chanukah would be the “doing things together” holiday. For eight days, we would attempt to have family experiences. We actually managed to get in about five or six in most years. This could be a night of playing games, doing craft projects, baking cookies, or something like going to a movie or bowling. We didn’t spend a lot of money, but we did spend real time together.
After a few years, we didn’t have to think about it anymore. It all came naturally…… so much so, that when people would ask if our mixed marriage caused any problems, we would say, “Yes! You try living in a house with a Cardinal fan and a Cub fan!”