Thursday, December 02, 2010

some firsts

I know we've discussed before that Josh is Jewish and I'm Catholic, and not surprisingly, December is a tough time of year for us. Or well, a tough time of year for me. When we were dating and it became abundantly clear very early on that this relationship was for the long haul, we agreed we would pick one religion for our children rather than have the kids attempt to celebrate both Christianity and Judaism. For many different reasons, we ended up choosing Judaism, so the kids are being raised Jewish. Since Judaism passes through the mother, they were both converted when they were a few months old with a ceremony and a party and a dunking under water at a traditional Jewish bath.

It has worked out for us, and it turns out I am an excellent fake Jew. One of my friends works at a temple and she says regularly that I'm more Jewish than most of the Jews she knows, so my kids seem to be doing just fine. The real trouble is, however, you don't realize how much of your childhood memories are tied up in religion until you can't celebrate those things anymore. No Easter baskets, no references to Santa Claus, no Christmas trees, no advent wreaths, no midnight masses. When I was a practicing Catholic, I went to church every week, did youth group, was a lector at church, participated in tons of holiday events. It has been a huge change for me to raise children who aren't Catholic.

Last year, I found myself feeling particularly sad as the holidays approached. I felt as if none of my childhood rituals were being passed down to my kids, as if I had nothing to share. It was a difficult December, especially with the multiple hits of the stomach flu and ear infections. As December came to a close, I sat down with Josh and told him something had to change. I cannot feel this way for the rest of my life, and as we often do when issues come up, we talked about what changes we can make.

After much gnashing of teeth and discussion, we are going to incorporate some of my traditions and call them by different names. Last year we colored Passover eggs with the kids, and although I suspect Josh was a little uncomfortable, it worked, the kids had fun, and I was happy. This year, for the first time ever, we are trying out a "Hanukkah bush". We will be decorating a small tree with silver and blue Hanukkah ornaments, most of which I suspect we will make with the kids. Doing something like this is controversial, for sure, and I expect to hear some negative comments from our Jewish friends and family, but I feel strongly that everyone has to do what works for their family. We'll try it this year and see whether it works or not, and maybe do things differently next year.

We'll also be celebrating Hanukkah, of course, with songs and cookies and community events and latkes and stories. I'm not too worried about the kids, especially because that's why we're here. If there is ever any confusion, we'll explain it. And then we'll explain it again. And again, if we need to. Hopefully this year will be a happier year for everyone.


Stacy said...

You are doing a perfect job!
There is no reason for anyone to critize you at all.
Its a good blend and it works for your family. that is what is important

Downsized Attorney said...

Most of my Jewish friends have a non-Jewish parent and many of them had blended traditions like what you're suggesting. You should do whatever makes sense for your family. I know that if I had to give up Christmas or Easter I don't think I would be able to handle it nearly as gracefully as you have. At least you've still got Halloween!

tk said...

Dude, all my Jewish friends in LA totally have Xmas trees and do a Christmas dinner, they just don't go to mass. It's twice the holiday fun! And none of them seemed confused.

Rev Dr Mom said...

I love your comment about being more Jewish than "real" Jews. At a retreat for people preparing for priesthood we once were asked, "What religion would you be if you weren't Episcopalian?" and my answer was Conservative Jew--there is a lot we have in common (except for the whole Jesus thing). And a lot of Jewish practice speaks to me.

I think it would be really hard to be a faithful Jew and still do secular Christmas as some do, so I think your compromises make a whole lot of sense. But the bottom line is what others think really doesn't matter -- what matters is what is best for your family, and it sounds like you are working that out.

Happy Hanukkah!

OneTiredEma said...

Rev Dr Mom, I'd want to be Quaker it I weren't Jewish :)

Anyway, it's funny--my husband and son were eating hard boiled eggs yesterday and I said they could totally be adapted as a dreidel substitute--dye them, write letters on each side, etc.

Blended families have it rough this time of year--my stepmom is not Jewish (both my parents are, thereby saving me some angst)...and though my dad seems to have no attachment to Judaism whatsoever, he refused for YEARS (years!) to allow a Christmas tree in the house. But once it was clear my sister wasn't going to have any sort of Jewish education--she was never converted--he didn't have much of a leg to stand on. My stepmom's version of Christmas/Easter has no religious flavor, just a lot of evergreen/poinsettia/lilies/gifts/baked goods...I enjoyed it, but from the outside looking in.

Hope you're enjoying Chanukah. Do you do some sort of Christmas celebration out of your house? With friends or family? (with or without your kids?) Would that help you feel less bereft?

Chatty Cricket said...

it's just MORE PRETTY. And who doesn't want MORE PRETTY? It's the secular side of your tradition at any rate, it's not as though you're advocating for Midnight Mass.

I think you are an excellent fake Jew.

also, I want it noted that my word verification on this one is "croch" which is just one "t" short of a good time. Even blogger wants us to all have fun!

liz said...

Hey, I _AM_ Jewish and we celebrated (and still do celebrate) Christmas with all the trimmings. Peace on Earth, good will to men. What's not to love about that?

Do what makes for good memories, is what I'm saying.

Knit and Purl Mama said...

You're probably a better Jew than I am. We're totally non-practicing, but do the fun holidays, LOL. I love your Chanukah Bush idea.. I've seen it done in my family before. We actually celebrate Xmas too - my hubby's step family is not Jewish. But we don't actually put up a tree. This year, Sean & Mack were learning about Xmas & Chanukah at school, so they had a good time lighting the candles. I spent most of Chanukah in the hospital after my Csection this year, so if Sean wouldn't have asked my husband to light the candles, it probably would have gotten forgotten about.

What a neat idea to incorporate your traditions in as well.