This year Christmas falls smack dab in the middle of Hanukkah. This fact would have meant nothing to me as a child. Now it means a lot.
Growing up, I was a good Catholic girl who went to a Catholic school in a largely Catholic town. I went to church every Sunday and every holy day of obligation. Among those feast days, Christmas was by far my favorite.
Like many little kids, I loved Christmas for the presents and the reindeer and the jolly old man dressed in red. But I also loved the mystery of the nativity story, the nobility of the poor mother seeking out shelter to give birth to her child, the wise men traveling to welcome this child with gifts. I loved looking at the life-sized crèche on the altar at our church, its giant baby Jesus never making his appearance until midnight mass. I loved lying under the Christmas tree in our family room, gazing up at the constellation of lights and tinsel and glittering ornaments. The rituals of Christmas were tied up for me with everything good about childhood – innocence, wonder, security, home.
Now there is no tree in my house, no carols, no Gospel of Luke or Matthew. We don’t celebrate Christmas here. I do, but we don’t.
You see, my husband is Jewish. And this fact – coupled with my own faith tradition – seemed for a while like it might derail us. When we were dating – years before the idea of marriage ever surfaced – we thought long about the choice to be with someone of a different religion. We read books; we took online quizzes; we sought advice. We wondered how we would pull off a wedding. We wondered how our children would answer the question, “What are you?”
But then we found that we really loved each other. We couldn’t imagine not being together, not having these hypothetical children – different faiths and all. We found a way to have a wedding. We found a way to bring our three kids into the world. And we simply don’t think about it so much anymore.
But, when Christmas and Hanukkah approach, I still do.
People in the interfaith community use the term “December Dilemma” to connote the difficulty couples face in choosing a religious path for their mixed families. And indeed I feel a dilemma at this time of year, but it’s not the one that I imagined before I had kids of my own.
Our ad hoc solution for what to do about the winter holidays has been to celebrate each one with our respective families. So we enjoy Hanukkah, latkes, and candle lighting with my husband’s mother, and Christmas, the manger, and stockings with my parents. And that is nice. In fact, it is lovely.
But I worry about the future – about sending the message to my kids that holidays happen elsewhere, outside of our home. That Christmas and Hanukkah are essentially about material acquisition. That the stories behind them are easily glossed over amidst packing suitcases full of gifts and rushing out of town.
This year I will celebrate Christmas. I will sort of celebrate Hanukkah, too. And that is fine, for now. But, whether or not my husband and I eventually decide to have a tree, a menorah, both, or neither, I want to find a way to allow my kids to feel the innocence, wonder, security, and sense of home I always felt – and really still feel, with that soaring organ music and the choir singing “O Holy Night” at midnight mass – at this time of year.
I’m not worried about what we call it or how we define it; I just don’t want our kids’ childhoods to pass without creating in our own home a space for them to feel the magic I once did, to share with them an opportunity to infuse the everyday with the transcendent.
I love visiting Kristen’s blog because she is real. I find that refreshing in a world of Facebook status posts featuring perfect remodels and happy Sunday outings. She asks questions that stop me in my tracks like “What would you name your style of parenting?” What altared spaces provide the December Dilemmas in your home?
photo credit by The Chanel