Friday, December 11, 2009
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 holy days of obligation, 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 creche on the altar at church. I loved laying under the Christmas tree in our living 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. I do, but we don't.
You see, 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 worried about it incessantly. 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. And we found a way to have a wedding. And we found a way to bring two little boys into this world. And we simply don't think about it so much anymore.
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 the year, but it's not the one that I imagined.
Our ad hoc solution to what to do about the winter holidays has been to celebrate each holiday with our respective families. So our boys enjoy Hanukkah, latkes, and candle lighting with Oma, and Christmas, the manger, and stockings with Grandpa and Grandma. And that is nice. In fact, it is lovely.
But I worry about the future - about sending the message 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 in packing suitcases full of gifts and rushing out of town.
Now I celebrate Christmas. I sort of celebrate Hanukkah, too. And that is fine, for now. But, whether or not Husband and I 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 sons' 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 excuse to infuse the everyday with the transcendent.
How do you celebrate the holidays? Has your own observance changed as you've aged?