Identity, Religion

Giving up Christmas; it's not that simple

This is the next in a series of guest posts on intermarried and mixed families. “Mixed” is not a theological state but an identity. And as our guest poster, Mia Rut, today shares, “mixed” need not be products of interfaith marriages, but Jews by choice who bring with them their previous heritage(s). It’s not as simple as the continuity idiots would suggest, “just convert” as if all the problems of multiple identities and outside influences would be over. It’s just not that stupidly simple, so listen up. — Kung Fu Jew
For the first 28 years of my life I faithfully celebrated Christmas – of which I have very fond memories. My family’s tree covered in homemade ornaments, stockings my great-Grandmother had made that were filled to the brim with candies and small gifts, the family nativity scene we set up each year and placed Baby Jesus in the manger on Christmas morning. We would feast on ham and cheese sandwiches, deli trays complete with black olives we ate off the tips of our fingers and of course endless varieties of Christmas cookies and dried fruit. My favorite part was at the end of the Christmas Eve service while the congregation held tiny white candles and sang ‘Silent Night’ by candlelight. Of course I believed in Santa Clause for a while and upheld the illusion for my younger sisters until they too were old enough to know better.
But I decided to become Jewish.  A decision, which by default one must give up the religious aspect of Christmas. But giving up Christmas meant a whole lot more than a church service I had elected not to partake in. There were sentimental traditions and activities that I am having a much more difficult time extracting myself from – because no matter what I have chosen for my life, my family is still Christian.
At first I was defiant, confident that it was justifiable to continue to gather together with my family at the end of December if I simply excused myself from any religious activities like going to church or listening to my sister read the nativity story. And perhaps not to rock the boat too much, I fully partook in the commercial aspect of exchanging gifts. But as I continued into my Jewish studies I decided I wanted to break from even the secular holiday – which meant I would not be with my family as my aunts, uncles, sisters, nephews and niece gathered around the Christmas tree.
I knew my decision to give up Christmas would be painful and confusing for my family, and that had never been my intention. I love and respect my family and appreciate the way my parents raised me, but I had to make decisions that was right for me. And that meant giving up the Christmas. I’m almost embarrassed to say what I did in lieu of the Christmas that first year, although I was invited to go out with friends for Chinese food and a movie, I instead went to the Matzo Ball on Christmas Eve. Promoted as the “Jewish Social Event of the year!” it was an appallingly gratuitous dance party apparently appealing to lecherous men happy to grind their bodies up to me as soon as I stepped away from my date and pushy vapid women wearing too much makeup and not enough clothes who didn’t feel the need to wait in line for anything. Something I will gladly only do once in my life.
However, the next morning I woke up on a snowless New York City Christmas morning. There was no magic or excitement that I had experienced as a child. Although the anticipation of seeing what Santa had left had been extinguished for me decades ago, but this year I would not see my nephews and niece’s excited faces as they saw their gifts waiting under the tree. In fact that morning could have been any other morning after a night out on the town except I could clearly picture what my family was likely to be doing.
My parents called later that afternoon, but they did not mention Christmas at all. I was very grateful although it was terribly hard for them. I’m not sure what we will do in the future, but I know that my celebration of Christmas will be different from now on. And what I really don’t know is if, God willing, I have a family of my own someday. My children will have Christian grandparents. How would we negotiate Christmas then?

5 thoughts on “Giving up Christmas; it's not that simple

  1. I think you might have gone too far. Your family still deserves your love, and your presence. By being missing, you leave a hole in their hearts on their special day.
    My own feeling is that every Christian deserves to be wished a Merry Christmas by those who love them, no matter the faith of the well-wisher. Just as you want to be remembered and loved on our special days.
    My wife became Jewish many years ago. After her conversion, her mother always sent her cards for the Jewish holidays. All she could find. Rosh Hashana, Chanukah, Pesach. It was hard for her to accept that her duaghter had left her Catholic roots, but she managed. We always send Christmas cards to her family. We make it a point to visit their homes on Christmas, when they are celebrating, if we can. If it coincides with Chanukah, we light candles in their homes.
    Love transcends. Unless your family is un-accepting of your faith, you really need not avoid acknowledging theirs. Hashem knows your faith. He knows your acceptance of Judaism. He also will note your practicing the commandment to honor your mother and father.
    This is just my opinion. You have to do what makes you happy, but you have lots of alternatives.

  2. Great post! I could feel my own journey in the author’s words. Thank you!
    I’m a convert, as well. It took me a good many years to get comfortable enough with my Jewish identity so I could really enjoy my family’s Christmas celebrations. I think I felt that if I enjoyed a Christmas day with family that I might “slip” — like I was some sort of recovering addict. Every time I excluded myself, though, I felt incredibly pained. I love my family and want to be a part of their celebrations.
    Last year (my 13th as a Jew), I was finally secure enough in my Jewish identity to take my mom to Christmas Eve services at the Methodist church I grew up in. It was the first time my daughter had ever gone to a church service. We had a wonderful time and I’d like to think G-d is fine with me going to church because I was honoring my parent.

  3. It’s difficult, but use your Judaism to educate your family. That is what I did, to my family’s delight. ( My sister in law now keeps Kosher food on hand for me when I visit) Do I miss things? Sure, for I had a novelty record collection that included parodies of Christmas music. I no longer have the collection, but here and there I still have a few novelty tunes (including Chaunkah). When my mother was alive, I would take her to Christmas service, but wore my kippot instead of the standard headscarf.(think I scared a bunch of Catholics doing that, but most were okay) Family is important, but do things to your(and their)comfort level. Children? They need to be aware of their family’s traditions, but you and your chosen will make new ones together. It’s a new journey, new directions, but you’ll get there.
    Mo’adim L’simcha!

  4. I’m a convert myself. As the years go by, I find myself burrowing deeper and deeper into this furry thing that is Jew-y-ness, and other things….well, they are matters of duty towards my family. No more, no less. Christmas is the once a year Shabbat that everyone else gets: I’m happy for that. Occasionally duties conflict: work those conflicts out as they arise.
    I never felt most of the tension with Christianity that many converts feel. I guess I just looked at it as one more crazy religion, and not mine. The Judaism in my head is far wilder and far crazier than the form of Christianity I was brought up in: I guess I needed to know most what that craziness in me was made of. Christianity? I just wonder why my family is attached to the version they know. I have been to a few services for this and that through the years: they are as they have always been: alien, cold and a bit boring. I spend my time in them looking for the flashes of light that jump so readily from Torah and the siddur.
    One thing I will say: tradition is becoming miore and more important. So I urge you: stick to the movies and Chinese. There is a reason for even the most arbitrary ritual.

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