I was never really into religion. It really never held any kind of value or meaning for me. Perhaps there was a greater lesson in just having faith, but the religious discourse wasn’t one that enticed me at all. Regardless, having been raised in a Jewish household (albeit reform, but more conservative the older the generation) meant that I at least had to go through the motions until I was old enough to be ambivalent about it. That meant learning Hebrew, sitting through endless services with Rabbi’s recounting depressing tales of survival with somehow positive lessons and eating a ton of Matzoh. After my Bar Mitzvah I was pretty much done with religion, so I was enjoyably surprised that my parents were surprised that I married a gentile.
According to Pew Research, 78.4% of adults in the United States identify as some sect of Christianity. Only 1.7% identify as Jewish, with those such as me sitting in the 16.1% of unaffiliated. So statistics would show that the chances of marrying a Jew (as my mother would have most likely preferred at the time) were statistically low. Unless of course you made a point of it, like joining JDate or something, but why limit your options? Regardless, eventually my wife converted to Judaism for reasons I’m still unable to fathom. I had found that no religion was much better than any religion by far. My unaffiliated faith has always been somewhat of a mystery and a base insult to hardcore Christians, something I’ve never understood. Meanwhile, the Jews in my community didn’t seem to give a crap, as long as we volunteered from time to time. Volunteering at a community event — however religiously skewed — is much different than blindly following a religious practice. For many years though, even after her conversion and my lack of religious preference, we still had a Christmas tree and lit the Menorah during the holiday season.
While the Christmas tree has shrunk over the years (thankfully), the reasons for even putting one out in the first place haven’t changed. That would be children and their innocence in thinking that they won’t get the same slate of gifts without a tribute to Santa, the God of children and gifts. There is no religious implication in having a Christmas tree up in our house, at any point over the last decade and a half. Rather, it was so my wife could keep a connection to her childhood and so our children, who were raised ambivalent then somewhat Jewish by her, could have that same connection. While Santa doesn’t pile gifts under the tree anymore such in previous years (gifts that were then handed out in an eight night span to coincide with Chanukah), the fictional fat man still manages to leave one dropping on the dining room table every year.
There is a good deal of confusion in the household as to which holiday practice we adhere to. Over the years it has fluctuated back and forth, and, while the menorah always gets lit every night, sometimes the prayers get skipped. The Christmas tree used to be a prominent fixture in the corner of the living room, but now has been shrunk to that pathetic sapling pictured above. There is no question of religion, as the closest we get to any kind of church is driving by the multitude of different types in the south. Then of course there are the decorations for the Christmas tree. Never traditional, they are usually a mishmash of items found around the house. Though this year I was sent a tree topper that attempts to bridge the two holidays. The Hannukah Tree Topper. They spelled Chanukah wrong. Actually, there are like a billion spellings of that word. My favorite is “latkes.”
You can see the tree topper (which also has a Twitter account) jammed on top of our miniature tree. I’m not sure yet how much of an impact this will make in creating one centralized faith that all nations of the world can practice together in peace, but I guess it’s better than a dog eared Yoda figure duct taped to the top of the tree. Thankfully, there is a clear separation between religious holiday celebrations and celebrating holidays for the sake of family arguing and consumerism. The latter seems to be more prominent among folk that I consort with, though the former is something many people adhere to. I know that trying to fold in both Jewish and Christian traditions to one celebration relating to religion can be tedious to say the least. What they do have in common is gifts and traditional family meals. Latkes and ham routinely found at the same table, not exactly kosher, but then again — I eat a lot of bacon.
The point is, we spend so much time highlighting our differences in religion and celebration that we tend to fail to realize that it is basically all the same nonsense. The fact that I married a non-Jew should be a non-factor when considering any aspect of life. Mixing Christmas and Chanukah traditions in one house should never be a point of contention for those of stronger faith. You go to midnight mass on Christmas, good for you. I’m eating leftover ham and telling the kids that Santa doesn’t exist (yet, the youngest still insists on laying out a cookie for the fat man). I’m trying to explain that there will be no year I will be decorating the exterior of the house with “Chanukah lights” and that Santa doesn’t bring gifts for the stupid cat. You light the candles every night, say the prayers and remember what the Maccabees had to endure for this holiday to exist. I’m eating latkes, shirtless, while watching Futurama re-runs on Netflix. This is how I celebrate the holidays, that is how you celebrate the holidays. You volunteer at a homeless shelter, I buy extra food for the food drive. Okay, that one is pretty much the same. No matter what faiths are in your house, remember to give something extra to those who need it the most.
So how do those of you with multiple traditions or faiths celebrate the holidays?