Kvetching Around the Christmas Tree: Her Side
An interfaith couple struggles with their first Christmas under the same roof.
BY: Heidi Rehak
Howard and I debate everything: What to do with our precious free time, the politics of why our laundry shouldn't intermingle and why it's probably best that I stop explaining to his young daughters the joy of shopping at Tiffany's.
But the friendly debate has turned to arguing over having a Christmas tree. And I'm not very happy about it.
After several years of dating, we recently moved in together. He's Jewish, I'm not. Our combative natures might be what has kept our relationship incredibly passionate, until now.
By the time a couple has advanced to the point of living together, your partner should know you well enough not expect the impossible. I will not overnight become Jewish, believe in God (or G-d, whatever), and I will not sacrifice my family's tradition of putting up a Christmas tree every year. I am a redhead, a writer, and a spoiled-to-death only child. I'm a Gen-Xer, a liberal, and a crabby cynic. But I'm not a Christian, a Jew, or even a Buddhist. Some might call that agnostic. I prefer the label "free agent."
For just more than 31 years, I have felt very comfortable leading my life knowing that I don't need to have answers. It leaves my intellectual and spiritual channels so much more open than investing in a specific organized body of beliefs.
I am not so arrogant that I assume all religious people are brainwashed or lacking the ability to produce an independent thought. It has always been my opinion that religion is an activity that fills a need for some, and is more of an elective for others.
Then I fell in love with Howard.
From the start it was evident that he is a rather angry Jewish man. He studies and writes about Jewish politics and culture and on a daily basis points out examples of anti-Semitism (even Jacques Cousteau--can you imagine?).
But I respect him and am very tolerant of his beliefs. In fact, last year I purchased for him a traditional menorah that we lit during Hanukkah. It has deep meaning for him, and I was happy to share that. He in turn accompanied me to all my family Christmas gatherings, none of which involved church of any kind, praying of any kind, or Jesus of any kind.
But I tolerate other people's beliefs, and I expect the same in return from friends and family.
I'll be interfaithing all over the place, with homemade latkes and my grandma's Christmas cookies and lighting menorah candles and my uncle's wacky mambo holiday music. Is that so wrong?
Relationships are about tolerance and compromise. I wouldn't insult my boyfriend by trying to convince him that the huge decorated evergreen in our home is a holiday tree or worse a Hanukkah bush. It is what it is, and somehow I hope he becomes comfortable with it.
When this topic arose for the first time, I asked my mother how she'd feel if I stopped celebrating Christmas with her or in my own home. She said that it's something that we, as a family, have always enjoyed and that she'd be sad to see me reject it.
Forget that the holiday of Christmas was stolen from a Roman pagan winter solstice celebration. And that Egyptians brought trees into their homes to worship their pagan messiah. Gift exchanges began then, too, but were limited to lard, livestock, and probably wives. Luckily now we have online shopping at Bloomingdale's.
Howard told me that having a Christmas tree in our home would make him feel very uncomfortable. He said he views it as a symbol of hatred toward Jews and that he has had to endure Christians shoving their holidays down his throat for his entire life.
I hope he soon realizes that these are hurtful statements and feelings that have nothing to do with me. Maybe he'll become more comfortable with this once he sees how happy I am as I unwrap and place on the tree the delicate ornaments my great-grandmother gave me when I was a little girl. Maybe then he'll understand why the one tradition I have, albeit one with Christian ties, is one I want to cherish and eventually share with my own children.
So in an effort to be diplomatic, I offered a proposal (this may make some of you cringe): We're going to set out the menorah somewhere near the Christmas tree and maybe find some pretty dreidels to hang on a few branches. Surprisingly, he seemed to find this somewhat reasonable.
I may, however, have to scratch my plans for an Easter egg hunt in our backyard this spring.