Over the past few years, my family and I have started the process of converting to Judaism. We don't have many difficulties--except when it comes to the holidays. The first year when we started converting, I had my first child, which also happened to be the first grandchild. I didn't want to celebrate Christmas, but since we were living with my aunt at the time, we couldn't really celebrate Hanukkah either. I should interject here that my husband and I were raised as Pentecostals. Finally, we decided we would celebrate Christmas since it was my daughter's first and we were new into this, so we thought we would just compromise for the sake of arguing.
Last year, my husband's family moved to our area. We had said we would not celebrate Christmas, but they made us feel guilty so we agreed to do it one last time. Now we are facing this year. I have told both families that we are not celebrating Christmas. I suggested that maybe to keep peace, I could have a party on a neutral day, but there wouldn't be decorations. That way, the party wouldn't go against my beliefs, and since they don't celebrate Hanukkah, it wouldn't go against theirs either. My mom is ok with this, but my mother-in-law keeps trying to put the guilt trip on. So what should we do? To live by my standards and faith, will I have to not have any dealings with family? I don't want to do that.
Dear Getting Frustrated:
You ask a very pointed question, so I'm going to give you a pointed response. While we Jews certainly do not actively proselytize, believing that all religions that lead to a G-dly life are themselves G-dly, I nevertheless applaud your desire to convert to Judaism because I believe it has many spiritual gifts. But that should not come at the price of your relationship with your family.
What you must do is attend the family's Christmas celebrations without embracing the religious component of the holiday. This means you should attend family Christmas dinners and the exchanging of gifts, all of which are religiously neutral. But going to church for Christmas, if you have already decided to convert to Judaism, would compromise your religious commitment and make a mockery of both religious faiths.
It is highly possible to remain very close to your family, and participate in family celebrations which, like Christmas, have a religious context, without embracing the religious dimension. But what I would encourage you to do more than anything else, if you have chosen to commit to Judaism, is to stick to that commitment and pursue it. I would also encourage you to explain what you are doing to your family, so that they don't feel that your choice to become Jewish is in any way a rejection of them. In other words, you are embracing a faith rather than rejecting your past. I salute you for your commitment and wish you G-d's blessing in all that you do.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach