I want to begin by commending Kim on starting life with Aaron with her eyes wide open. She is being self-aware and proactive in her examination of what her future will be like with Aaron.
Deciding on one religion for children is easier for the kids, but I never said it is easy for the adults. Kim raises some excellent topics. Let’s consider them.
Growing up, Christmas was an “elaborate celebration,” not particularly religious, but that celebration was most likely emotionally connected to family and loved ones. That’s a lot of meaning for one day–even one month–to carry. Additionally, Christmas is a national holiday embedded in every aspect of American public life.
The first issue Kim must face is her very real sense of loss. It is important to realize that this is her feeling as she anticipates raising her children in a different way than she herself was, and different than she had expected. Ideally she will not transmit the sense of loss to her children. But in not perpetuating it, she must recognize what she is losing and take care of her own needs. Kim should identity the core elements she misses and look for ways of replacing them. Additionally, she can invigorate and strengthen existing practices that feed her emotionally.
To replace a practice you want to discontinue or reduce, identify its most basic components. Say, Kim bakes Christmas cookies each year with her mother and it is a tradition filled with memories. It involves time with mom, remembered recipes, good smells and good tastes. We look to have all these things.
They can keep baking, including make those Santa and reindeer shapes. But they can add dogs, birds and palm trees. Or get Hanukkah cutters. Give the Santa cookies to non-Jewish family and friends and keep the array of other shapes for her Jewish family. This practice can continue when there are kids with the message that, “We make cookies for everyone we love!”
Or change the baking date to May and make blintzes for Shavuot. Be creative. Look for solutions that feel good to you. Give them time to become a tradition.
To modify an existing practice, again be creative. Do you have Christmas brunch at Aunt Dorothy’s house? Is it the only time Kim really sees Aunt Dorothy all year? Create a different activity with her. Take her out to dinner on her birthday. Or create a day just for the two of you, March 3. Or just make a point of seeing her more than once a year! Don’t reduce all your love-filled gatherings to one mad month.
Be creative, be patient, it takes time, repetition and humor to create new traditions. Be willing to try things out in the spirit of fun and adventure.
Kim wisely chose not to over-stress herself when she realized she was trying to please everyone. Don’t perform for others. December is a demanding month; give yourself some couple-time.
Finally, although Kim is looking forward to coming years when Christmas and Hanukkah don’t overlap and they can “fully share both holidays,” she should not create an illusion of equal time. Complete fairness and equality is an ideal, rarely a reality. Raising kids will throw new questions at Kim and Aaron. Just go with the flow, ask for help, be patient with yourself and be ready to be surprised by hours of family happiness at unanticipated moments and traditions not yet dreamed of.
Karen Kushner’s Response
This woman spells out the Christian position beautifully and I want every Jewish partner to read it! I don’t know if she was able to say these things to her “Aaron” or whether, like a lot of us, meaning comes out clearer in the writing. This triggers a suggestion that couples would do well to have a journal where each could write their feelings about the holiday struggles and grow to learn more about their own feelings and the feelings of each other and their history with holidays. Of course this would hopefully come out in a couples group as well, but we know that many couples don’t have the opportunity to go to a group.
Kim explains the loss that partners of Jews experience as they give the enormous gift of agreeing to rear children in Judaism. That is why it is so important for the Jewish partners to read this essay … so that they will realize the gratitude and thanks owed to their partners!
I was glad to see that Aaron could also be generous and open enough to join in her family’s celebration. This couple is working through their feelings and finding a way to balance their two histories, two families and the two holidays.
I would tell Kim that she is correct that she has to be her full self and that her history is a part of that whole self. She should not be guilty about the sweetness of her memories and her desire to keep those things alive. She will have many years, God willing, to celebrate Christmas with her side of the family and she should enjoy it thoroughly. Her enjoyment will not diminish the Judaism of their home, if they enter into the Jewish holidays and culture with a search for equal enjoyment. It is the joyous moments that create the strongest memories, so the more they “do Jewish” and the sooner they find a community of young couples to share those experiences with, the more sweet memories of Judaism will be accumulated.
Karen Kushner is director of Project Welcome, an outreach program welcoming interfaith families, unaffiliated Jews and seekers into Independent, Renewal, Reconstructionist, Reform and Conservative synagogues in Northern California. Project Welcome is a project of the Union for Reform Judaism and the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund & the Walter and Elise Haas Fund.
Dawn C. Kepler is director of Building Jewish Bridges: Outreach to Interfaith Couples, located in the East Bay area of San Francisco, Calif.