Monday, December 08, 2008

Two Cheers for Chrismakah?

A little email exchange this morning with my daughter's religious school teacher. The letter's signed by my wife, but we both had a hand in it:
Dear ---,
Thank you for your message about "Chrismakah." The decision of which holiday to celebrate, and how, and when, is a very sensitive and difficult question for interfaith families. Certainly Eric and I have gone through plenty of arguments and unhappiness over this, and most of the other mixed couples we know have had similar difficulties.
I feel fortunate that Eric is now willing to celebrate Christmas with me. We have been married for 20 years, and there was a time when any expression of Christmas was very uncomfortable for him. For some couples, celebrating a Christian holiday at all is simply not an option because it would make the Jewish partner extremely unhappy. Eric, for example, was raised with a deep-seated aversion to anything related to Christmas, and it has taken him decades of marriage to get past that.
This aversion is much more common than you might think. For couples who face it, a "Chrismakah" celebration may be the only way to find a middle ground. It defuses what would otherwise be an explosive conflict in the house, and can be a very helpful step towards having an actual celebration of both holidays.
This year, Chanukah and Christmas fall on the same day, and in our household we plan to celebrate them both at the same time by observing Christmas according to my Catholic faith, and by lighting Chanukah candles for the Jewish members of the family. We agree with you that this is the best way to celebrate in a mixed family. But if other interfaith households find that having a "Chrismakah" celebration lets them avoid quarreling over what to do for the holidays, Eric and I--and our children--think that this may actually be a very good thing indeed.
With appreciation for your dedication to the kids at the religious school,
A teaching moment for my kids, at least. I had a blast, on the way to school, talking my daughter through the things we'd have to cut from holidays in order to make them "purely" Jewish. (First step, scrap the Passover seder. Symposia are echt goyisch, non?)

Syncretism gets a bad rap, says I. Or, to quote the poet (Ogden Nash): "Purity / is obscurity."

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