Saturday, 24 December 2011

Carols or Candles?

Dressed up to go to shul on Rosh Hashanah
We are a blended family.  DaddyB-B is Jewish.  I was raised nominally Anglican.  I decided to convert to Judaism and BabyB-B will be raised Jewish.  I have no problem with this; it was, after all, my idea.  During Pesach I happily give up chametz (leavened foods), I wish others shana tova over Rosh Hashanah, I fast on Yom Kippur and I truly love the Shabbat services at our synagogue.  On a daily basis I try to adopt Jewish practices and ideals.

Then we get to Christmas time.  Christmas time is one of my fondest childhood memories and I just cannot give it up.  Growing up I hated my birthday, the story of Easter troubled me greatly and father's day was fraught what with my totally absent father.  However, my memories of Christmas are happy:  making steamed pudding with my Grandma; watching Carols By Candlelight on Christmas Eve, my Mum setting up a trampoline in the vacant lot next door; Santa leaving bicycles under the tree; opening presents with my cousins; feasting on Turkey with all of the trimmings, ham and pork with crackling (the now forbidden traif), followed by our homemade pudding and a particularly sherry soaked trifle; my Bestefar's mischievous laugh when one of the adults fell foul to his Norwegian Akevitt.  Christmas when I was growing up was not about the events that took place in a manger in Bethlehem; it was about family, being together and having fun (with a tree and Santa thrown in for good measure!).

As much as I fully adopt Judaism, I can't help but feel that to give up Christmas would be to turn my back on my happy memories and the one major tradition in my family.  At Christmas time, since my relationship with DaddyB-B commenced, I have endured Santa being labeled "disgusting" (and not in the sitting children on the lap of a strange old man sense) and the insistence that "the 'C' word" (no, not the four letter one, "Christmas") not be uttered in front of certain people.  It seems that for some Christmas brings out a distinct lack of tolerance and understanding.  So at this time of year things get a bit, well, interesting to say the least.  There always seems to be a level of simmering tension in the air while the big, fat, tinsel covered elephant in the room is ignored.  This was easy enough to deal with before the arrival of BabyB-B.

In her "haute couture" Chanukah dress
This year we enter uncharted territory.  For the first time my family-in-law has had to deal with one of the children celebrating a holiday that is non-existent to the others.  The answer to this was to celebrate, for the first time, Chanukah.  In years gone by DaddyB-B and I have marked the eight nights of Chanukah by lighting our chanukiah.  Aside from the lighting of candles in our home nothing was done to mark Chanukah.  There were no latkes, no dreidels and no jam donuts (I was always a bit disappointed by this - particularly last year as one of my biggest pregnancy cravings was jam donuts!).  Until this year.  Last night our usual fortnightly Shabbat meal with DaddyB-B's family was also the beginning of a new family tradition.  We gathered together and ate latkes, gambled for chocolate gelt by spinning dreidels, ate far too many jam donuts and the children happily tore open various exciting Chanukah gifts.  It's a tradition I'm happy to embrace, but it will not replace Christmas on our calendar.

All dressed up for her first Christmas party
at the Royal Hospital for Women
It has been put to me many times that by celebrating Christmas we will be confusing BabyB-B.  How can she be Jewish but still celebrate Christmas?  She's not going to know whether she is Arthur or Martha.  The presence of a tree in our home, the taking of photos with Santa and the family feast on Christmas day are going to put her in to a state of flux! I have thought a great deal about this issue.  How will we reconcile Christmas appearing on the calendar to our Jewish daughter?

In my mind the easiest and most logical way to explain it to her is also the most honest way. When BabyB-B is old enough to understand she will be told that Mummy was not born Jewish and that she grew up celebrating Christmas with a tree, Santa, presents and, most importantly, a festive meal (minus the traif) with family and friends.  And even though Mummy is now Jewish, her family is not and they still celebrate Christmas.

So BabyB-B, we will celebrate the holidays our way, in the hope that you will grow up understanding and having compassion towards the different cultures and traditions that exist side by side in the country of ours.  You will get candles and carols.  

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