During the second date with my now husband, he told me he was Jewish.
Uh oh, I thought. This is never going to work.
Not that I had anything against the Jewish religion, but on my stream of match.com dates I met several Jewish men. The last one in particular went into detail how his children would be raised exclusively according to Judaism; they would have bar and bat mitzvahs and would not celebrate any other holidays.
I was raised Catholic and Christmas is huge in our family. Not for any particular religious reason, but for the cultural aspect of tree trimming, cookie decorating, animated light filled yards, and the whole nostalgic experience. How could I give that up? Some of my fondest memories are cutting down our Christmas tree and decorating it, Christmas carols playing in the background, and sipping hot chocolate.
During our conversation, I was still reminiscing and replaying Christmases past. I finally got up the courage to ask my date how Jewish he was. Ok, not exactly in those words. I soon learned he considered himself a "High Holiday Jew." Like many of us Catholics, he goes to services only on the major holidays. By now, I had stopped considering myself a Catholic and referred to myself as a Buddhist. My most comfortable place of workshop was in a meditative place. He said he was fine with that. Hmmm, this might work. After all, we would not have to decide where we were going to spend Christmas every year.
The big test came our first Christmas together. The day after Thanksgiving, we would always get our Christmas tree. My, now fiancé was fine with getting a tree, but it took a week of convincing before we actually brought a tree home. I went out and bought a slew of blue and silver lights and decorations for our "Hanukkah" bush. Meanwhile, he introduced me to the eight days of Hanukkah by lighting his grandpa's menorah. Wow, this is a great blending I thought.
Christmas Day, however, was not as harmonious. Upon waking up at my parent' house, he was introduced to the obscene flow of presents that literally flowed from the living room into the hallway. Actually, I did not think it was that bad. Several grandparents had passed and my brother's family was not there. It could have been much worse!
The amount of presents had significantly decreased. This Christmas was quite tame. He did not see it like that. Tapping his foot, watching each person individually open each gift, he was itching to escape the Mt. Everest of gifts. As the pile dwindled down, we all stood up. He immediately thanked everyone and went to escape to the bedroom. Wait, it was only intermission! This was the half way point where we all stopped and enjoyed breakfast before continuing the remaining tsunami of boxes. I was hearing about that Christmas for quite some time. (By our third Christmas, he was making an X-mas list and giving it to me in November).
The following Christmas, now officially as husband and wife, we had our first home, which meant time for the house decorations. The Hanukkah bush reappeared, this time a little taller. The roof line adorned with bright blue lights and a family of reindeer grazed on our front lawn, symbolic of our new family. We knew it would only be a matter of time before our three-month-old daughter would be immersed in this craze.
So, began the continuing discussion of how we would raise her. Was it hypocritical to celebrate both Christmas and Hanukkah? How would we explain two different religious philosophies? The more we talked about it, the more we discovered that the best part of our "birth" religions were the cultural aspects.
At three years old, my daughter attended a Jewish preschool. I was most impressed with the sense of community and giving the school taught. While, we attended very few religious ceremonies, we were always welcomed as part of the family. I never felt like an outsider. Well, actually our first Passover I went up and tried to shake the rabbi's hand, only to have a cold staring face burn a hole through me. Humiliated, I ranted to my husband, "Women aren't supposed to shake the rabbi's hand are they?"
"Oh yeah, I forgot, not in the Orthodox faith," my husband said. Forgot! How do you forget something like that?
I stumbled my way through many cultural customs only to discover that when a community embraces each other wonderful things occur. The most moving part of my daughter's preschool was the mitzvah notes we left at drop off each morning. We would write about a good deed our child did the day before or that morning and place it on a post it for see throughout the day.
These mitzvahs soon became part of our holiday celebration. Knowing the siege of Christmas presents my daughter would receive, I did not want Hanukkah to be another free for all of commercialism. Instead, we started The 8 Days of Mitzvahs. During Hanukkah, we would focus on doing good deeds and a small gift would only come on the final night. Baking goodies, donating outgrown toys, giving essentials to women's shelters, drawing pictures for sick children, starting a gratitude jar have become part of our Hanukkah celebration. Many of these coincide with our Christmas activities and make it a perfect blend of two cultures, which on the surface seem to be so different.
Focusing on the cultural aspects have allowed us to blend our lifestyles and create our own holiday traditions which will hopefully bring our daughter many fond memories without ever having to choose one religion or one set of customs over the other.
The Miracle Mitzvah Moose is Dawn's latest book which illustrates The 8 Days of Mitzvahs.
Dawn Wynne is a best-selling children's author, award-winning teacher, and certified health coach. Combing her love for the environment, passion for nutrition, and teaching talents she works with children and families to help them make healthy lifestyle choices. For information on her books visit her at www.dawnwynne.com.