My wife is Jewish. I am not.
I have agreed to raise our daughter in the Jewish tradition, though for my wife, this tends to lean more on the culture aspects of the Jewish faith rather than the actual religious dogma.
I support this decision, though I have also made it clear that when our daughter approaches me at the age of seventeen, declaring herself a Buddhist, a Pastafarian or an agnostic, I will tell her to follow her heart and do what she thinks is right (and hide from her mother).
Even though I am not a Christian, I continue to celebrate most of the traditions associated with Christmas, because these are the traditions in which I was raised. The tree, the stockings, the music, the late afternoon NBA game and even the beauty of midnight mass all bring me back to a time when my family was whole and I was young and innocent and everyone seemed immortal.
I may not associate the holiday with the birth of Christ, but I love it just the same.
My wife has embraced the Christmas tradition with even more enthusiasm than I have managed for her holidays. She adores decorating the tree, has already become enamored with our ornament collection and attends midnight Mass with friends each year. Her enthusiasm for Christmas is so great that I often feel guilty for my lack of equitable excitement over Jewish holidays like Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah.
Of course, if her holidays included flying reindeer, twinkling lights, rampant commercialism, and the NFL, my enthusiasm might be a little more… enthusiastic.
Either way, I feel blessed that we have managed to merge our two traditions into one that we call our own. It makes for a full and diverse holiday season. Last week we wrapped up Hanukkah and this afternoon we plopped our daughter on Santa’s lap.
In the end, I think that Clara is the biggest winner of all. She’s getting the best of both worlds.
This is why I find Emily Yoffe’s advice to a woman who is looking to do a similar merging of tradition to be disappointing and, dare I say, a little biased, considering she is Jewish.
In the video below, Yoffe informs a Chinese American who wishes to celebrate Christmas as a secular holiday (as her family has always done) that her Jewish boyfriend probably has a better understanding of Christmas than she, and therefore his feelings must be respected.
I find this bit of presumption to be a bit... presumptuous, but it’s her last bit of advice that rubs me the most wrong. She says, “If you want to marry a Jewish man and raise Jewish children, it doesn’t seem quite kosher to force him to celebrate a holiday that makes him uncomfortable.”
A holiday that makes him feel uncomfortable?
This woman is not sacrificing chickens or asking her boyfriend to don a burka. All she wants, quite literally, is a Christmas tree in her house. She’s agreed to forgo presents and even decorations if she can just have the tree. This hardly amounts to “celebrating Christmas.” and even if it did, I can’t help but ask what kind of man is made uncomfortable about the prospect of a Christmas tree in his living room. Even if it somehow represents the birthday of a two thousand year old demi-God, I ask:
What kind of a man (and I use the word man with the most misogynistic of tones) can’t muster enough inner fortitude to let his future bride have a Christmas tree for a couple weeks in December?
If he was my friend, I’d be quoting Don Corleone from The Godfather:
“ACT LIKE A MAN! What's the matter with you? Is this what you've become, a Hollywood finocchio who cries like a woman? ‘Oh, what do I do? What do I do?’ What is that nonsense? Ridiculous!”
Of course, anyone whose faith and conviction is threatened by a Christmas tree has probably never seen The Godfather.
While I often agree with Yoffe, who can be no-nonsense and tough as nails, she is way off in this case, and perhaps too close to the situation to see it clearly.