I’m Terrified Of Ruining My Jewish Partner’s First Christmas

I'm terrified of ruining my Jewish partner's first Christmas.

Remember that half-Hanukkah/half-Christmas card from Monday? One of the reasons I found it so excellent is how perfectly corresponds to my own situation. This year, my Jewish partner and I are heading to my parents’ house to celebrate our first Christmas together. But not only is it our first December 25th together, it’s also his first Christmas ever. Period.

Some of you might remember Trevor from my “On Dating With PTSD” piece I wrote over the summer, but here’s a quick rundown of our relationship:

  • We were friends in college.
  • I left California and came to NYC, but a year later, we started chatting over Skype after he congratulated me on an article of mine.
  • We went on long-distance dates, got all sorts of emotional, he flew out here and we started dating.
  • He grew up strictly Modern Orthodox Jewish and I grew up vaguely Methodist (so vague, it’s like seeing religion through condensed milk).

The first three bullet points are a-okay! That last one is also a-okay, but it has caused some conflict. I don’t want to bore you all by going too deep into our specific relationship stuff, but instead focus on the holiday issue at hand: this is his first ever Christmas and I am so afraid of ruining it.

Basically, he grew up in an almost exclusively Jewish community in London. He had all Jewish friends, went to a Jewish school, dated Jewish girls, and went to temple. He keeps kosher–something I honestly didn’t know too much about before dating him–and fasts on certain Jewish holidays. I, on the other hand, can’t remember the last time I was in a church with my family save for my vocal recitals and choir concerts, and we certainly don’t do much praying.

We have a really healthy, communicative relationship (one of my first!) and so I don’t feel uncomfortable discussing these concerns and insecurities with him. On occasion–last night, in fact–I bombard him with dozens of questions about Judaism because I want to understand more about his life and his Jewish identity, just as he asks me about my family, my background, my beliefs and everything else that makes up my identity. I know I can ask him about everything from how to pronounce his middle name properly to why some people wear kippahs and some people do not. And he says he enjoys when I ask, so I don’t feel annoying throwing tons of inquiries his way, which is wonderful and has helped me learn so much more about Judaism.

While about half my college friends were members of or affiliated with a Jewish fraternity, and many of my friends in high school were Jewish, just about every one of them, to my knowledge, is a Reform Jew. I never really knew much about Judaism itself, but I do know that his religion has played a large part in who he is, so I have been stressed out about because I don’t want to force my beliefs (i.e. gingerbread is delicious and decorating trees is sort of fun if you’re tipsy) on him, nor make him uncomfortable with the holiday. As I said, my own family is not particularly religious, but we do celebrate Christmas and do a lot of the traditional American celebratory activities, many of which have religious basis despite being labeled by many as secular (a label I find incorrect).

I decided to do an awkward Skype interview in order to determine what’s fair game and what’s off-limits.

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    • Lindsey Conklin

      definitely watch non-religious holiday movies like die hard!!! haha

    • Mandie

      Someone in my family tracked down a menorah that plays “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” like a music box. It’s emblematic of my childhood.

    • Tania

      My family (and friends, and neighbours and roommate and…) is so non-religious that I sometimes forget Christmas was a religious thing.

    • lindenen

      This is just a weird weird article. What is the expectation for your family? Are they allowed to decorate around him, eat non-kosher, sing? This just sounds uncomfortable all around. It’s like his first non-participating Christmas.

      • Samantha_Escobar

        There aren’t any expectations for my family. He won’t be eating non-kosher, he won’t be decorating, he won’t be singing, but my family will (well, possibly not so much on that last one); it’s similar to being vegetarian but not caring when others are eating meat.

      • Andrea

        I’m sure that’s gonna work out just fine. Nothing less awkward than having a guest that won’t participate in any of the things we are doing.

      • http://www.ambiencechaser.com/ Elizabeth Licata

        Have you seriously never had another person in your house that didn’t practice something that was going on? A vegan at Thanksgiving? A wiccan at Christmas? A teetotaler at a dinner party?
        It’s not awkward at all. If someone doesn’t want to decorate, they hang out and chat with the people who are decorating, or they find some other solution. Maybe they make the cocktails while the other people decorate. The vegan at Thanksgiving has things he or she can eat and then just doesn’t eat the non-vegan things. I have no idea why that would be awkward at all.

      • Andrea

        I guess it depends on the attitude. My only other experience with a guest who didn’t practice something going on during the holidays was the year my brother brought his new wife home for the holidays. She was a Jehovah’s Witness and didn’t celebrate Christmas. She spent the entire day in the room sulking.
        So I suppose that has colored my perceptions.

      • http://www.ambiencechaser.com/ Elizabeth Licata

        Oof, yeah, that does sound pretty awful. Going into someone’s family celebration intending to just sit and sulk at everyone is a real jerk move. But Sam’s boyfriend seems prepared to go in and participate to the degree he’s comfortable and sit out where he’s not without throwing a wet blanket over the proceedings. I bet they’ll be fine and everyone will have a good time.

      • Véronique Houde

        Yeah, from what she says, I get the sense that the boyfriend will find other ways of participating and making himself useful whenever people are doing things that are against his comfort-level :).

      • Rayne

        I’d say it’s more along the lines of eating with a vegetarian who doesn’t want to be around the meat and excuses himself to eat alone in the other room. Sorry, but I was semi with you until I got to the ‘perpetuating the Santa myth to the nephew’ thing. That just seems petty.

    • Jill G

      I think it’s really sweet how thoughtful and considerate you’re being and I don’t venture to speak for your boyfriend at all. All I can do is offer my own perspective as a Conservative Jew (Conservative is between Reform and Orthodox. So…medium Jewish?) on Christmas. And let me tell you, it’s not pretty.

      I hate, hate, hate Christmas. From November (although it seems to start in October now) through December I am reminded on a regular basis that I don’t fit in. I’m not like everyone else. I’m the other. Even of my many Jewish friends I’m one of the few who doesn’t celebrate Christmas (many of them have one Jewish parent and one Christian parent). Every time someone wishes me a “Merry Christmas,” I see a sad, tiny, barely visible menorah haphazardly shoved next to a Christmas tree, I flip through channels to see Christmas movies on every channel, someone looks confused when I tell then my late December plans don’t involve visiting my parents (especially this year, because I already did that for Thanksgivukkah), I could really go on forever, I cringe and feel completely invisible.

      The many ‘helpful’ suggestions I’ve received (and continue to receive…over and over and over) run the gamut from ‘Come celebrate Christmas with me and my family!’ to ‘You should just celebrate Christmas. It’s basically an American holiday. Get a tree.’ And all of these suggestions make me feel physically ill.

      I have felt alienated by Christmas since I was in Kindergarden and was made to sit alone and make a ‘Hanukkah Countdown Chain’ with blue and white paper while the rest of my friends made Christmas Chains together. I can not and will not embrace a holiday that has made me feel like an outcast my entire life. And why should I have to? It is not a secular holiday by any means. It has the word ‘Christ’ in it. As if anyone needed that reminder.

      • Andrea

        My god you are right! Let’s just ban it altogether!! It’s an exclusionary and racist holiday!
        /sarcasm off and bring on the down votes.

      • Andrea

        Hm.. i guess because I’m not Jewish (but also not Christian.. I guess I could be described as atheist) but I certainly believe that Christmas can be a secular holiday. As far as I’m concerned spending time with family, eating a bunch of cookies, decorating trees and giving each other presents has nothing to do with Jesus. I also thoroughly enjoy lighting menorahs and eating latkes and not feeling bad for not being Jewish. (Should I feel bad about that?)

        It almost seems to me as you’re the one alienating yourself :/

    • Slcheck

      You might want to double check the definition of berate. I’m not sure what you were going for, but I’m fairly certain you didn’t intend to say you “scold or criticize angrily” in order to better understand his culture.

      • Samantha_Escobar

        Ha, yep! I meant bombard, but I inexplicably wrote berate. Thanks!

    • mrs. mitch

      Have you tried looking for kosher restaurants/stores in Williamsburg, Borough Park and/or Midwood?

    • OhOk

      Every situation and person is different, but I’m having my Jewish boyfriend and his rabbi mother for Christmas with my parents and, even though I worried initially, we are literally not dealing with any of those issues. They are as excited as I am when I head over for Yom Kippur (free brisket and I didn’t even have to fast!). It is a bit easier because clearly they’re more liberal (SHE is a rabbi, so there you go), but T’s whole oppositional attitude seems a little over the top.

      One of the best things about interfaith couples is learning about each other’s cultures. No, nobody should be breaking kosher (or watching shitty religious Christmas movies), but decorating the tree? Singing Christmas songs? Going to a church service? We won’t sneak baptize you, unless you stumble into a born again congregation, in which case you have bigger problems than the Santa Claus myth. I’ll read prayers and sing songs in Hebrew and go to services for Jewish holidays and it doesn’t make me Jewish and I don’t think Jesus is going to excommunicate me. The churches I’ve attended have always placed an emphasis on understanding and tolerating other faiths, complete with visits to religious ceremonies at synagogues, mosques, gospel churches, etc. Understanding breeds tolerance, minimizes fear (of the unknown AND assimilation — so much win!), and just, you know, helps everybody get along.

      Nobody should be made to feel uncomfortable (or worse, forced to fake sincerity in participating in religious rituals — my mother’s family tried this on my father and there were decades of tension after that fundamentalist mess), but if no one is forcing Jesus Christ on you as your personal lord and savior, then try to embrace it as a cultural experience. You’ve written a lot of wonderful things about this guy (tolerance and compassion sound like two of his prominent traits) and I don’t want to dismiss the tension inherent in being a religious minority (especially being Jewish and European), but it makes me sad that he feels he needs to protect his faith this way.

    • Cassandra

      I agree with another poster… It’s a little sad and confusing that he’s being so particular about things. You’re not asking him to denounce his faith; its just a holiday. Is the concern that if he watches a movie more christmas-y than Die Hard, hell start questioning his faith?

      But Kudos to you for going along with it. Ive already proven to myself that i dont have the patience to date religious folk.

    • Buuu

      Mamma mia. Adult people, start behaving.