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.
We went over the things he will not be doing:
- Eating non-kosher food (a given).
- Watching religious Christmas movies.
- Perpetuating the myth of Santa Claus to my nephew, meaning he won’t tell him that Santa is real, but he will also not say anything about him being not real.
- Decorating with traditional religious icons and decor.
- Going to church (we don’t do that anyway).
- Sing Christmas songs.
And the things he will be doing:
- Making gingerbread cookies.
- Wrapping presents and putting them under the tree (featuring a slightly reluctant, “I’ll do that”).
- Dressing up in fancy clothes.
- Watching non-religious holiday movies like Die Hard.
He also said he might be down to decorate the Christmas tree but he’s unsure, which I totally understand. Speculating on how you’ll feel during a situation and actually experiencing it are very different, and your choices can change.
Essentially, Trevor says he does not want to partake in things that are on the traditional and religious sides of the holiday. While I thought this made sense–after all, he is Jewish–I do know a lot of people who celebrate it despite being raised in religious environments other than Christianity, so I wanted to know more about his feelings.
“The one word I grew up fearing most,” he explained, “was ‘assimilation.'”
I indirectly understand what he meant, I think; my dad’s family immigrated here from South American when he was a teenager. After coming to America, they continued making Peruvian food, speaking Spanish and keeping traditions in their household. It was important not to lose all of their identity simply to blend in, which is similar to what Trevor was saying, though on a lesser scale since his entire community was Modern Orthodox, while my father moved to one in New Jersey that had people from many countries and religious affiliations.
Trevor has pointed out to me in the past that being kosher “makes [him] different,” which is not a negative thing by any means, but it can be frustrating given how few kosher markets there are around LA (where he lives) and even in New York (where I live), kosher restaurants are often very expensive. Usually, he’ll just get something from the short list of vegetarian options the menu offers or we will wind up ordering vegan food instead. Going to a barbecue or dinner party, on the other hand, holds very few options.
He reassures me constantly that I won’t need to worry about leaving him out or making him feel uncomfortable this Christmas. But you know how it’s kind of stressful to walk into a dark room even if somebody behind you says there’s nothing to worry about? That’s how I feel: confused, anxious and a little blind.
For the record, I couldn’t even decide on an image for this post (he reads The Gloss, so uh, hi honey! Sorry I wrote this and you’re great!). I tried to find one that was appropriate for literally hours; I was trying to be so overcautious that I picked a stock photo database as my primary resource. The only thing I could find was this f’ing image of Santa holding a menorah:
When I asked him what I should use instead, he said, “Kyle from South Park.” I decided to be a pretentious douchebag and go with something ~*conceptual*~ instead, but for good measure, I’ve included a Broflovski GIF at the end of this post. The point is that I over-think things to a degree at which I can no longer properly enjoy myself, which in turn makes other people not enjoy themselves, which then means all my anxiety-ridden efforts have gone to waste.
I am so grateful that he’s open to discussing all of this because otherwise, I would be at a loss. I’ve been so worried about finding the balance between ensuring he’s a participant and not excluded versus forcing him to participate in something he wishes to be excluded from that I almost forgot that this season is a wonderful time of the year to be together, regardless of religions or holidays or celebrations.
Now, I’m off to go order kosher steak. While I’m still a little stressed about many aspects of this situation, my cooking is not one of them.