The things that will never make it in the baby books and other musings from a stay at home mom

Friday, December 23, 2005

December 23rd

I knew something was up the second I walked into the room. Julia was sitting on my bed watching the Sesame Street holiday show, which seemed innocent enough, but Paul had an odd expression on his face. "Tell your Mommy what you just told me," he prompted her.

"When I grow up, I want to be Christian," Julia informed me.

Paul made a funny strangled coughing sound and turned his back, but I wasn't all that concerned. It's December 23rd, after all, and I've been a Jewish child on December 23rd. It's awfully hard, as the world reaches a fever pitch of Christmas mania all around you, not to feel a tiny pang of longing on December 23rd.

"You can be whatever you want when you grow up," I told Julia. "After you've learned more about Christianity and Judaism, you'll be free to pick the religion that's right for you. But for now, all you need to know is that there's far, far more to choosing between Christianity and Judaism than Christmas and Chanukah."

"You're lucky to have a Christian Daddy and a Jewish Mommy so that you can experience the best of both religions," Paul added, sufficiently recovered now that he'd seen that I wasn't going to blow a gasket over this one. "And a Jewish Evan," Julia replied happily. The moment had passed.

When I was growing up, Christmas Eve was a time for eating Chinese food, going to the movies and having sleepovers with my few Jewish friends. As I got older, I volunteered in a soup kitchen on Christmas Eve to make sure that everyone who wanted a holiday meal got one. That soup kitchen was held in the basement of a church and I remember passing by the congregation celebrating mass as I left each year. The lights were always dimmed, the carols always hauntingly beautiful and the air always felt warm and welcoming. Every year, I felt like such an outsider, and that feeling was accompanied by not a small amount of wishing that I belonged inside that church. Forget the Santa thing and the pretty trees and lights. I just wanted to be a part of all of that joy and love and community. But Christmas is only one day of the year. The other 364 days, I found all of those things and more in my own house of worship. The other 364 days of the year, I was happy to identify as a Jew. It was, in the end, a balance I could live with, despite those annual pangs.

Growing up in an interfaith household, Julia will never go to the movies or eat Chinese food or volunteer on Christmas. She will celebrate the holiday with the Christian side of our family, complete with the tree and the lights and a pile of gifts from Santa because she has a Christian Daddy. I had thought that might be enough to spare her that familiar feeling of being an outsider in December for at least a few more years. Apparently not. There's no way to tell what religious choices Julia will make when she grows up. But the fact that she's feeling a little left out right now tells me more than anything else that at least for today, my daughter is every inch a Jew.


At 1:56 PM, Blogger Kristy said...

I know I'm not supposed to jump on your posts immediately after they're posted. But this one? I just had to. Gretchen and I have talked a lot about "Internet" friendships recently. I told her that I often pause in my day and think, "What time is it where Gretchen is right now?" or "How's Rebecca handling that storm battering the Northeast?" or "I wonder how that news is being taken in Dana's house?" That I'm pausing my day to ask questions about others? To me, the very defintion of friendship.

All of this is a long way of getting around to the fact that I've thought, often, about the goings-on of your household during this Christmas season. Thank you for giving me an answer with this post.

Filling in the blanks...

At 2:35 PM, Blogger chichimama said...

Having been stuck between religions (or lack thereof), in a sense, it's actually a harder place to be than clearly identifying with one. I feel for Julia. I think that feeling of not knowing where I belonged is why I'm going along with the church thing for C.

She'll find her own way a she grows up, but I can't imagine it is going to be easy for her or you or Paul. At least she has two great parents to help her through it and support her no matter what she decides.

At 3:07 PM, Blogger Steph said...

Another instance of you handling something far better than I would have. Four years into raising my kids in an interfaith household, I'm still trying to figure out how it all works. I want M to have the same strong roots in Judaism that I have, yet to relate to her Dad's side of the family at Christmas. We try to emphasize the "being together with family" side of Christmas, but I still have feelings of conflict over it all.

In many ways, I miss the years of family vacations at Christmas time... especially ski trips, hitting the slopes early on Christmas morning when we had the mountain pretty much to ourselves as everyone else celebrated Christmas. That's one thing that M and J will never get to experience.

At 10:48 PM, Anonymous Gretchen said...

But, see, that's the beauty of a family with blended faiths. Julia gets to have it all -- she spins the dreidel, she has presents under the Christmas tree. More and more these days I keep thinking it's all the same -- Christian, Jewish, call it what you will, we all honor the deity of our choice by celebrating and cherishing life and love and the Earth. Right?

At 1:57 AM, Blogger Dana said...

I really love what you've written here. Like Kristy, I too have thought of you over the last several days.

You've given me plenty to ponder.

At 7:45 AM, Blogger Susan D. said...

I too am the Jewish half of an interfaith relationship, and this is going to wind up being the subject of my own next blog post... For me, it feels like wandering through woods in the dark with a tiny little keychain flashlight... lucky you, you seem to have a great big halogen torch guiding you... I'll bet Julia (and Evan, in his own sweet time, will find their way beautifully.


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