It doesn’t seem to matter which hemisphere you’re in, whether it’s Summer or Winter, December is a month full of fairy lights, Mariah Carey tunes, and work parties where that one co-worker always gets a little too drunk.
I’ve always loved this time of year. Come December 1st, you can find me watching all the cheesy lifetime holiday movies or cruising around the neighboorhood looking for the best lights display (more so in the US, where the best light shows were drive through extravaganzas that involved cruising around a set track while listening to the Christmas radio station).
But for as much as I love the holiday season, Christmas isn’t my holiday. I grew up Jewish and for pretty understandable reasons, we didn’t celebrate a holiday that centers around the birth of Jesus. Instead, I celebrated Chanukah, lighting candles every year and winning big at dreidle (a game that involves spinning a top and hoping it falls on the side with the winning letter).
I’d resigned myself to a lifetime of experiencing Christmas as a voyeur, an outsider…but then I met Pete.
Pete grew up Anglican and most definitely had not dated anyone Jewish before I came along. While Pete was familiar with all things Santa, he had some catching up to do when it came to learning about Channukah, the festival of lights (and jelly donuts). Thank goodness for the Rugrats Chanukah special, which covers all of the basics in a very digestible way.
Jewish holidays are based on the lunar calendar, so their exact date changes every year. Sometimes it overlaps with Christmas and other times, like this year, it starts at the very start of December. While both holidays involve gift-giving, Chanukah is actually a very minor Jewish holiday while Christmas definitely seems to be the headliner for most Christians.
As an interfaith couple, Pete and I are very supportive of celebrating each other’s holidays and this year was no exception.
I actually would have forgotten about Chanukah altogether if he hadn’t mentioned it was coming up. He took the time to look up Chanukah foods and we blocked out a night to fry up potato pancakes (latkes), a staple for any Chanukah festivities.
Knowing how much Pete’s had to learn about Judiasm, I’ve always made an effort to celebrate Christmas in our house too. Since we’re up in Wellington with Pete’s family for Christmas this year, we’re skipping the tree, but I did manage to hang the stockings over the fireplace and place a festive wreath on the mantel.
Neither Pete or myself are religious but we both respect each other’s holiday traditions. This time of year is about celebrating family and that’s a universal message, regardless of how we were raised.
Respect is key to getting through the holiday season as an interfaith couple. We both make an effort to make each other’s holiday feel special and to honor past traditions and work to form new ones of our own.
My favorite tradition is our annual Christmas movie marathon. Every year, we order Indian takeout and marathon a trilogy from start to finish in one day. Over the last few years, we’ve watched Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and James Bond to name a few (we picked three different Bonds that year). This year we’ll be enjoying the cinematic masterpiece (at least according to Jake on Brooklyn 99) that is Die Hard I, II, and III.
Communication is also important. It helps us talk through tough questions like if I’m comfortable going to church with Pete’s family on Christmas day and how we’ll celebrate the holidays if/when we have kids. It’s an ongoing conversation, and we’ll continue to tweak our celebrations to find what works for us over the years.
While being Jewish in New Zealand has been a bit of a culture shock since there’s so few of us here, I’d say it’s still not as jarring as celebrating a Summer Christmas. It’s a little hard to relate to frosty the snowman when you may be hitting the beach the next day. I miss Winter Christmas and I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to celebrating in the Southern hemisphere.
Do you have any experience celebrating the holidays as an interfaith couple? I’d love to know what you do to celebrate, let me know in the comments below!
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