Christmas can be a trying time of the year for interfaith couples. Unless one of you can force the other to convert, it pays to show a little sensitivity toward the other person’s traditions, no matter how much pagan mumbo jumbo they seem to be. Holiday traditions mean a lot to people, particularly people in retail, so if yours is a mixed marriage (by that I mean two different religions, not a marriage between a man and a woman), here are some tips:
1. Remember, neither the Old nor the New Testament records lightning striking a house just because it had a Christmas tree. But, just in case, ground it. (I would avoid large replicas of beef cattle in gold or fiberglass, though, unless you’re living above a Cal’s Roast Beef.) If a Christmas tree gives you problems, just hang little dreidels on it and think of it as a marketplace of ideas. And since there’s usually a star on top anyway, so it has six points? As to the type of tree, compromise–get a yew. Do try to keep in mind that a Jewish spouse coming home to a wreath on the door is subject to cardiac arrest, and then you’ll need two wreaths on the door.
2. A creche is pretty hard to disguise, even if you call it a lawn ornament. But try it—and put out a couple of deer as well, and maybe a reflecting globe. You might follow the example of some town halls that have avoided legal challenges to their creches by putting a cutout of a Jewish pediatrician in with the baby. (The miracle then becomes the fact that he makes house calls.)
3. Strings of lights around the house are pretty easily explained, since you’re on the approach to the airport anyway. Just tell your spouse it’ll lower your Homeowner’s. Stockings next to the fireplace won’t generally raise the hackles of a Jewish mate unless they’re stuffed with rosaries. Hard candy is always nice. Another tip: Use support hose. His mother did. Don’t push your luck and expect your Jewish spouse to get up on the roof to install a plywood Santa and reindeer, however. Jesus, after all, was the last Jewish carpenter.
4. As for holiday music, why not meet each other half way with Barbra Streisand doing “Little Drummer Boy,” and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir version of “Yentl”? “Chestnuts Roasting On an Open Fire” is also a nice choice because Mel Torme could well have been Jewish. A word to the Jewish spouse: They can’t make you go to the “Sing-Along Messiah,” and since you don’t know the words or the tune, a good case can be made for leaving you at home. If you do go, don’t worry if everybody gets all worked up. If they light torches, worry.
5. Relax about going over to your spouse’s family for your first Christmas. You’ll come back. And you’ll be a metric wrench set and a pair of sorrel boots richer. Remember, to your non-Jewish spouse, “exchanging presents” does not mean returning them to the store. At least not right away. Christmas cards should be in good taste and two-dimensional. They should never say “One of us wishes you a Merry Christmas,” but, rather, something seasonal, such as “Cold enough for you?” If you are celebrating your first Chanukah, don’t buy scented candles or light beer by mistake. (“I said, ‘Festival of Lights,’ not ‘Bud Light.’”) Don’t worry if at first the significance of the holiday escapes you; the miracle of the oil lasting eight days in the temple will soon take on meaning as you try to stretch the few dollars left in your account after celebrating both holidays.
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