The holidays are hard enough with family get togethers, end of year budget crunching, and the strain of buying gifts for everyone on your list. Add to that religious differences and someone’s bound to get their eggnog soured. As a Jewish girl who married into a Christmas-happy family, I’ve had my challenges at this time of year, but I’ve have worked hard to communicate, compromise, and calm my nerves as needed. While I don’t celebrate Christmas, I still enjoy the holiday.
LOST IN THE HOLIDAY SHUFFLE
My parents never made a big deal out of Chanuka since it’s not really that important of a Jewish holiday. And since they were musicians in a Catholic church, Christmas-time for my family meant a lot of waiting around in rehearsals, games of tag while running around pews, and an afternoon movie or take-out Chinese food after mass was over on Christmas Day. We kiddos received a practical gift or two for our holiday, but it was a season of hard work for my parents and not necessarily something we looked forward to.
When my husband and I were dating and experienced our first Christmas together, I accepted the invitation to attend midnight mass at his parents’ church. I knew every song by heart, complete with harmony and descant (which always embarrasses my in-laws, I’m sure) and I loved the sense of warmth and family that night, complete with a belly full of his mother’s lasagna—a Christmas Eve tradition for them.
After a couple years of completely surrendering myself to “their” holiday, I found myself becoming resentful and wondering when we’d celebrate “my” holiday. After a couple of good long-winded (on my part) discussions on the issue, my husband asked what I wanted to do for Chanukah. Funny, when he finally asked, I had no answer.
I have fond memories of latkes, candle lighting, and songs, but I had no desire to replicate those experiences then. I had a pretty little menorah on display next to our foot-tall Christmas tree, and that honestly felt like enough Chanukah in my life. So what was it that was missing? What did I need to feel better about not celebrating Christmas, but participating in Christmas with my family?
Read Related: Finding Personal Comfort & Joy During the Holidays
That was it. Exactly that. I needed to recognize that I wasn’t celebrating a holiday that I didn’t believe in, I was participating in a family celebration with people I loved. It wasn’t about religion at all. This time of year was about spending time as a family, eating good food, and giving thoughtful gifts. Once I recognized that religion had very little to do with what was actually going on around me, I let go of the feeling that I was abandoning my faith for another, and just enjoyed the joy around me.
Now, I look forward to the holiday season as I know the traditions we have bring us together to enjoy each other. We eat, we drink, we sing songs that, despite me being Jewish, were a big part of my childhood; we give gifts and play games. Even when you don’t celebrate Christmas, it can be a pretty amazing time of year.
5 STEPS TO A MERRIER TIME
If you’re stuck participating in a Christmas season that makes you uncomfortable or leaves you feeling like you’ve left a piece of yourself behind, here are some ideas to improve your holiday happiness:
- What are you missing? Examine what you want from the holidays and then ask for it.
- Can you skip it? We no longer go to midnight mass with my in-laws, in part due to scheduling and babies, but also because I simply don’t want to go.
- Can you do both? Competing religious holidays rarely fall on the exact same day. Perhaps there’s a way to squeeze it all in so everyone feels fulfilled.
- Can you compromise? Perhaps alternate years at different places of worship or with different family members.
- Stay home. That’s right, if you’re just not able to enjoy someone else’s holiday experience, send the kids and excuse yourself from the event. Pour yourself a glass of something divine, grab a good book, and create your own special holiday tradition. You may not be able to create Peace on Earth but this may feel pretty darn close!