I know we usually talk Disney and running and food around here – but we're also all friends and I think it's important to share the day-to-day things that really matter too. Because what this is really all about is my journey (and my family's journey) to connect with who we are and what fulfills us – and what just plain feels right each day. And to honor it and live it as fully as we can.
And so I'll share with you how my background led to the view that you see here.
My mom is Jewish. My father was Catholic. Or at least raised in a devout Catholic family. Judaism is a religion of matrilineal descent – which is a fancy way of saying that it is passed down from mother to child. That has always seemed like an odd rule to me, as religious beliefs are not genetic – but religious traditions are what they are and, in any event, in our family it was honored, as I was raised very much Jewish.
With a Christmas tree.
I have always been a Christmas-loving Jew. I love the songs and the smells and the lights and the joy of the season. I love the food. I love gingerbread houses and caroling and the thrill of waking up on Christmas morning.
In the early years after I got married and when my children were very young, we celebrated those things at my parents' (and paternal grandmother's) house. Our home did not have a tree. We just went to my parents' and grandmother's house on Christmas day and enjoyed it together with them as we had when I was little.
Then my father was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and life as we knew it ended. I've talked about those horrible days elsewhere and this post isn't aimed at reliving it again. I bring it up again here because that's also when my parents stopped being in a position to host Christmas morning. Or more simply, it's when they stopped being in a position to celebrate anything, much less the holidays. And so, in the midst of everything horrible about that time, I got one good thing – I got to take over Christmas for my family.
I took it on with my whole heart. I decorated. I baked. I lit balsam and fir scented candles and bought presents and moved our Elf on the Shelf around the house with Pinterest-inspired fervor. I grasped at the joy of the season like a life preserver.
My father has since succumbed to leukemia. We lost him more than 4 years ago. We've moved from the mid-east to Florida. And now we are just…Jews with a Christmas tree.
There are times when I look at the view that you see at the top of this post and think, “What am I doing?”
“Am I confusing my kids?”
“Am I dishonoring my Jewish heritage?”
But then I look at my children and what good hearts they have. And I don't care. Or, better put, I care about only them and the people that they are growing up to be. It is important to me that they have identity and heritage and tradition – but at the end of the day I care about how we label ourselves from a religious perspective about as much as I care about the labels of the clothing on our backs. My boys are good people. They believe in a higher power. But they are good people because it is right – not because they are afraid of (or motivated by) any consequence linked to a post-mortem reward system.
They are Jewish and they have a menorah and a Christmas tree and they have never asked why beyond my telling them a simplified version of what I've written here.
I don't know exactly why I've chosen to share all of this tonight. Maybe I was just turning it over in my own mind enough to write it down. Maybe I felt odd posting about the L'Chaim! Holiday Kitchen in the same breath as my own Christmas tree. Maybe I was having a human moment and was just afraid you'd judge me for that. And maybe you're all reading this thinking that it's absurd and self-indulgent because nobody really cares about religious labels anymore. But for whatever reason, I chose to share this – and I hope that some of you connect with it.
With love and the spirit of the season in all of its iterations,