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Jew-ish Angst on the holidays, an annual tradition

It's time for my annual entry of Xmas Angst in an Interfaith Relationship. And by interfaith I mean intercultural more than "Mommy is one of the chosen people and Daddy believes that Jesus is magic".

A few years ago my sister Jackie and I had a classic Jewish December 25th. We went ice skating, for chinese food and to a movie. The local news network was there at the skating rink with a reporter decked out in festive earmuffs, interviewing skaters about "what they got for Christmas this year".

"I am Jewish, so I don't celebrate Christmas, but I am still having a great day..." I said, fully ready to elaborate on our chinese food ritual. But the reporter turned ashen, as though she had commited a faux pas. I looked around at the sikh and muslim and buddhist families lacing up their skates, and chuckled.

The Christmas angst started early this year when I was asked by the genuinely sweet facilitator the local parent and kids drop-in centre to bring a wrapped toy for Gabriel so that he can "get a present from Santa" at the community Christmas party. Erm.

Nevermind that he is not even a year old and eats paper if given a chance and has such a nasty bout of stranger anxiety, he won't even let his grandmother hold him these days, nevermind a guy in a santa suit. Nevermind that my son is Jewish.

The anxiety continued when we received a truly thoughtful ornament from a relative, on which was inscribed: "Gabriel's First Christmas". I went right from touched to anxious: "But we are not going to have a Christmas tree. Are we supposed to have one? Do you want one? What if Gabriel wants one?" Breathe. Focus.

Secretly I love Christmas trees and those great ornaments with history: the homemade ones, the family heirlooms. ...Most of the time I don't mind people assuming I will celebrate Christmas (although it would be a larf if I went around saying "Chag Sameyach!" and expecting people to be touched by my inclusiveness). And the truth is I almost always celebrate Christmas, because people I love celebrate the holiday and I am lucky to get to join them.

While I find the sheer length of the commercial push and the nonstop holiday soundtrack exhausting (when did Gershwin classics co-opted by Xmas?) , I like how it makes people other-centred: more likely to give to charity, thinking of the desires of other people, kinder to strangers.

But as I have said (and kvetched, and kvetched) in other years, keeping up traditions is so difficult when you are the one expected to keep your eye on the lunar calendar and decide which rituals make sense for your agnostic family.

This weekend we were listening to Tapestry, that great cbc radio show on spirituality and faith, and all my anxieties about raising a son to feel unambiguously a part of Jewish culture and legacy while understanding and belonging to his father's background - all of these were articulated on this weekend's show by her guest, Laurel Snyder, who wrote a bookcalled "Half Life:Jew-ish Tales from Interfaith Homes".

Having a kid forces you to investigate and rethink everything - every celebration, every ritual, every belief. Kids love and need traditions, be it blueberry pancakes on Saturday mornings or Friday night dinners, or Chanukkah with mommy's family and Christmas with daddy's.... You chose what is important to you and what you will honour and you do so deliberately and bravely. And then, eventually, you figure it out. I hope.


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