I started planning for the 2010 winter holiday season about a year ago. My wife and I had already been matched with our son’s birthmother, so I made an appointment with Rabbi Amy Small at Congregation Beth Hatikvah in Summit. I wanted to talk through what I needed to know about making sure the kid was Jewish not only according to me, but according to the laws and traditions of Judaism.
Her answers were pretty straightforward: have a brit milah (ritual circumcision) for sure, go to a mikveh (ritual immersion) maybe, and then just make sure teach him everything he needs to know in order to live a good Jewish life. Sounded pretty simple.
Where it gets complicated is that I am Jewish and my son is Jewish…but my wife is not.
She is not a practitioner of the Catholicism she was born into (nor does she have any interest in being Jewish), but we still celebrate Christmas with her family. It’s a fun, mostly secularized affair—insofar as there’s no churchgoing or manger dioramas or anything else to connect the holiday too tightly with the story of Jesus’ birth—but hey, it’s Christmas, which is Christian by nature.
So here we are on the cusp of our son’s first Hanukkah and within striking distance of his first Christmas. He’s got grandparents on both sides that are excited to plop a busload of gifts in front of him. He won’t know what’s going on this first time, but there will be photos taken and precedents set that will roll into next year, the year after that, and so on.
It’s hard to know exactly how to play it, even with all of our good planning. My wife and I have been discussing how to raise a Jewish kid with a mixed Jewish/Christian family for many years, but now the theoretical ideas of Merry Happy Something have to play out in a real world that has complicated religious, cultural and traditional messages coming from all corners. It’ll be easy to get some of it wrong, but also not too difficult to get most of it right. We’ll just have to spin the dreidel, try to do what’s best for him and comfortable-ish for our families, and enjoy our first set of holidays together.
Have you had notable successes (or teachable-moment failures) celebrating the holidays as a religiously/culturally mixed family? Please post your stories and/or advice in the comments.