I grew up in an urban school very much in the middle of a class full of kids from the projects and million-dollar homes, from families with one child and those with seven, the Jehovah’s Witness kids who sat out every mention of a holiday and others who celebrated every holiday on the calendar. I had a special affinity for my friends who were both Jewish and Christian, who lit candles and spun dreidels to class and then lit up a Christmas tree and spilled stocking stuffers. I knew the rituals of my own holidays spent with Santa and church and bubble lights, but I also loved the ritual of gathering in front of the menorah and spreading the spirit out over many days.
I grew up and dated men from many different backgrounds and practices and beliefs, but I didn’t really dream about how it would be to raise my own interfaith family. I wasn’t opposed to it. I just couldn’t envision it, even after all those years of growing up with menorahs and Mormons and masses is in different languages.
But this year, I will. The Not Boyfriend has been in my life for three years, but it is the first Christmas we will spend together. It’s the first Christmas he will celebrate in decades. For other couples, this might feel like a natural progression. But for us, and for his winding path of faith, it will be an interesting and tentative walk.
The Not Boyfriend was raised Jewish, and as soon as he was out on his own, he began to explore many other ways of being spiritual. He read and read and read, he dove deep into the waters of Maui, kibbutzed, floated in the Dead Sea, traveled extensively, sat in meditation, and finally shaved his head in recognition of his Buddhist journey. He knows much more about the Bible than I do, a girl brought up in a Christian church and the granddaughter of a minister. But he also knows much more about the world’s religions and their histories and commonalities than I do. It’s part of how he serves his higher power. We don’t practice the same ways, we don’t hold fast to all of the same tenets, but our spirits are very much in sync. And when I tease him about reincarnation and he teases me about the Baby Jesus, it is usually part of some late-night conversation in the pitch dark about something that resides in the most protected parts of our soul.
I appreciate our different faiths and I love that he is a man of faith. I stand before the altar in his home often, studying which pieces he has carefully placed among his prayer cards and beads. And I know he gets why I need to sit in a pew before my own altar, whispering to my god.
We’ve had our exchanges over the years, each upset that the other did not do enough to acknowledge holidays we hold dear. And we’ve had gift exchanges as well, before the big days and after, and once over Skype.
This year, all of it will unfold in my living room and around my parents’ tree. There will be big dinners and brunches and stockings packed full of kitschy dollar-store toys and dirty magazines and department-store candies. There will be ornately wrapped gifts piled up in corners and glitter on everything. There will be squeals and carols blared in the car from the easy rock station on the radio. There will be a steady flow of UPS boxes trailing up my staircase and last-minute shopping dashes on Christmas Eve.
If he’s up for it, there will be a late-night candle-lit service at my church, presided over my pastors and acolytes and a 20-foot tree wrapped in gold and white ornaments. There will be a late night of hunting for batteries and assembling toys and a few glasses of wine and more than enough cookies.
There will be a Christmas Day that starts too early in the morning.
There will be too much and I will love every bit of it.
I don’t know how he will react. I am not sure if he will love it or be overwhelmed by it or give into it or resist just enough to be glad when the days pass and the pine needles are vacuumed up as much as they can be.
My mother worries, of course, that we will bombard him with our Christmas spirit, and we probably will. In the meantime, I scrambled for a Buddha-printed stocking and never found one that spoke to the eyes-gently-closed peace I hoped he’d find wrapped around the Playboy and mustache finger tatoos and Altoids and lint brush and turtle chocolates. So I suppose he will have to find it at his own altar in between the holiday assembly at E’s school and helping me haul my tree up two flights.
And I hope that as the years go on, there will be more of him in our traditions, a Buddha keeping watch over the Baby Jesus in the manger.
Our traditions, as fueling and soothing and spirit-filled as they have been, are changing. That’s for all of us. And that is the new candle I am lighting this year, to see where all this melding of faiths and practices and presents takes us.
How do you mix faiths for your family holidays?
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